By Kary Booher
Like some high school coaches, Springfield Catholic High School’s Jason Daugherty has mixed feelings about travel baseball. But, ultimately, he sees positives.
“Since I’ve been at Catholic, last year I’d never had so many playing (travel ball),” Daugherty said. “But that’s allowed me to coach other kids, and it doesn’t let me be the only voice our travel ball guys hear.”
The extra summer work may well pay off for Catholic, which returns a bulk of last year’s team that finished 21-8 overall (second in the Central Ozark Conference-Small) and reached the second round of the district tournament.
That was an improvement from the prior year, a 15-15 finish. But given Catholic’s rich tradition, the natural question surrounding the Fightin’ Irish is the same as always – do they have the horses to make a deep run in the postseason?
Certainly, they have some pieces, led by senior pitcher/shortstop Mason Dickeman, a Missouri State University commit. He led the team last year in average (.402), slugging percentage (.587) and was the co-leader in RBI (23) with Grant Schoen.
On the mound, Dickeman was 5-1 with a 2.33 earned run average in a team-high 48 innings.
“His command has progressed over the years. He’s gotten stronger, but his command has gotten better more than anybody else,” Daugherty said. “It allows him to keep his pitch count down. As a sophomore, he was wild and walked a lot of guys. Last year, he got a lot better (29 walks).”
The pitching staff will include sophomore Will Duff, Zach Cole, Justin Haake, Michael Ruhlman and Tyler Roster. Duff could be one of the area’s best athletes, as he already is drawing interest from NCAA Division I coaches. However, he pitched only 3.2 innings last season before suffering a season-ending injury, although he did compete during the summer.
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Cole had a 0.88 ERA in eight innings a year ago, while Haake had a 1.33 ERA in 36.2 innings.
Daugherty cautions that the pitching staff isn’t quite like the one of 2014, which led the way to a state championship.
“In 2014, they pounded the zone,” Daugherty said. “The kids I have this year have good stuff. But if we’re walking people and running pitch counts up, it’ll be hard to pitch past the fourth inning.”
Meanwhile, the projected lineup calls for Dickeman to bat leadoff. But there are parts to choose from: Cole in the outfield, Duff as a utility man, Schoen in the outfield, Josef Luthy at either third or second base, Tristan Cumucio at catcher, Seth Kamykowski at either second or third; Hayes Hutter at either outfield or designated hitter, Roster either in the outfield or catcher, Ruhlman in the outfield and Haake at second base.
Other notables includes outfielders Hunter Puckett, Vincent Macias and infielders Zach Shelangoski and Hunter Brown.
Overall, it’s a team that should be competitive, although the Irish have moved up to Class 4 and are in a district with preseason No. 1 Aurora and tradition-rich Rogersville.
Then again, Catholic is a program that reached the state championship game in Class 3 some three times in a recent four-year stretch and won two state titles, its last in 2014. It hasn’t been back to the semifinals since.
“I think we’re capable of going to the Final Four. This team’s got what it takes to get there,” Daugherty said. “But you have to play well at the right time. We’re going to be in a tough district. I think it’ll make us step up, or we’ll get beat.”