By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Kickapoo has become quite accustomed to the Class 5 state bracket in recent years.
The Chiefs have claimed district titles in three of the past four seasons and, in each case, have advanced to at least the quarterfinal round.
In 2018, Kickapoo finished with a 23-11 record, falling in the quarterfinals to eventual runner-up Columbia-Hickman.
For the Chiefs to mount yet another run at the postseason, head coach Jason Howser must first replace six key starters.
Graduated seniors include: second baseman Cole McCarville (Drury University – .226, .405 OBP, 17 RBI), first baseman Garrett Reid (.265 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI), third baseman Kolton Giefer (College of the Ozarks – .306 BA, 20 RBI), shortstop Quinn Reasoner (Pittsburg State – .253 BA, 23 RBI), outfielder Zac Salyers (Three Rivers Community College – .393 BA, 21 RBI, 41 hits) and catcher Ivan Quackenbush (Quincy University).
“For the first time in a while, we will replace our entire infield due to graduation so we are looking for some young guys to step up and earn a spot,” Howser said. “Along with losing the infield, also gone are all-state left fielder Zac Salyers and all-district catcher Ivan Quackenbush — who was one of the best block/throw catchers we have had at Kickapoo. His void behind the plate must be filled.”
While filling the open spots in the lineup will be a challenge, Kickapoo’s cupboard isn’t exactly barren heading into 2019, with a pair of seniors set to lead the team on the mound.
All-state selection and Ozark Conference Player of the Year Mason Auer will anchor the Chiefs’ rotation.
A Missouri State signee, Auer led the team with 54 innings and compiled a 2.06 ERA during that span with 92 strikeouts.
Classmate David Senn also returns from a season in which he logged 49 innings with a 2.96 ERA and 67 strikeouts.
Howser believes his starting tandem will offer stability to a young and relatively inexperienced squad.
“With two seniors anchoring the starting rotation in Mason Auer and David Senn, early on the pitching staff will be one of this year’s strengths,” Howser said. “With our pitching staff, we look to compete at the top of the Ozark Conference.”
Other senior returnees include outfielder Jacob Murrell (.277 BA), outfielder Raymond Bailey, first baseman Easton Bentch (.333 BA), catcher Gus Bauer, pitcher Aaron Sawchak and infielder/pitcher Matt Burris.
Impact newcomers include junior outfielder Joey Morris, junior infielder Chase Kruse, sophomore infielder Garrett Bauer and junior pitcher Will Bailey.
While the Kickapoo lineup will feature a host of new faces, Howser believes those new players will step in and improve throughout the season.
“Our lack of varsity experience will be challenged early in the season,” Howser said. “As the season progresses we will have to find ways to score runs for the pitching staff. We will have good overall team speed and we will run the bases well. The success will hinge on how well we execute with runners on base and cutting down on strikeouts.”
For Kickapoo to make a return trip to the state playoff bracket, it must first navigate a dangerous schedule and one of Class 5’s most difficult districts with Ozark, Nixa and Willard all poised to thwart another Chiefs title run.
“Our expectations as a program are to compete every time we take the field,” Howser said. “District 11 is one of the toughest in the state and we play a regular season game with each team.”
Kickapoo opens the season March 16 with a double-header against Lawrence Free State, KS, and Poplar Bluff.