By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
For small-town high school baseball teams, having enough senior leadership is always a challenge. Some are lucky to have one or two.
Fortunately for the Gainesville Bulldogs, the cupboard is hardly bare as the curtain rises on the 2020 spring season.
“I am fortunate enough to have five seniors on this team with a lot of experience playing together, and they get along very well,” Gainesville coach Nathan Jones said. “I think they will be the nucleus of our team this year and be a big reason for our success.”
Jones’ optimism is understandable, considering Gainesville reached the Class 2 District 5 semifinals last season, finished 10-12 and then spent considerable time in the fall fine-tuning it all.
The roster has 16 players, with the seniors being Ben Pointer, Will Uchtman, Tanner Jennings, Jaxon Britt and Gavin Rowbotham.
Pointer heads up the pitching staff. The right-hander had a 3.30 earned run average last year.
“Pointer led our pitching staff last year and pitched in some of the biggest games we played in,” Jones said. “He had an even better fall finishing with an ERA of 0.80, so I expect him to pitch in a lot of big games this spring.”
The rest of the pitching staff includes sophomore Jake Leeker (3.03 ERA), Uchtman, Jennings and sophomore Landry Jenkins.
“We don’t have anyone that will just blow you away, but we do have a lot of depth and a ton of guys that can give us quality innings,” Jones said. “We posted a team ERA of 2.03 this fall.”
They’ll be pitching to Britt, a second team All-Summit League selection last year along with being voted all-district. He also batted .426.
“Britt is a four-year letterman and brings much-needed stability behind the plate,” Jones said. “He also led us in hitting last year, and I expect him to carry that over and be a big piece of our success.”
Uchtman also could play a big role. He was Second-Team All-Summit Conference and All-Class 2 District 5 after batting .406.
“Uchtman was definitely our most consistent bat last year and does a great job getting on base and setting the tone for our team,” Jones said. “He will be asked to contribute more on the mound this year as well and I expect a good year out of him.”
Look for Rowbotham to have an influence both defensively and offensively.
“Rowbotham was our best defensive player last year on the infield,” Jones said. “He will be asked to throw more this season and had a nice fall at the plate finishing with a .357 average.”
Look for Jennings to play center field and also hit in the middle of the lineup. He led the team in RBI last fall and can pitch, as he had a 0.80 ERA last fall as well.
A pair of sophomores, Jake Leeker and Landry Jenkins, should see expanded roles after seeing some varsity time last season. Bryce Hambelton and Dymon Vaneperan also are in the mix.
“We have a lot of players that are basically the same when they come to the plate,” Jones said. “We have a few bats in the middle that will be a key to our success but overall we can get the job down from top to bottom.”
He expects the Summit Conference to be competitive as always.
“Playing in the Summit Conference is always a challenge and never easy to navigate through,” Jones said. “I think we have the potential to be a top team in the conference if we can put it all together.”