By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After finishing a game under .500 last season, the Billings Wildcats are ready to turn the corner this coming spring.
Last year, the team went 9-10 and posted a 5-2 mark in the SWCL. With eight starters back, it’s easy to see why expectations are high for the Wildcats this year.
“For us to accomplish any of our goals this season, there are two areas we need to improve on: throwing strikes and defense,” noted second-year coach John Craig. “Our pitchers need to do a better job of limiting free passes. Furthermore, we need to do a better job behind them to give them the confidence to command the zone and not be afraid of contact.”
While Billings does have a ton of talent back, it did graduate two of its better players from last year: Peyton Gold and Duncan Harter. Gold was a First Team All-District and All-Conference pitcher last year after going 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA and batting .447 with five homers and 16 RBIs. Harter was one of the team’s best pitchers, going 1-2 with a 2.72 ERA.
“Peyton was our leader last year, both on the field with his play and through his communication,” Craig said. “He was our catcher and did a phenomenal job handling our pitchers. He was our team leader in several offensive categories and performed best when it mattered most. Duncan was one of our top pitchers from last year. He was a solid contributor at the plate and versatile on defense.”
With those two gone, the Wildcats will turn to its eight returning starters (all upperclassmen) to lead the charge this spring.
Senior Trent Blankenship will be a fixture in the middle of the order for the Wildcats this year and one of its top three starting pitchers. He’s committed to play baseball next year at Central Methodist. Last year, Blankenship batted .351 with two homers and 23 RBIs and was named First Team All-District and Second Team All-Conference.
Senior Kobe Clinton was a Second Team All-District pick last year after batting .312 with 15 total hits. His athleticism will be key for the Wildcats this spring.
“Kobe quite possibly could be the most athletic player on our team,” Craig said. “He will play centerfield and covers a lot of ground. With his speed and the power he possesses, he is an extra-base threat every time he steps in the box.”
Billings also returns seniors Nate Hunt, Tanner Gordon, and Connor Henderson and will count on those three to provide leadership.
Juniors Hayden Fender and Jacob Henry were both named Second Team All-District and All-Conference last spring after outstanding sophomore seasons. Fender batted .338 last spring with nine RBIs and stole 18 bases. He posted a 2.91 ERA this past fall.
“Hayden will be one of our top pitchers and hit in the top third of our lineup,” Craig said. “Jacob will also be one of the returning top-three starting pitchers from a year ago. When not on the bump, he usually patrols the middle of the infield and hits towards the top of our order. He consistently has been one of the toughest outs in our lineup.”
Junior utility man Brian Terry also returns this spring for Billings. His versatility defensively will be an asset for the Wildcats this year.
In addition to eight upperclassmen returners, Billings also welcomes in four freshmen newcomers: Mason Ebert, Brayden Garbee, Quentin Gold, and Justin Bos.
With the high level of talent returning for the Wildcats this spring, it’s easy to see why the upcoming season could be a competitive one for Billings.