By Amanda Perkins/For OzarksSportsZone.com
Harv Antle is new to the Licking Wildcats, but the Hall of Fame coach is no stranger to baseball, having spent 20 years at the helm of successful programs. The Crocker graduate returns to the competitive Frisco League, ready to implement his tradition of success in his new town.
“For this spring’s club, I would expect that we will contend for a conference and district title,” said Antle. “It has been awhile since that district title was brought back home to Licking. I think we are overdue in that respect.”
Antle has led teams to many titles: eight conference and six district championships, two final four berths, and one state title. He has a .674 overall winning percentage, and brought Licking to a 12-4 fall season (.750).
The Wildcats know they can take no opponent for granted, but they have first set their sights on Plato – the team to beat in the Frisco League as conference tourney victors in the fall. They also know they will have to take down the reigning state champion Mountain Grove Panthers to make it through district play. “Our schedule is solid, beginning with the Houston Tournament,” said Antle. “We will see Salem, Cuba, Mansfield, Waynesville, and Summit Christian during the season, along with the league schedule and many of our district opponents.”
Three seniors will lead the team. Dillon Smith was the ace on the mound this fall. He went 4-1 with a save and did not allow an earned run over 30 innings pitched. Smith anchors the infield at shortstop and hit .356 and scored 19 runs in 16 games.
Brady Smith is a formidable opponent, standing at 6’4” on the hill. He struck out 26 in 20 innings and picked up two wins and a save this fall. He will also hit middle of the order (.375) and is a corner infielder. Tristen Morelan is the final senior, a catcher, pitcher and table-setter at the top of the order (.327, 19 runs scored). He can control the running game and also won all three of his pitching starts last year with a 3.23 ERA.
Antle said the Wildcats will also need several younger players to be successful in order to meet team goals. Returning from the fall season is freshman Gideon Antle, a centerfielder who hit .320 and scored 10 runs and 14 RBIs. A skilled tracker, he also gets good jumps on balls in the air.
Sophomore Carter Rinne (.311) is a versatile player and one of the team’s best bunters who can pitch and play infield or outfield. Connor Medlock is a reliable reliever.
The sophomore led the team in appearances and “took the ball in 9 of 16 games and produced a tidy 2.52 ERA,” said Antle. Michael Milhizer is also a returning sophomore, and the pitcher/catcher/outfielder worked his way into the lineup late in the season and will feature more prominently in the spring.
Newcomers include Trenton Campbell, who didn’t come out for the fall season but was a varsity starter in the outfield last spring. The junior will bring speed to the lineup and is an athletic player. Sophomore Reece Derrickson is a lefty hitter who may be found at DH or in the outfield. Lane Wade picked up 23 varsity at-bats in the fall, and the sophomore JV pitcher plays first base and can DH. Cainan Hutsell rounds out the sophomore class. He plays second base and recently saw some varsity playing time, including two hits in the conference tourney.
Current seniors challenged with leadership of the team had talented examples last year to emulate. Graduate Gage Atchley was named to the all-conference and all-district first teams and earned an all-state honorable mention. His .430 batting average, 33 RBIs, 4 home runs, and 1.82 ERA propelled him to signing with Three Rivers College as a pitcher and centerfielder.
Austin Satterfield signed with North Central Missouri College. The third baseman had a .379 average and 29 RBIs and was an all-conference and all-district first team player. Also graduating were Cole Roberts, Bryce Derrickson, Jordan Mendenhall, and Cody Payne. This group led the Wildcats to a 13-7 fall and a 14-12 spring finish for the 2015-16 season.
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After a successful fall campaign, Antle is optimistic for the program. “We will strive to be a team that plays good defense and throws strikes. It starts on the mound and in the field. Offensively, we stress contact and forcing the other team to make plays. We want to be fearless on the bases and put pressure on the defense.”
Antle said pitch count restrictions will force his team to develop more arms and to define roles more firmly.
“Our style is to play the game hard at all times, never taking a pitch off,” he said. “We will play with enthusiasm, respect, and class.”
The Wildcats open their season at the Houston Tournament on March 20.