By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Houston Tigers spent last year gaining experience and picked up two more wins than the previous year, finishing with a 7-17 record after losing to Licking in the first round of district play. Coach Brent Hall will continue rebuilding his team in his 21st year at Houston.
Graduates Ty McCloud and Gavin Alston were each named to the All-SCA team last season. McCloud was the leadoff man and effective at centerfield, and Alston was a versatile player who manned the outfield and infield and hit in the top half of the lineup. Their .300-plus averages will be missed. Nick Swanson, second baseman, will also be missed.
But the Tigers do return several knowledgeable players.
“We have our whole pitching staff back, which will be a big plus,” said Coach Hall. “All our young guys gaining valuable experience the last year or two will help.”
Braedin Groff is the lone senior on the team. He will pitch in rotation and can play third base as well as outfield. Last season, Groff threw against most of the better teams and will be expected to continue that tradition.
Junior Sterling Jackson will cover first base and is part of the starting rotation this season. He received Second-Team All-SCA and all-district honors as a pitcher last year and knocked in 17 RBIs with a .351 average.
Classmate Hunter Stilley takes on an outfield position following hard work in the off-season. His love of the game and speed should aid the Tigers.
Connor Wilson, junior, had a solid sophomore season with a 2.62 ERA, .304 average, and 17 RBI. He will be found behind the plate, on the mound, and in the infield or outfield. His versatility is an asset, and he will hit in the top or middle of the order.
Jacob Koch is another utility player who has put in work in the off-season. The junior had 7 stolen bases last season and will log time on the mound again this year.
Devin Wallender is the final returning junior, and the hard-working and strong outfielder will DH for the team. Wallender has potential to be a power hitter for Houston.
The sophomore class includes Cody Allen, a versatile player who is most likely to see time at second base or behind the plate. He had a .312 average last season. Alex Castleman hit .357 as a freshman and picked up 8 stolen bases and 17 RBIs, making the all-conference second team as a DH/utility player. In his sophomore debut, he will pitch in rotation and play at third or short and will hit in the middle of the lineup as a run producer. Sophomore Trevor Mitchell had a .412 average as a freshman and was the DH the second half of the season. He’s a utility player who could cover third, first, outfield, and will pitch.
Junior Robbie Mortenson will be a new face on the field. He will compete for a corner outfield spot after playing in the outfield in summer ball.
“Our goal is to get our program back to where we are used to being,” said Coach Hall. “Which is playing successfully and at a high level. I love the game of baseball and so does this group I coach, so I’m looking forward to every opportunity to step on the field and getting to do that with them.”