By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
CASSVILLE — The Cassville Wildcats enter their fourth season with Brandon Cobb as head coach and that means Cobb will have his first group of players to go through four years in the baseball program.
Cassville’s baseball seniors are shortstop and pitcher Bowen Preddy, catcher Jarrod Wallace, left-side infielder and pitcher Carson Roller, second baseman Deven Bates, center fielder Kade Hayward, and catcher and pitcher Kole Faber.
“They are such a great group,” Cobb said. “It is a little bittersweet. I am so excited to have them as seniors as they are my first class that I get to see through and I am excited to see how this season goes for them, but I am also a little bit sad because this is the last year I get to be around them each and everyday. I am proud of them because they have set the foundation for our program and worked so hard. I looked forward to coaching them this last season.”
Cassville finished 7-15 overall last season and took a 3-1 loss to Big 8 West rival Seneca in the Class 4, District 12 tournament. The Wildcats are looking to reverse their outcomes in 2020, especially in close games, after losing 10 of their final 12 games last season.
“Last year, we learned how to compete in games and we were in a lot of them,” Cobb said. “Unfortunately, we went 1-9 in games decided by 2 runs or fewer. This year our goals are to continue to compete and learn how to win those close games which is an extremely tough thing to do, especially in our conference, but I think our team has the capability to do that. We also want to continue to play our best baseball at the end of the year. I want our guys to focus on the small details of the game that can be the difference between losing and winning those close games and we have a great group of kids that can do that.”
Preddy enjoyed an outstanding junior season — he batted .492 with 30 hits, 20 runs scored, nine doubles, two triples, two home runs, 22 RBI, and 21 stolen bases, plus .584 on-base and .803 slugging, and finished 2-2 on the mound with a 2.75 ERA and 45 strikeouts and nine walks over 35 2/3 innings. He’s slotted for the No. 3 spot in both the Wildcats’ batting order and pitching rotation.
Preddy recently signed with NAIA Evangel for both football and baseball. In his last high school football season, Preddy rushed for 1,085 yards and 22 touchdowns on 166 carries, caught 17 passes for 539 yards and eight more scores, returned 17 kickoffs for 366 yards and one TD, and made 84 tackles with five pass breakups and one fumble recovery as the Wildcats finished second in Class 3.
“I am so excited for him,” Cobb said. “He is a great kid. I was talking to him and he said it felt like home. I am also really excited because that (Evangel) is where I went to school and played so it’s really special for me to get to see him play there for four years. I think it is so cool that he gets to play both sports in college and after watching him grow for the last four years, I see him getting a lot of early playing time. He has worked so hard to continue his career and as a coach, I don’t think there is anything more satisfying than getting to see one of your kids live out their dream. Evangel University is getting a really special athlete, but they are getting an even better person in Bowen Preddy. I am so proud of him and happy for him.”
Cobb, a 2011 Nixa High alumnus, earned a Gold Glove during his time playing baseball at Evangel.
Cleanup hitter Wallace hit .370 last season with 20 hits, 13 runs scored, three doubles, one triple, one homer, 12 RBI, 13 stolen bases, .478 on-base, and .519 slugging. He went 1-2 with a 6.55 ERA and seven strikeouts and 12 walks over 9 2/3 innings.
Leadoff man Roller hit .328 with 21 hits, 16 runs scored, one double, 11 RBI, six stolen bases, .405 on-base, and .344 slugging last season. Slotted to be the No. 2 arm this season, Roller comes off a 2-4 season with a 3.13 ERA and 18 strikeouts and 16 walks over 22 1/3 innings.
Junior pitcher and third baseman Zac Acheson leads the pitching rotation and hits behind Wallace in the Wildcat order. Acheson finished 2-6 last season with a 3.04 ERA and 37 strikeouts and 14 walks over 50 2/3 innings. At the plate, he batted .340 with 18 hits, four doubles, two triples, 18 RBI, three stolen bases, .471 on-base, and .491 slugging.
Landon White and Lane Mitchell will split time between first base and designated hitter, Bates joins White and Mitchell on the right side of the infield, and there’s open competition to flank center fielder Hayward in the outfield.
Ethan Fuchs, Corey Thomas and Easton Fare are in the mix for an outfield spot, while Fare can also pitch and Thomas can also play at second base. Faber and Cutter Hicks are both competing for time at catcher and they are both part of the pitching staff.
In the pitching rotation, freshman Isaac Hadlow has been lined up to be the fourth starter. Other arms available are Faber, Thomas, Hicks, Bailey, Mitchell, Wallace and Fare.
This is the right time for a segue into the Wildcats’ strengths and weaknesses this season.
“One of our main strengths is our experience and leadership,” Cobb said. “We have been so young and inexperienced the last few years it is nice to have older kids playing at the varsity level. We have a great group of seniors that do a great job of setting the tone each and every day. We are the deepest we have been on the mound in the four years that I have been here. We don’t have a lot of guys that will get a ton of strikeouts, but we have a lot of guys that can throw strikes and get outs that way.
“While we have experienced starters and (are) pretty deep on the mound, one of our weaknesses will be depth at certain positions. If we have an injury or two, we could get young pretty fast. Also, learning how to win those close games. That is a tough thing to do, so if we can get a couple close wins early in the season, I think that will give us a lot of confidence in that area.”
Cobb identifies staying healthy (especially having a healthy bunch at district time) and doing the little things (good defense, moving runners over, driving in runs with a runner at third and less than two outs, two-out hits) as the keys to a successful season for the Wildcats.
Cassville opens its 2020 season March 20 against Buffalo.