By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Last season was a bit of struggle for Buffalo and head coach Jeff Elsenraat.
The Bison finished with a 9-17 record and were eliminated in the district first round by Eldon.
“The 2018 season was a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows,” Elsenraat said.” We played some really great games together as a team, and we played some really hard games as a team. Hopefully, the players were able to grow and develop from both game situations, which I believe they did because they did not quit.”
A quintet of graduated seniors move on from the program, including Parker Tyree, Billy McCune, Cody Anderson, Jared Gentry and Braden Mathews.
“They played their hearts out until the very last out of the game,” Elsenraat said. “No matter what the scoreboard said.”
This year’s Buffalo squad will be anchored by three returning starters in senior catcher/pitcher Bradley Hosiner (.222 BA, 7 RBI, 2 SB), senior shortstop/pitcher Tyler Gash (3-4, 5.97 ERA) and junior third baseman Derek Smith (.226 BA 14 hits).
Sophomore infielder Brock Wendlandt also returns to the lineup.
“Bradley is one of our senior leaders on the team, and he will anchor us in the lineup and on the field,” Elsenraat said. “Tyler was an honorable mention all-district last year and will fill the top spot on the mound this season.”
Elsenraat hopes the trio of returnees will quickly elevate the play of their younger, less-experienced teammates.
“Our lineup will be young just like our team,” Elsenraat said. “We have three returning starters with full-time varsity at-bats. My hope for these three is that they can get on base or make things happen when we have others on base.”
Among the Bison newcomers, Elsenraat believes sophomore outfielder Trey Cruse has an opportunity to make an immediate impact in the varsity lineup.
“Trey will play outfield for us and will have to fill one of the holes left by the seniors,” Elsenraat said. “I am expecting Trey to step in and step up to the challenge and be able to produce like he did when he played JV.”
With several new faces in the lineup, Elsenraat looks forward to the upcoming challenges his team will tackle this season.
“I am looking forward to this season,” Elsenraat said. “We will have a new look with only three full time starters coming back. I am excited to see what the younger players will do and who will step up and emerge as the next leaders of Buffalo Baseball.”
Elsenraat believes defense will set the tone early on in the season, as his team works to quickly adjust to the varsity game.
“Our biggest strength this season will be our defense,” Elsenraat said. “We will have a lot of new faces on the field, but I feel that we will be strong defensively. We will always have room to improve and become better, and I feel the players this season are willing to learn and get better.”
For Buffalo to improve upon last season’s results, it must be able to compete in a brand new conference this season.
A former member of the dissolved Central Ozarks Conference Small Division, Buffalo moves into the new Ozark Mountain Conference this season with El Dorado Springs, Warsaw, Butler and Sherwood. In 2020, the group will merge with the Mid-Lakes Conference schools.
“We joined a new conference this season and not a lot of information is known about who the top teams will be, but just like any other year we will need to come ready to play,” Elsenraat said. “We will be young, but if we can compete and put forth our best effort in every outing we will have a great season.”
Buffalo will open its season in the Clever ROTB Tournament.