By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Webb City has been a mainstay in sectionals, having won three straight district championship, but has not advanced past that round since reaching the state title game in 2010.
A mighty roundup of opponents including Ozark and Kickapoo plays a factor, with the Chiefs ending the Cardinals’ 21-9 campaign last year.
Garry Highfill, now in his second year at the helm, said defense doomed their season and could be the key to reaching the quarterfinals.
“If we’re going to get past that game, we have to do a better job defensively,” he said. “Our pitchers did their jobs. That has been a big focus for us.”
Nine seniors are gone from 2017 and left some gaping holes in the field. Highfill must find new blood at every position except shortstop and center field.
Scratch that: there is a spot up for grabs at short with All-COC senior Will Larson moving to the outfield. Also an all-conference running back, he hit leadoff for most of last season and will be one of the biggest factors in the lineup again.
He tallied 15 RBI on 24 hits with a .273 average as a junior.
He will join senior Matt Duley, from whom Highfill expects a bounce-back campaign. At his peak, Highfill believes Duley can be one of the top outfielders in the area and also him to be the No. 2 in the pitching rotation. Duley went 3-0 on the mound as a junior, but necessity should demand a higher work rate this spring.
Nebraska commit Tyler Martin will sit atop the pitching staff after posting a 4-3 record with 50 strikeouts and a 1.89 ERA as a junior.
“He is probably one of the top pitchers in the state,” said Highfill. “His potential, I mean any time we had a big game last year, he was throwing it. We will obviously rely on him even more this year. ”
Fellow seniors Jacob Monroe and Cade Beason will also see plenty of innings.
The Cardinals have plenty to look forward to in terms of the influx of young talent. The junior varsity is coming off an 18-3 campaign and a handful of guys are expected to contribute.
“Offensively, a lot of these guys had great years at the junior varsity level. That doesn’t always carry over to varsity, but I’m excited about what we have seen in the offseason. The kids are getting better and competing better at the plate.”
Webb City will once again be tested throughout their schedule, not just by the COC-Large, but with potential postseason opponents such as another meeting with Kickapoo to wrap up the regular season.
While there is buzz around the offensive side, Highfill goes back to what felled another promising postseason appearance in 2017 and how critical it will be come May.
“We kind of know what we are going to get on the mound and are comfortable with what we think we will get at the plate. Defensively, replacing that many starters is always a question. How is it going to go?”