By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2018 proved to be a successful campaign for Springfield Catholic and first-year head coach Courtney Spitz.
The Irish tallied a 23-8 record — the program’s third-straight season with at least 20 wins — falling to eventual Class 4 state champion Aurora in the district final.
Heading into this season, Spitz believes the pieces could in place for another successful run.
“This team may be one of the more talented teams that Springfield Catholic has had since its previous state championship in 2014,” Spitz said. “This year we are looking to get back to a conference championship opportunity, as well as another district championship appearance.”
Spitz will first need to replace a quartet of departed graduates in Seth Kamykowski, Michael Ruhlman, Hunter Puckett and Justin Haake.
Kamykowski has moved on to continue his baseball career at State Fair Community College.
Catholic’s returning group is deep and talented.
The Irish lineup be anchored by a pair of senior standouts in shortstop/pitcher Will Duff (4-2, 2.25 ERA, 35K / .283 BA, 26 hits, 21 RBI, 4 HR, 14 SB) and outfielder/pitcher Zach Cole (4-0, .656 ERA, 43 K / .411 BA, 37 hits, 29 RBI, 7 HR, 8 SB)
Both players are set to play at division one programs next season, with Duff at Vanderbilt University and Cole headed to Ball State University.
While extremely talented, Spitz believes Duff and Cole make the Irish even stronger with their attitudes.
“We really do have guys at every single spot that can be the player of the game. Obviously we are led by Duff and Cole because of the big schools they will play for. They know when they get going we are even tougher, but if you ask those two they will tell you that we are a strong team, and that’s are best tool.”
Other returnees for Catholic include junior infielder/pitcher Carter Bither (3-0, 1.296 ERA, 29 K / .224 BA, 17 hits, 13 RBI, 14 SB), sophomore outfielder/infielder/pitcher Jeremy Rader, sophomore outfielder/pitcher Colin Davis and junior infielder Ben Galligos.
Spitz noted junior infielder/pitcher Matthew Pickens could also make an impact this season as a newcomer to the varsity roster.
Spitz also feels the Irish attack should be well-rounded this season with strengths in several spots.
“Our strengths run through the middle of the field,” Spitz said. “We feel we have great pitching, great middle infield and a great outfield as well. We look to be more consistent offensively and pitch better in bigger matchups. We had some guys that were really pressing last year and trying to carry the whole team with big performances. When we rely on each other to be the toughest and pick each other up, we are great.”
With recent pitch-count rules put into place, depth is a premium for schools with postseason aspirations.
Spitz believes Catholic will be well prepared for the season’s challenges.
“This will be a deep and talented pitching staff,” Spitz said. “I felt that our guys learned a lot through their struggles last year when we weren’t able to pitch as well as we wanted to in the bigger matchups. We will have a solid four- to five-man rotation and another four or five quality bullpen arms to run out there when we need them.”
With a challenging schedule in both Big 8 Conference and districts, Spitz has high expectations for Catholic’s ability to compete late in the season.
“We need to get over the hump against great teams,” Spitz said “Aurora, Rogersville and other teams will have the same goals and expectations we do. We didn’t play well in some of those matchups last year, and we are going to be more prepared for it. Sometimes experience and failure is life’s best teacher, and our kids want to put themselves in those positions again.”
The Irish open the season March 16 against Poplar Bluff.