The Bobcats are eager to take the field and get the 2017 season underway. Coming off their most successful season since 2005, this year’s ballclub has five seniors to lead the team, a strong number of key players returning, and seven highly recruited newcomers to add their talents at the plate and on the field.
Head coach Neale Richardson is entering his third season with a great deal of optimism after finishing 31-24 last year with a 12-1 conference record. Richardson believes the Bobcats’ tough schedule this season is a key component in qualifying for the post-season, and he is confident his players are not only up to the task but also hungry to win.
Senior right hander Alex Stephens enters his final year with the club eager to provide the Cats with solid pitching performances. Stephens has been hard at work and is looking like his old self from two seasons ago when he recorded a 3.88 ERA. Leading the team behind the plate will be senior Winston Rasmussen, who has a career fielding percentage of .984. Rasmussen is solid at the catcher position and can swing the bat well. Three outfielders round out the senior class--Austin Schweiss, Jesse Fisher, and J. D. Chadwell. Schweiss is expected to have a productive senior season, having hit .284 last season as he drove in 25 runs on 44 hits. Fisher has looked solid this off-season and has provided the Cats with three error-free seasons to date. Chadwell, who hit .289 last season while driving in 27 runs on 41 hits, has the ability to change the game with a swing of his bat. These senior leaders will be instrumental in the Cats’ success this season.
The highly talented junior class features two pitchers--Wyatt Saltarelli and Logan Schuh, alongside infielders Jacob Karlson, Tyler Whiteis, and J.D. Payne. Saltarelli, who keeps getting better and better, will look to throw some big games for the Cats in 2017, and Schuh is expected to provide several solid innings in relief. In addition to their fielding, the three junior infielders will also bring some power to the line-up. Last season, Karlson tallied 51 hits while stealing 20 bases, Whiteis delivered a .303 average at the plate and produced 23 RBI with 33 hits, and Payne contributed 55 hits and 29 RBI while batting .301 with a .410 slugging percentage. All three will be counted upon to contribute significantly once again this season.
The sophomore class highlights right-hander Collin Thrasher, who comes off a good freshman outing, which includes pitching 10 closeout innings in the conference tournament. Also on the pitching staff is Ethan Whiteis, who has made improvements this past fall and is expected to see some innings on the mound. Sophomore infielders include Hunter Humphrey, Kole Kelley, and Tad Mitchell. Humphrey will be ready to contribute both offensively and defensively while potentially pitching in relief, and Kelley will look to build upon his banner freshman year where he batted .352 with 32 hits and 14 RBI. The Cats are expecting Mitchell to bring a big bat to this year’s lineup following his .308 average at the plate last season. Rounding out the sophomore class in the outfield will be Hunter Simmons and Dylan Heitz. Simmons is the spark plug of the team who makes things happen. He hit .333 at the plate and led the team with 21 stolen bases in 2016. Heitz returns as the conference freshman player of the year. He is expected to be a mainstay in the lineup for the Cats this season based on his offensive presence last season, which included 53 hits, 39 RBI, 24 walks, a .329 average, and a .446 on-base-percentage.
Seven newcomers join the club this season alongside redshirt- freshman Isaac Norsic, who changed his arm rotation this fall and will look to pitch some innings in relief for the Bobcats. Also new to the pitching staff is right hander Jansen McQuerter from Republic (Mo.), who could be the future leader of the Bobcat pitching staff, and solo left hander Jake Baker from Galena (Mo.), who is anticipated to provide some good innings on the mound. Behind the plate will be Jordan Gentry from Bryant (Mo.) and Westin Gann from Springfield (Mo.). Gentry is likely to contribute offensively with his bat, and Gann is a good defensive catcher who can provide some needed rest for the starters. New to the infield will be Zac Bolstad from Siloam Springs (Ark.) and Tanner Wallace from Ozark (Mo.). Both have tremendous talent and will be relied upon to contribute in a big way down the road. Rounding out the freshmen is outfielder Chad Reusch from Branson (Mo.), who can be a positive factor in all phases of the game.
With a good balance of talent from freshmen to seniors, it should be a truly exciting season for the Bobcat baseball team and their fans! #GoCats