By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2018 Hillcrest Baseball campaign was highlighted by the christening of a new turf field and a long-awaited district tournament hosted on the north side of Springfield.
Despite a 4-24 record, the Hornets managed to nab their first district win over Waynesville on that new turf. Hillcrest will play 17 games on it in 2019, and Ryan Schaffitzel can already see a different challenge for visitors.
“There is a definite advantage,” he said. “The turf is incredibly slow and affects the outcomes of games sometimes. There haven’t been many ground balls that get through the infield. We have a better understanding of what happens on it. It’s a defensive game and a tough place to score runs.”
The difficulty of scoring runs is something Hillcrest will once again have to adjust to. There isn’t a wealth of power throughout the lineup, so the Hornets will focus on manufacturing runs.
“When you play at our place and the wind blows in every day… I mean, last year our home run leader had two and none were at home. We’ll have to small-ball it. We’ve talked a lot about on-base percentage and however you can get on first. It’s how we’ve played for a long time.”
They will have a lot of new faces to take up that challenge, including some seniors and juniors that will see their first varsity innings. Senior Caden Morrow does bring back some experience, having garnered himself and All-Ozark Conference Second Team selection as a pitcher last spring. He will slot back into the ace role after a 2-5 campaign and returns the team lead in innings pitched (49), strikeouts (44), and ERA (2.00).
Senior Carter Campbell brings back one of the biggest frames on the team at 6’3” and 210 pounds. He primarily started at first base in 2018 but is drawing some college attention on the mound after an impressive summer with the Midwest Nationals. His fastball is one that can approach mid-to-upper 80s, which gives him the potential to develop into one of the Hornets’ biggest weapons.
Fellow senior Grant Morris took the second biggest pitching load last spring and will also return as a starter. In 27.2 innings, he struck out 15 batters with a 3.29 ERA.
Caleb Wiseman, another senior, will join Dean Phillips and Jordan Wallace as contributors on the mound as well.
All expect to contribute both offensively and defensively, with All-OC honoree Avery Grant being a highlight. As a freshman, he managed to compile 23 hits and seven RBI with a .324 average.
Senior Brock Schaffitzel will also look to expand on his offensive numbers and will transition to a corner infield position on defense.
With a home field that will favor low-scoring games, Ryan Schaffitzel is putting the onus on his arms to get Hillcrest back in district title contention.
“The key is going to be our pitchers. This sounds like an every-year thing, but if we throw strikes, we should be alright. We’re not going to strike out 10 guys per game. We need to minimize our free passes.”