By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Familiarity between a coach and player cannot be overstated. Marty Hauck is experiencing the positive side of that fact this school year.
The second-year Rolla baseball coach moved from the elementary building across town to teach at the high school over the summer. Now, he is able to see his players throughout the day rather than solely at practice.
“I have known a lot of them while they were growing up since I was right down the road in St. James,” said Hauck. “Now we’ll easily be able to work on some of the things we need to.”
Rolla finished third in the Ozark Conference with a 15-6 overall record in its first year under Hauck. The Bulldogs bowed out to Willard in a one-run affair in the district semifinals.
All but one of their six All-OC performers are back. Hauck has beefed up the schedule to reflect that experience, adding the likes of reigning Class 5 State Champion Jefferson City along with Columbia Rock Bridge, Blue Springs, and Rockwood Summit.
“Competition is going to be tough. I believe it’s one of the toughest schedules in the state. All of our non-conference games are now legitimate contenders.”
With the task ahead, one area that does not concern Rolla is pitching. Four upperclassmen that expect to play key roles in rotation have signed to play in college. As far as who will carry the heaviest load, that is up for discussion.
Coaches are not wont to blame the weather for outcomes, but Hauck believes there is another side to the Bulldogs rotation that fans have yet to see. Rainouts restricted two pitchers, seniors Davie Pound and Zeke Arthur, to a combined two starts.
Pound, who splits time in the outfield, served up a five-inning no-hitter against Salem in the regular season finale last spring.
“It just seemed like every time it was their turn in the rotation, it was a washout,” said Hauck. “We will be pretty deep. A deep bullpen is a great problem to have for a high school staff.”
Senior Jeremiah Ruth carries the most starting experience as he comes off a 7-2 campaign with 27 strikeouts and a 2.37 ERA. Senior Jonathan Reese, a Lindenwood signee, will also be in the mix after fanning 14 over two starts with a 2.10 ERA.
Offensively, Arthur, who earned conference and district honors at catcher, will wield one of the biggest bats in town. He led the Bulldogs with 27 hits and 18 RBI in his junior year.
Brett Gonzales (Sr. OF), who will play at Southwest Missouri State next year, showed the highest propensity for power last season with four home runs.
First-Team All-OC senior Noah Doyle will platoon at third base and be another key stick in the order. He tallied 19 hits and 11 RBI with a .380 average last spring. Junior
Blaize Klossner (SS) earned All-District honors and an All-OC honorable mention, putting up an impressive .478 average and .571 on-base percentage in just 29 plate appearances as a sophomore. He could take a leap if those chances increase.
Getting on base was not Rolla’s problem in 2017; it was getting home. The Bulldogs outhit nationally-ranked Jefferson City last April but left eight men in scoring position, resulting in a 5-3 loss. Hauck said it was a snapshot of a trend that plagued them throughout the year.”
“We’re getting them on and in scoring position, now we just have to finish. We will still an aggressive team. We have a couple guys who can steal bases and we will continue to do it.”
That desire to be aggressive could be beneficial if pitching and defense can match its potential. The Bulldogs plan to be in the discussion for a conference title and a sectional appearance come May.
“You have a bunch of talented kids and you just have to get them to work together and believe. They have to trust each other that everyone is going to do their role. That will be one of the biggest things we work on: playing as a family and not criticizing each other when we make mistakes, because we will make them.”