By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
If folks want to call 2018 an uncharacteristic season for Monett, Michael Calhoun feels that speaks volumes for the state of the program.
After putting together four straight years of at least 18 wins, the Cubs went 14-11 last spring and fell to Nevada in the district championship game. It was an impressive showing for a group that, while experienced in age, had not previously had the workload of their predecessors.
“Last year, we had juniors and seniors that just hadn’t gotten a lot of playing time,” said Calhoun. “This year, we’ve got experience back. We have several seniors who have played a lot and sophomores and freshmen that I know have gotten better over the summer.”
The Cubs are two years removed from a district title and matching a program high in wins, while they have only one losing season on their resume in the last decade.
This spring will bring more questions and open spots, but Monett will sport no fewer than eight reliable pitchers. That troop will be led by all-state senior and Arkansas signee Corey Spain. He was overwhelmingly tasked with the most innings in 2018, tossing 62.1 frames en route to an 8-2 record, 105 strikeouts, and a svelte 1.16 ERA.
An All-Big 8 selection as a pitcher and outfielder, Spain also continued his trend of being one of the Cubs’ most productive hitters in 2018 as he collected 13 RBI and 14 walks with a .264 average.
The pitching staff behind Spain is largely unproven, but not without varsity experience. Sophomore Estin McBroom will earn more work after tossing 23 earnings and nabbing 15 strikeouts in his first high school campaign. Junior Wesley Merriman also returns from injury to add more depth.
Offensively, Alejandro Groomer comes off an All-Big 8 Honorable Mention for his work as a junior. He drove in 12 runs with a .273 average in 2018. Fellow seniors Alex Rivera, William Daingerfield, and Dale Slater will also be called upon to increase their numbers at the plate.
The Cubs scored two runs or fewer in all but one of their losses last spring. That was circumstantial a times; a product of placing the ball exactly where the defense happens to be day after day. Calhoun expects that trend to change.
“We hit into a lot of bad luck. Line drives, ground balls… that’s just baseball,” he said. “We had a six or seven game stretch where we’d hit a bloop and someone would just make a great play. I think this will be a bounce back year for (the offense).”
There are still questions about defense up the middle as well. That is something Calhoun hopes to solidify as soon as possible in order to aid his staff. His five seniors will play a vital role in getting Monett’s unproven commodities acclimated.
“We’ve had meetings throughout the year to talk about ideas leading up to the season. They’ve all been positive. With those guys leading and our sophomore and junior class going up, I’m pretty excited.”