By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Defeats like the ones that have ended the last two seasons of Logan-Rogersville baseball can stick with a program for years.
The Wildcats were one out away from a district championship last spring when Matthew Miller launched a walk-off three run homer to give Aurora its second such win against Logan-Rogersville in back-to-back title games.
“That was probably the most disappointing loss I’ve ever been a part of,” head coach Casey Ledl said. “We tried to use it as a positive. I don’t think people expected us to be that close to them, but we were right there with them. While that was a downer at the end of the year, it has pushed our kids all offseason.”
As Ledl referenced, Logan-Rogersville is not a program that will let this stay with them for the wrong reasons. Ledl and the Wildcats are too familiar with success, winning COC-Small and district championships in each of his first three seasons with a pair of final four berths.
Now, the Wildcats aim to be contenders again after an 18-7 campaign. The most daunting task in their path is an obvious one.
Replace Jordan Fitzpatrick.
“I don’t know that you replace a Division I hitter right out of the gate. We’ve been fortunate to have a few come through and it’s one of those deals where you ask your kids to fill the gap as a whole.”
Fitzpatrick put his name among Wildcat greats like Jacob Schlesener, Evan Gruener, Seth Conner, and Buddy Baumann in terms of his impact on the program. He was a three-time All-State selection and the top hitter and pitcher on Logan-Rogersville last year.
Now that he has shifted his shade of maroon to Missouri State, while Logan Eury and Brett Carter have done the same at Evangel, the Wildcats have to make up that production.
It started this offseason with the highest turnout in the strength and throwing programs that Ledl has seen in his tenure. In terms of pure talent, namely among the eight seniors, All-COC senior Teagan Rambo (P/OF) could be the top returning bat and arm.
He put up a 4-1 record with a 2.30 ERA and brings back the highest number of hits (21) and RBI (18).
Seniors Grant Umlauf and Cameron Chesick will also play key roles in the rotation. Chesick will return to his role as closer but should see more opportunities to throw in earlier innings.
Christian Casanova (Sr., C) will receive the bulk of those pitches behind the backstop. While he will be another prolific bat, Ledl believes his contributions to the defense cannot be overstated.
“Christian is in the conversation as one of the best defensive catchers in southwest Missouri,” said Ledl. “We are looking for him to have a better offensive year making him on fo the top all-around catchers in the area.”
The Wildcats will also have a daunting presence platooning first base in 6-5, 210 pound senior Devin Radke. He tallied four runs on seven hits while primarily pinch hitting last year, but the team hopes his strength and experience will allow him to be a more consistent threat.
While the upperclassmen will lead the cause, Ledl believes there is plenty to be excited about with his sophomores, especially on the pitching side. Their talent will be needed this year if Logan-Rogersville wants to maintain its contender status.
“We are definitely looking for some young kids to step up. I don’t know how much you can work on the experience factor until you get them into games, into the fire, and let them roll.”