By Stephen Buus (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Coach Darin Henderson welcomes back three starters among six lettermen for the 2019 Stockton Tiger baseball season.
The Tigers were 19-8 overall a year ago and 4-2 in the Mid-Lakes Conference, in a three-way tie for second place with Skyline and Fair Grove. Stockton won its district for a fourth straight year but fell to MLC champion Strafford 10-5 in the Class 3 sectionals.
“Last year was a successful season,” Henderson said. “We started off rough with a record of 2-4 at one point. Then we figured things out, handled adversity and righted the ship.”
Six graduates, including Maple Woods Community College signee Jacob Wheeler, have left a big void in the lineup, but there is plenty of experienced talent ready to keep the tradition going.
Leading the way is senior Clayton Hubbard (6-3, 185). He set a school record with a 0.49 ERA while posting a 5-1 record with 58 strikeouts against 12 walks. At the plate, he hit .333 with 22 RBI and 19 runs scored. Hubbard was first-team all-conference and all-district, and honorable mention all-state.
“Clayton’s season was cut short by an injury and was not able to pitch the last few weeks of the season,” Henderson said. “He is working his way back to the mound now and should be a force if he is completely healthy this season.”
Junior Drew Wheeler (6-1, 160) will be the No. 2 starter for the Tigers. Wheeler was 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA, striking out 27 and walking 17. He hit .368 with 25 RBI and 26 runs. Wheeler was second-team all-district and all-conference.
“Drew came up big for us after Clayton got injured,” Henderson said. “He pitched a couple of big games for us down the stretch. He is also our big bat in the middle of our order. When we moved drew to the 4-hole early in the year, our offense really exploded.”
Also expected to see mound time are the likes of senior Luke Culbertson (5-10, 160) and sophomore Tate Wheeler (5-8, 130), Drew’s younger brother.
Senior Clay Hoffman (5-11, 170) moves to the infield after playing center field last year. He led the team in stolen bases with 12.
Junior Garrett Haden (5-10, 145) returns as the Tigers’ catcher. Haden, a second-team all-district, honorable mention all-conference performer, is expected to take more of a leadership role for Stockton.
Top newcomers include juniors Tyler Mehl (5-10, 150), Zack Burns (6-0, 180), Jacob Jones (6-1, 185), Colton Johnson (5-10, 170), Bryce Collins (5-11, 145) and Cole Garretson (6-1, 165), and freshmen Layne Colvin (6-1, 160) and Tanner Boyles (5-11, 160).
Henderson said his biggest obstacle to coaching this year’s Tigers is simply teaching the fundamentals.
“Chemistry is the thing I’m pretty comfortable with, they really get along and work well together,” Henderson said. “The baseball stuff is more what I’m concerned about. It’s a little more of a learning curve there. I do like how we’ve meshed so far, even after day one.”
Henderson believes Strafford is once again the team to beat in the Mid-Lakes Conference, although league newcomer Clever will also pose a major challenge.