By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Monett baseball enjoyed a magical run in 2019.
For only the second time in school history, the 19-7 Cubs reached the Class 4 quarterfinal round, falling to Helias Catholic.
Longtime head coach Michael Calhoun, 2019’s Big 8 West Division Coach of the Year, attributed much of the team’s success to its veteran leadership.
“Last year’s team was a great group of young men that never stopped competing throughout the entire season,” Calhoun said. “We had several players step up and take on major roles, both on the field and leading our team.”
For Monett to build on its 2019 success, that process will likely need to repeat itself.
The Cubs graduated five key starters from last season’s squad, and all five have moved on to the collegiate level.
Corey Spain (University of Arkansas), Dale Slater (Northwest Arkansas College), Alejandro Groomer (Culver Stockton University), Alex Rivera (Northwest Arkansas College) and William Daingerfield (Culver Stockton University) are all set to continue their respective baseball careers this spring.
Monett’s graduation also removes a pair of all-state pitching selections from the roster in Spain (7-1, 0.692 ERA) and Slater (7-1-2, 1.89 ERA).
“Corey capped off a great career as a Cub and now holds almost all our career and season records as a pitcher,” Calhoun said. “Dale was a very happy surprise for us on the bump, from having to give us little to no innings his first three years, to earning an all-state nod as a senior and being a huge part of our staff.”
Despite the graduation holes, Monett’s roster — and pitching staff — is not exactly barren.
With 20 years at the Cubs’ helm, Calhoun is also no stranger to graduating talent.
“I believe our biggest obstacle is the same as it is most every year,” Calhoun said. “Trying to replace the players and numbers of the previous season. We have very capable young men that are able to try to replace that production.”
A trio of starters return, including senior infielder/pitcher Wesley Merriman (.427 BA, 23 RBI, 2 SB), senior infielder/pitcher Karter Brink (.354 BA, 10 RBI, 2 SB, 2-0-3, 0.840 ERA) and junior outfielder/pitcher Estin McBroom (.303 BA, 11 RBI, 1 HR, 1-2-1, 3.24 ERA)
Merriman, who earned all-state and All-O-Zone honors as an infielder in 2019, suffered a knee injury this fall. The extent of his availability is unknown at this time.
“Wes had a huge year for us at the plate last season and was one of the best hitters in the area,” Calhoun said. “During football he injured his knee, but he’s had surgery and will be all healed up — but maybe not in time for the season. He’s a great player and young man, and if he’s able to play, we know he will be a force again.”
In addition to postseason positional honors, Brink (all-conference, all-district) and McBroom (all-conference) provide the Cubs with additional depth in the pitching rotation.
“Karter is a three-year starter and the spark for our off-season,” Calhoun said. “He is a competitor and will be a leader up the middle of the field both as a pitcher and shortstop. Estin has started since his freshman season. I am excited to see him to continue to grow into a
potential No. 1 on the mound, as well as a middle-of-the-order bat.”
Monett also returns senior pitcher/outfielder Gunnar Bradley (2-2, 3.58 ERA), senior infielder Cole McCollough (.200 BA, 4 RBI, 2 SB) and junior catcher Tanner Wright (.254 BA, 11 RBI, 1 HR, 1 SB).
Calhoun believes his returning core provides a strong mix of both leadership and experience that will be vital to the Cubs’ success this season.
“I am very excited for this season and this group of boys,” Calhoun said. “They have been used to being very competitive and successful throughout their previous three seasons. We have good veterans and very promising young players ready to step up and fill valuable roles.”
With open spots on the roster, a host of varsity newcomers will challenge for playing time, including Kris Cloud, Daniel Geiss, Miles Landing, Doss Nation, Keith Fields, Isaac Lindsey, Chance Mangrum, Cade McCollough, Corbin McCully, Jayden Miles, Cage Nichols, Ray Villalta, Caleb Sperandio and Matthew Bahl.
Even with plenty of available arms, Monett’s pitching staff will be a question mark early in the season as the rotation develops.
Calhoun sees these question marks as huge opportunities for his kids.
“Coming into the season, we have several young men I see being a large part of our staff, including Gunnar Bradley, Karter Brink, Daniel Geiss, Estin McBroom, Cole McCollough and Doss Nation,” Calhoun said. “We also have several freshman and other players excited to fill those roles. I’m excited to see what our young men do when given those opportunities to compete at the varsity level.”
With a difficult schedule including the likes of McDonald County, Republic, Carl Junction and Clever, Calhoun believes his team will be well prepared for late-season challenges.
“I think if we are able to stay healthy and together, we have another opportunity at both the conference and district races,” Calhoun said. “We have a competitive field for both and I look forward to how the season unfolds.”
Monett opens its season Friday, March 20 at Wentzville Timberland.