College of the Ozarks Bobcat Baseball is eager to take the field for the 2019 season and test their mettle against some highly competitive opponents.
Last season was a successful one for the Bobcats, as they posted a 35-20 record. Head Coach Neale Richardson saw his team advance to the A.I.I. Conference tournament, as well as the NCCAA Regional tournament. Individual accolades for three returning players featured: NCCAA First Team All-American and A.I.I. Newcomer of the Year recognition for Jay Kaufman, A.I.I. First Team All-Conference for Collan Thrasher and Kaufman, and a Gold Glove Award for Kole Kelley.
This season, the Bobcats have the advantage of returning an experienced and successful pitching staff. In addition, they have great depth available to them both offensively and defensively. As a result, fans may see the starting lineups change on a regular basis. The team has a great work ethic and is very positive heading into the new season.
The Bobcats’ 2019 team features the return of several key seniors. Starting pitchers Jay Kaufman (10-3) and Collan Thrasher (9-3-1 SV) both had exceptional seasons in 2018. Kaufman threw nine complete games, including three shutouts, with an ERA of 2.34. His 96 innings pitched were highlighted by 65 strikeouts against only 11 walks. Kaufman was also a key contributor at the plate, boasting a .351 batting average, a .563 slugging percentage, 42 RBI, and a team-leading 16 doubles. Thrasher’s recent season highlights included throwing eight complete games with one shutout over 86 innings pitched. He recorded a 2.83 ERA, striking out 64 and walking just 14. Thrasher also recorded one save. Starting in left field this season is Kole Kelley, who played in 54 games last season. Kelley hit an impressive .336 at the plate with a .429 on-base percentage. He legged out eight doubles on the season and was stellar in the field with a .985 fielding percentage. Rounding out the senior leaders are pitchers Ethan Whiteis and Isaac Norsic. Last season both had limited opportunities to take the mound in relief due to the success of the starting rotation. Whiteis pitched in six games, notching a win, and Norsic pitched in eight. Both have made significant advances over the off-season and will be counted upon in the bullpen, while potentially receiving the nod as a mid-week starter.
The junior class includes two returners, Connor Pomering and Westin Gann. Joining them are three new transfers: Kyle Giefer (Harding University), Andrew Huckaby (Hesston CC), and Joel Ogletree (Hesston CC). Pomering’s pitching improved significantly in the latter part of the 2018 season, and he returns strong this season, looking to be a dominant starter for the Bobcats. Westin Gann returns to provide a steady presence behind the plate. He started 42 games for the Cats in 2018 and threw out 15 runners attempting to steal. Giefer, a left-handed pitcher and hitter, will be found on the mound or starting at first base. Huckaby will add much-needed depth in the bullpen and may work his way into the starting rotation. Ogletree will add power to the Cats’ lineup in a DH role, and his versatility will allow him to fill gaps in the outfield or at first base.
Eight sophomores are ready for action as well. Bryce Burtless will move to shortstop this year and be counted upon to add consistency to the lineup. Possessing solid pitching abilities, Bryce is projected to be a mid-week starter. Southpaw Sean Neal continues to develop, providing relief and possibly a mid-week start as the season progresses. Lincoln Rasmussen will again partner with Gann in a catching role this season, and his bat will be a great addition at the plate. Outfielder Kobe Hammers will be helping out behind the plate. Having great speed on the base path, he is also expected to be called upon often as a courtesy or pinch runner. Max Pulley will open the season in right field and provide another key bat in the lineup. In his 21 games played in 2018, Max recorded a notable .571 slugging percentage. Dawson Nimmo and Zach Ford are slated to play in the outfield. Nimmo hit .333 last season, and Ford has shown great promise in the outfield. Both will add valuable depth, both offensively and defensively, for the Cats. Ozzie Sindland is currently rehabbing an injury and is hopeful to return to the mound in March. Newcomer Chandler Tidwell, an infielder, brings another left-handed bat to the plate, expanding Richardson’s options.
The freshman class has seven impressive new members, many coming off spectacular high school careers. Anticipated to receive immediate playing time are Kyle Abrahamson (Lawrence, KS) in center field and Ryan Daggs (Greenwood, AR) at third base. Kolton Giefer (Kickapoo HS) will serve as a utility infielder when Kaufman, Burtless, or Daggs are on the mound. Rounding out the freshman class are Brent Shinkle (Olathe, KS) - infield, Spencer Greene (Mansfield HS) - right-handed pitcher/infield, Cade Little (Ozark HS) -in/outfield, and Landon Farquhar (Hollister HS – outfield. Each will be hard at work to earn themselves a spot in the Bobcat lineup.
The 2019 season finds the Bobcats playing a very challenging schedule, which includes doubleheaders against Oklahoma Wesleyan University and Bellevue University—both of whom are ranked in the NAIA Top 25 Preseason Coaches’ Poll, as well as a four-game series on the road versus Missouri Baptist University, who received numerous votes in the poll. The Cats will also take on NCAA DII Rogers State once at home and once on the road. All but four of the Cats’ upcoming opponents posted 26 or more wins last season.
“We have intentionally sought quality competition for the coming season in order to push ourselves toward continued improvement.” stated Richardson. “Our goal is to not only qualify for postseason play, but to advance deeper once we are there.”
Entering his fifth season at the helm, Richardson has helped lead his team to 30 or more wins each of the past three years. Three-year Assistant Coach Justin McMillin has been key in developing the Bobcats’ pitching staff. This season, they are thrilled to have the former long-time Nixa High School head baseball coach, Howard Greenwood, volunteering on the coaching staff.
While the Cats will certainly face some challenges with their tough schedule, Richardson believes his team will be quite competitive. Key to their success, however, will be a positive come-back attitude should they face some losses early on. Richardson noted he will need to focus well on ensuring he has the right people in the right positions at the right times—a challenge that will be ever-changing based upon their opponents’ strengths.
“I am really excited about this year’s team,” stated Richardson. “We not only have a talented group of baseball players, but we have a great group of young men who are very coachable, hard-working, and eager to learn.”
With a strong returning pitching staff and an excellent pool of returning and new talent, fans can expect to see some great baseball this season. Be sure to come on out to Bob Smith Field and support your 2019 Baseball Bobcats!