By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Waynesville is not used to the level of experience it has brought into the last two seasons.
The Tigers could boast up to 10 seniors this spring, with four being three-year varsity starters. They are coming off a difficult 3-15 campaign, but those upperclassmen have played their roles in ending program droughts.
They helped deliver the first district championship in 38 years as freshmen in 2015.
“They want to go out with that district championship just like they started,” said head coach Scott Turner. “Anybody can win any ballgame. We were the 5-seed and beat the top two seeds to win that. It’s just about making the routine plays. This team is very capable of putting up good numbers.”
Two All-Ozark Conference honorees: seniors Tanner Simpson (P/2B/SS) and Eric Kane (OF) will lead the effort to vault back into league contention.
Simpson was a top-of-the-order bat last year, hitting a team-high .375 with five RBI. He also made eight starts on the mound and tossed two complete games, striking out 42 batters in 36.2 innings with a 3.25 ERA.
Fellow senior Ethan Brown (P/3B) was the other heavy lifter in the rotation, notching 25 strikeouts in seven starts as a junior.
Noah Ochoa (P/SS/2B), a Missouri Valley College commit, is another three-year starter who displayed a well-rounded game in 2016. He led the team in stolen bases (8) and worked out of the bullpen. He will get more innings on his plate this spring.
Ethan Gatzemeyer enters his fourth season as the Tigers’ starting catcher. He had 48 putouts from behind the plate while driving in a team-high six runs.
Cameron Marcum (1B/P), Brock Timmons (OF), and Briley Wade (P/3B) are also going into their senior campaigns.
The biggest focus this offseason has been the offense after Waynesville was kept off the scoreboard eight times last spring. Still, Turner believes his team is capable of much more throughout the order.
“Only one of these guys hit over .300 last year. I have seen them hit the ball really well,” he said. “In the summer time, they’ve crushed it. They haven’t excelled offensively as much as we think they can. If we get that going, we will be in good shape.”
Turner said a mental hurdle could be all the Tigers need to get past in order to give themselves a chance to get hot again at the right time.
“I told them: if we had scored at least six runs in every game, our record would have flipped. We only averaged two runs per game. I think they put too much stress on themselves. With some of these guys being four-year varsity players, they should be more relaxed because they have done it before.”