College of the Ozarks Bobcats are eager to take the field for the 2018 season. After recording a 30-21 season in 2017 that propelled them to the conference tournament, the Bobcats are looking to put together their third consecutive season of 30 or more wins.
The Bobcats have a tough schedule ahead of them, which fourth-year Head Coach Neale Richardson believes will help prepare his team for extended post-season play. The schedule includes 36 home competitions and 19 road games, including five teams with 30-plus victories last season.
The Bobcats return nine starters from last season, including six position players and three pitchers, providing them with experience and confidence for the challenge ahead. The coaching staff has recruited 14 new prospects, featuring three transfers who are expected to make an immediate impact, and 11 freshmen coming from strong programs who are zealous to earn a spot in the lineup.
The 2018 pitching staff is much deeper this season. Collan Thrasher (9-5 with 67 strikeouts), Wyatt Saltarelli, Isaac Norsic, Jansen McQuerter, and Ethan Whiteis return from a staff that led the NAIA in fewest walks per game a year ago. These veterans will be joined by transfers Jay Kaufman from Southwest Baptist, and former Drury University players Langdon Simkins and Connor Pomering. The Cats have also added several freshmen standouts that feature right handers Bryce Burtless (Branson, Mo.) and Ozzie Sindland (Lead Hill, Ark.) alongside lefties Sean Neal (Mansfield, Mo.) and Brandon Ketchum (Branson, Mo.).
The Bobcat outfield will see some familiar faces in new places, as A.I.I. All-Conference awardee Dylan Heitz and Jacob Karlson will move to the outfield this season. They will be joined by Kole Kelley, Chad Reusch, Hunter Simmons, and Jordan Gentry. Also vying for action in the outfield will be newcomers Zac Ford (Ozark, Mo.) and Kobe Hammers (Peculiar, Mo.).
The infield is expected to highlight seniors J.D. Payne and Tyler Whiteis at first and second base, respectively, with Tanner Wallace providing backup at first base. Sophomore Zac Bolstad will be a steady presence at shortstop, and transfer Jay Kaufman and freshman Bryce Burtless are anticipated to split time at third depending upon pitching assignments. Dawson Nimmo (Branson, Mo.), and Max Pulley (Leawood, Kan.) will also be working their way into the lineup throughout the season.
Sophomore Westin Gann and catcher/pitcher Connor Pomering will be key members behind the plate, assisted by newcomers Lincoln Rasmussen (Springdale, Ark.) and Trey Gibson (Webb City, Mo.).
The Bobcats’ batting order is also looking solid for 2018 despite the loss of last year’s senior leaders Jesse Fisher and J.D. Chadwell. Payne, Karlson, and Heitz, all of whom batted over .300 in 2017, are expected to be mainstays in the lineup. Reusch, who has power and speed, could find a spot in the leadoff position, and Kaufman , a tough hitter, will likely be in the middle of the order. Filling out the lineup card will be a pleasant challenge for Coach Richardson, as he has a plethora of good hitters from which to choose.
Coach Richardson has high hopes and expectations for his team’s success both on and off the field. The team’s 2018 on-field goal is to qualify for the conference tournament and move on to regionals. “We have a great group of seniors who lead by example,” Richardson commented, “and this year’s team has the most engaged, hard-working, and team-centered players I have coached.” The Bobcats have another priority as well. “As fans and competitors come in contact with the Bobcats,” Richardson continued, “it is our desire they see our team reflecting Christ-like character both on and off the field.”
With all the pieces in place, the Bobcats are poised for another successful season. Come on out to Bob Smith Field on the College of the Ozarks’ campus for some great baseball action.