By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ask Licking High School baseball coach Harv Antle what will motivate his team this year, and his response boils down to this: Restore order.
“Motivation for us is pretty simple. We are trying to win a district title. That hasn’t been done here in over 15 years,” Antle said. “An entire group of kids entered Licking as kindergarteners and left as seniors without seeing Licking win a baseball district. The history and tradition at Licking are tremendous. The problem is that the baseball history is becoming ancient history. We must have a sense of urgency to re direct that and change course.”
Licking certainly can set the stage this year with nine returning starters off its 14-9 team of a year ago.
It has six core seniors who have been part of the program three years – or six seasons if you count fall ball as well. They are Carter Rinne, Connor Medlock, Michael Milhizer, Reece Derrickson, Hunter Krewson and Cainan Hutsell.
“This core of players has the ability to break the district drought. Our fate will be determined by the seniors’ willingness to work,” Antle said. “If they really value a championship then, they will find a way to complete the task.”
Another key returnee is junior Gideon Antle, who was a first team All-State selection. He hit .509 in the fall with seven doubles, two triples and a home run and was selected to the MHSBCA Junior Sunbelt team.
He’ll likely bat third in the order behind Rinne at leadoff and Hutsell at second base.
The rest of the projected lineup includes junior Seth Farris at catcher, Milhizer, Derrickson in left field, Medlock pitching, sophomore Easton Ice at designated hitter and Krewson in right field. Sophomore Wilson Murray could play first base.
Rinne batted .407 with a .558 on-base percentage in the fall, striking out only five times in 81 plate appearances. He also had 17 steals. A middle infielder, he also committed only two errors.
Hutsell hit .317 in the fall and is the fastest player on the team, with a sub-7-second time in the 60-yard dash. He had 14 steals in the fall.
Derrickson puts the ball in play. Milhizer hit three home runs in the Frisco League tournament. Farris, a transfer, hit .370 in the fall, including two home runs. Murray can play any infield position, and Ice is nice lefty bat who hit .381 in the fall.
“We still believe in the bunt and the hit -and-run. We believe in moving runners and will often play for one run,” Antle said. “Offensively, our goal is to put the ball in play regularly avoiding the strikeout and the double play. Big innings and big flies are nice, but they are hard to come by in high school baseball.”
On the mound, look for Medlock, Murray and Milhizer to cover most of the innings as starting pitchers. Medlock, a left-hander and likely No. 1 starter, was 5-2 with a 1.86 earned run average in the fall. He had 9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Milhizer was 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA in the fall. Murray was 3-1 with a 1.57 ERA in the fall.
A number of other players will have to cover other innings, too.
“Assistant coach Cole Roark is our pitching coach,” Antle said. “He always has the guys ready physically and prepared mentally.”
Licking’s history includes state championships in 1988 and 1989.
“Iberia and Dixon are the favorites in the Frisco League. We finished third in the conference tournament back in the fall,” Antle said. “We have had difficulty with Iberia and Dixon in recent years. Hopefully, we can reverse that trend this spring.”