By Derek Shore (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After posting two consecutive winning seasons and through a lot of roster turnover entering the 2017 spring season, the Cassville Wildcats ended the spring with a 7-15 overall record under first-year head coach Brandon Cobb.
That said, the Wildcats finished third (3-4 record in conference play) in what was a front-loaded Big 8 Conference that saw Aurora win the Class 4 state title along with Monett compiling a third straight 20-win season.
From last year’s team, Cassville graduated five lettermen and four starters in all, headlined by All-Conference Honorable Mentions Troy Rose and Gavin White. They also lost Denny Wierman, Gilbert Medina, Liam Dougherty, and Austin McClintock to graduation as well.
“Troy was our starting shortstop and he was our ace on the mound,” Cobb said. “He was our leadoff guy and moved to cleanup halfway through the year. He was our leader and will be tough to replace. Gavin was our starting second baseman. He was our three-hole hitter all year. He had a tremendous senior season. He will be very tough to replace his bat in the middle of the order.
“Denny was our starting first baseman till he was faced with an injury. Gilbert was going into the season as our ace, but injured his elbow in the beginning of the year. He DH’d most of the season and was a solid bat in the middle of our order.”
Next man up.
Cobb will rely on six returning lettermen and ten newcomers to help fill the void this upcoming season.
Among the lettermen, three starters return in the form of junior Sol Rainey and sophomores Jarrod Wallace and Bowen Preddy. All three received time on both the mound and in the field last season.
Wallace, who was an all-conference honorable mention selection, had a 1-1 record while holding a 4.72 ERA in 2017. He also recorded a .370 batting average with 24 hits, tallying eight doubles for 11 RBI and swiped four bags as a freshman.
“Jarrod had a great year especially as a freshman,” Cobb said. “He took the starting center field job and ran with it last year. He played great defense and hit the ball really well. We eased him in on the mound last year and this year we expect him to have a bigger role being one of our top two arms.”
The other top horse will be Rainey, who went 2-4 last year with a 4.81 ERA. He comes off a season in which he hit .255 with 17 hits, two doubles, 13 RBI, and three stolen bases.
“Sol was our starting right fielder and a starting pitcher for us last year as a sophomore,” Cobb added. “I expect him to be a middle of the order hitter for us and to be one of the top two guys on the mound. He really had a tremendous summer and we are hoping he builds on that this spring.”
In limited time, Preddy answered the bell in his time on the bump, posting a 1.93 ERA. At the plate, the infielder hit .252 while smacking 11 hits and driving in five RBI.
“Bowen did everything for us defensively last year,” his coach said. “He played all different sorts of spots. We look for him to hit at the top of the line-up and take advantage of his speed. He will play shortstop this year and have more of a defined role. He will also be a starting pitcher for us after getting a little taste on the mound as a freshman.”
Rounding out the returnees, juniors Dylan McCormack and Peyton Stringer along with sophomore Jonathan Medina.
McCormack garnered varsity experience on the mound and as a position player last spring. Cobb said he had a really good summer and will play a factor as a pitcher again while also serving as a super-utility option in the field. Stringer took over as the starting third baseman at the end of the year last year, playing solid defense and hit well. He’s expected to be a middle of the order bat and be a pitcher as well. Medina will be the primary backstop for Cassville thanks to his good arm and blocking ability.
In addition, Cobb expects juniors Camden Roller (pitcher/outfielder), Mason Hendrix (infielder), Austin Sanders (outfielder), Blake Gordon (infielder), and Evan Kessinger (outfielder) to perhaps see some varsity time. Sophomores Carson Roller (infielder), Dane Martin (infielder), Devon Bates (infielder), and Kade Heyward (outfielder) as well as freshman Zac Acheson (infield/catcher/pitcher) could get a taste of varsity as well.
Despite a roster with no senior experience, Cobb is ready to take on the challenge.
“For this upcoming season I see us as being a very young team,” Cobb said. “Most teams have seniors. Luckily, we may be young but we return a lot of guys with experience. We have a lot of young talent which is a good thing. I look for us to have a good successful season. I am excited about the group that we have and the potential they have shown.
“I know our players are excited about the upcoming season. As a coach, I have to remember that young talent will occasionally make young mistakes. I feel like at the beginning of the year we will work that stuff out and gain more and more experience as it goes. I believe we can learn from those early mistakes and play our best baseball at the end of the year when it matters the most.”
Cassville opens the season at Springdale, AR against East Newton on March 16.