By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Weaubleau baseball is certainly trending up.
After winning just five games in 2017 the Tigers improved to 16-11 in 2018 and took another step forward last spring with a 19-11 record and a fourth-place finish in Class 1.
The Tigers return seven starters and three other letter winners from that state tournament team and appear poised for another strong year.
“We’ve got a chance to be good again for sure,” fifth-year coach Chad Foster said. “This group that is seniors this year, about all of them started their freshman year and we kind of took our lumps their freshman year and a little bit their sophomore year. We made a pretty big leap last year.”
Weaubleau must first replace a pair of decorated veterans in Cameron Ott and Freddie Wieder, both of whom graduated last spring after earning All-State honors. Ott was a second team catcher who also earned first-team Polk County League honors after batting .323 and stealing 25 bases. Wieder was a first team All-State and PCL pitcher who went 6-2 with a 1.98 ERA; he batted .374 with 11 extra-base hits, 27 RBI and 28 stolen bases.
“Both of them we’re going to miss a lot,” Foster said. “Cameron was pretty well our leader and our captain basically on and off the field and his numbers weren’t quite as good as Freddie’s on paper but to me on the team he was just as valuable for his intangibles. Freddie ended up being our number one on the mound. I didn’t really expect that but he kept getting better and better throughout the year. Cameron was our number two on the mound plus our number one catcher.”
They were also the team’s only seniors.
Five of the team’s returning starters earned all-state or all-conference honors.
Senior Cadan Kauffman returns at shortstop after earning second-team all-state honors there as a junior. He was also a first-team PCL infielder. He was the team’s best statistical hitter last spring with a .430 batting average, 11 doubles, 27 RBI’s and 25 stolen bases. He also went 4-2 on the mound with a 3.71 ERA.
Senior Briar Tucker returns at center field; he was a second-team all-state outfielder and a first-team PCL player who batted .382 with 19 runs batted in and 19 stolen bases.
Senior Tate Burkhart was an honorable mention all-state outfielder who batted .300 and also went 3-1 on the mound with a 2.38 ERA. He is likely to spend time in left and right field and also pitch.
“Cadan will hit in the top third of the order somewhere,” Foster said. “He’s got to step up and get more into a leadership role this year, more so than last year and he’s pretty decent on the mound. He’s going to have to give us some innings on the mound and I think he can do that. Briar will be hitting in the top third of the order somewhere and he was one of our better hitters last year, our third or fourth best average. He’s never really pitched much but he’s been working on that aspect and we’re planning on getting some innings out of him as well. Tate is like Briar, he does a good job in the outfield and he hit pretty well. He gave us some innings on the mound last year and I expect more this year. He could potentially help us, he’s got a good arm.”
Senior Sam Rutherford was a second-team all-conference infielder and returns at second base after batting .338 and stealing 19 bases.
Senior Tucker Hilliard was a second-team all-conference player and will see time at multiple positions including catcher, infield and outfield. He batted .247 and pitched to a 3.00 ERA.
The two other returning starters are junior Treyton Foster and sophomore Ethan Foster. Treyton will play third base again; he drove in 22 runs last year and went 3-1 with a 2.83 ERA on the mound. Ethan will man first base after driving in 23 runs and stealing 15 bases.
Treyton will also be asked to step up on the mound after working as the team’s third starter last year. Ethan, meanwhile, is expected to play strong defense again after winning the team’s Gold Glove award as a freshman.
“Those will be two key guys that will really help us,” Foster said.
Nearly everyone on the roster will pitch at some point.
Two other players return after earning letters last year. Junior Creek Tucker mostly played junior varsity but logged some varsity time and sophomore Gage Culbertson was another JV player who saw some varsity time.
A newcomer in freshman Cooper Wilken has a chance to grab a starting spot after a strong fall season. He’s another versatile player who can catch, play shortstop and pitch. He batted .436 in the fall and stole 20 bases. Other newcomers are senior John Caufield, who last played as a freshman, and freshman Wyatt Dennis.
Wilken and Hilliard will both be in the mix at catcher, as well as Tucker.
“We’re pretty athletic,” Foster said. “Most of the kids can run, which translates into last year we were very good defensively and I expect to be good defensively again.”
The Tigers allowed an average of 3.4 runs per game last spring and posted seven shutout wins. Remove a lopsided 16-1 loss to Clinton from the mix and Weaubleau allowed just three runs per game.
Pitching was also a strength.
The team’s speed also translated well on the base paths, where the Tigers averaged more than five steals per game.
Offensively the Tigers averaged seven runs per game and 10 times posted double-digit run totals. That was despite playing an “extremely tough” schedule, Foster said. The coach wants to see an even better offense this spring.
“I think it helped the guys down the stretch,” he said. “We struggled at times offensively against those top guys. Offensively that’s going to be kind of the key. We’re going to have to get better offensively.”
After playing just five games at home last year the Tigers will have a more balanced schedule this spring with 11 home games scheduled. The team is also trying to schedule a game against Dora at Springfield’s Hammons Field in late March.