By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last year’s sectional berth marked the first time in decades the Carthage Tigers advanced to the playoffs.
Despite being seeded last in the Class 5 District 12 bracket, the Tigers went on to beat Joplin in the district finals while outscoring three opponents 20-2. It was the school’s first appearance in a district championship game since 2010, and the first district title since 1993.
Now, Carthage wants to do it again.
“We feel like the core of those guys that were on the mound and were a big part of that are back and they’ve got a nice taste of it,” head coach Mike Godfrey said. “They’re excited about getting back to that and doing that again, and possibly pushing further.”
The Tigers return four starters and three other players who saw varsity time about half the year. They must replace players like Colton Smith, a .362 hitter who stole 16 bases and led the team in runs, and Kaden Carter, a third baseman who batted .281 and pitched to a 2.00 ERA as the team’s closer.
This year’s pitching staff will be anchored by returning starter Trason Vogt, a senior. He went 5-and-5 last year with a 1.88 ERA. He batted .337 with a home run and 19 stolen bases. He’ll be in the outfield when he’s not pitching.
Vogt will pitch next season for Division 1 Arkansas-Little Rock.
“He’s got an excellent fastball and really commands his stuff well,” Godfrey said. “His velocity just continues to bump up every year. He has a plus curveball and a nice split that he uses for a changeup. To go along with his physical tools and what he brings in that respect, he’s a great worker. He’s just really grown in that respect by leaps and bounds. He’s a tremendous competitor.”
The left-handed Vogt is just 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds, but hit 90 miles per hour last summer and has reached 92 in offseason workouts.
“It’s a legit 90,” Godfrey said.
The team also returns senior Ian O’Malley, another left-handed pitcher who will also play in the outfield. He spent a lot of time in center field last year and batted .292 with seven doubles and 15 RBI’s.
“He’s another guy who really has worked hard and is becoming a very good pitcher,” Godfrey said. “Those two, it’s rare to have guys like that. Man, they want the ball and they’ll compete their tails off every single time out. They’re leader-type guys. They both can swing the bat well so I expect Trason will probably be in the leadoff spot and Ian in the middle of the order. We’re excited about the run production they’ll be able to add this year.”
O’Malley will pitch at Central Missouri next year.
The other returning full-time starters are senior Zeke Sappington, who started in left field and can also catch, and sophomore Kaden Kralecek, who manned shortstop. Sappington was a .256 hitter with 10 RBI’s and 10 stolen bases.
Seniors Tucker Downing and Bryce Pugh, and junior Tanner Green also return with plenty of varsity experience. Downing was a .279 hitter who played some at second base and some at third. He started roughly half the team’s games. Pugh started a handful of games on the mound and is also competing for an infield spot this season. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Green is a very good defensive first baseman, Godfrey said, with the potential to be a dominant hitter. He will also pitch some.
Chase Parrish is competing for the starting catching job and has had a good offseason and preseason; he could also play in the outfield. Junior Kale Schrader is a third baseman and pitcher who moved to Carthage from Seneca and should also be in the mix. He’s had a stellar year at Carthage so far, earning first-team All-Conference honors in football as a linebacker, and then going 54-0 and winning the Class 4 220-pound state championship in wrestling.
Sophomores Will McCombs and Grant Collier are also expected to push for playing time.
Godfrey said the team’s starting rotation is its biggest strength going into the season, and he expects the Tigers will be improved defensively, as well.
Vogt and O’Malley will anchor the rotation, with Pugh probably serving as the number three starter. Schrader, Green and Kralecek will also be on the pitching staff. Godfrey said the team is really in need of a closer.
“We’ve got a chance to be solid,” he said. “Our challenge the last couple years has been putting runs on the board. We’ll have the pitching, I think we’ll have solid defense. If we can score some runs, we’ve got a chance to be all right.”
The Tigers finished 11-21 last season, but the team’s success late in the year, and the players returning this spring, have led to higher expectations in 2019.
“We said all season last year we have a chance to be a good team,” Godfrey said. “We’re saying this when we’re 4-16 or whatever we were at the time. We kept looking at our team and going we’re better than this. Once it finally clicked those guys realized wow, we can be pretty good, and then the excitement and the enjoyment grew. Plus the guys coming back, they’re leaders and they’re competitors. That goes a long way.”