By Denise Tucker/For OzarksSportsZone.com
The Humansville Tigers head into the 2017 season with the challenge of replacing their entire infield.
The Tigers finished 2016 with a 12-8 record, but ended with a 3-1 Class 1 District 8 semifinal loss to Hermitage – “a disappointing end to what was a really good season.”
“I think last year was a building block for us,” Humansville coach Ben Phillips said. “The team realized that hard work every day will go a long way in our success for the year; you can’t just show up and beat everybody.”
Two of the Tigers’ key losses to graduation include Koby White and Dominic Lee. White played first base and hit .367 with two home runs, including a grand slam in district play. Lee, who caught and pitched for the Tigers, hit .350 with 25 runs scored and picked up three wins on the mound.
Returning for the Humansville lineup is all-state senior pitcher Hunter Swearingin. Swearingin was a second-team all-state selection after picking up eight wins, 104 strikeouts and a 1.87 earned run average. His 104 strikeouts put him second on Humansville’s all-time list to only himself, when he struck out 142 in 2015.
“Hunter is going to set some career pitching records at Humansville this year that I don’t know will ever be broken,” Phillips said. “He is already at 18 wins and over 300 strikeouts (for his career).”
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The Tigers also return junior Isaac Martino, who hit .302 with one home run, 10 runs scored and four stolen bases. Freddie Wieder, sophomore, hit .349 with one homer, one triple, eight doubles, seven stolen bases, 18 runs and 10 runs batted in. Wieder will also be one of Humansville’s top pitchers. Senior Trey Brewer, who will play first base, hit .304 and knocked in 16 runs last season.
Phillips welcomes players to the lineup who have had some varsity experience, but will be relied on to contribute this season.
*Dalton Wendleton – senior – was used in a platoon role the past three years and will be competing for one of the infield spots, in addition to being part of the pitching rotation. “He is smart and knows how to play the game, so he will have no problem transitioning to an everyday role player.”
*Matt Hicks – junior – “He is a strong kid who loves the game and is excited to be playing varsity ball this year. He can see the ball really well and puts a ton of power behind his swing.”
*James Brown – junior – has a background in cross country and track. “He has a lot of speed and we are looking forward to being able to use that on the base paths.”
*Justin McDowell – freshman – “He is smart and understands the game, which will help him as he learns the high school game.”
*Dustin Schoemaker – senior – “The past few years, track has been his focus, but baseball has always been a game that he has loved. He was a platoon player and JV player the past few years, but he has a solid arm and will get a lot of innings this year.”
The Tigers have three pitchers who have plenty of varsity experience and three incoming pitchers who will get a lot of innings.
“We want to keep those arms healthy and use that strength in practice to help out our hitting,” Phillips said. “The new pitching rules mean more pitchers are going to be needed by every team… We will have four or five guys who we can pitch with confidence and allow us to keep arms fresh the whole year.”
But the challenge of replacing the entire infield will be one that could take a while to resolve.
“Once we figure out where each player is going to fit, we then have to work on building chemistry between everyone,” Phillips said. “The challenge for us at the end of the year will be to keep working like it is the beginning of the year. That is easier said than done as fatigue and injuries usually set in toward the end of the year. We have to be able to keep putting in the hard work so that this year we can finish strong.”
And that starts on March 17 against Fordland in the Pleasant Hope Tournament.
“Even though there is a lot to replace from last year, this team isn’t worried one bit,” Phillips said. “These guys have been playing baseball their entire lives and they look at this year as just another opportunity to compete for a conference and district championship.”