By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
This past off-season at Hollister has seemed longer than usual for the Tigers for good reason.
The Tigers’ season a year ago ended with disappointment against Springfield Catholic. Catholic rallied from six runs down in the seventh inning to beat Hollister 8-7 at Districts. The Irish rattled off five straight hits with two outs to score five runs.
With everyone back for the Tigers, coach John Burgi is anxious to see how they respond to that devastating finish.
“Ever since I’ve been coaching this group, that is the game that hurt them more than any other they’ve been involved in,” Burgi said. “They have had other close games they lost, but that one really hurt. Hopefully, it showed them they’ve got to play to the last pitch, that it’s never over until the final out and that they grow from it.
“We have to learn to win the close games.”
Hollister has a group of seniors who have seemingly seen it all. Jenner Steele, Jackson Bekemeier and Landon Farquhar will all be four-year starters and Trey Dorlan, Ethan Parks and Braedon Newell three-year starters.
“They’ve been in the program for a long time,” Burgi said. “Jenner, Jackson and Landon have started since day one. Ethan, Trey and Braedon have played a whole lot, too. That’s six seniors who have started a great amount of time.”
Hollister also has a senior starter in Peyton Weber.
In contrast, the Tigers had just one senior two years ago and none last year.
This has been the season they’ve all been waiting for.
“They’re setting their sights pretty high and they understand we play in the toughest District in the state (in Class 4),” Burgi said. “It’s tough to get through our District and it will be a dogfight again. We’ve got a chance to advance.”
Steele, a catcher, is fresh from hitting .452 with 27 RBI. He was named Class 4 All-State, even though he didn’t receive any All-COC Small Schools honors.
Over the winter, Steele signed to play at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
“The word is out on him,” Burgi said. “The Hutch coach told me every time he talked to somebody from Missouri they mentioned Jenner and said he was a very good hitter. He’s looking forward to having Jenner play there.”
Weber, a second baseman who batted .341 as a junior, is bound for Columbia College. He has made a favorable impression on Burgi since transferring from Harrison, Ark. last year.
“He’s such an even-keel type player,” Burgi said. “He never shows all that much excitement. He just comes out and does things right.”
Burgi envisions a lineup of Parks, Farquhar, Steele, Weber, Bekemeier, Garrett Moody, Newell, Dorlan and Logan Armitage. Steele, Weber, Farquhar and Parks all hit .300 plus last year.
Bekemeier had a 4-3 W-L record with a 3.00 ERA over 49 innings last year, while Farquhar was 4-5 with a 1.98 ERA. He beat eventual Class 4 state champ Aurora 2-0. Parks and Newell also will supply innings.
“If they can stay in the strike zone with their secondary pitches, they are pretty good,” Burgi said. “Jackson has a very good curve ball and over the summer got his breaking ball back. Landon has a decent breaking ball and when he has thrown three pitches for strikes, he has been effective and dominated people.”
With a promising freshman class on the scene, Burgi is counting on his seniors to serve as mentors.
“We have four freshmen who could see some playing time,” Burgi said. “We’ve got a little more depth than we have had. It will be good to have five or six guys who can fill in and do some things.
“I’m hoping, with everything the seniors have been through for three years, they can teach our young kids. We’ve talked about that with them and how the freshmen buy into everything they teach them. We want our seniors to be coaches on the field. We have paired them up freshmen, so they can teach them everything they know about their position.”