TOMORROW is Opening Day! The Bobcats will open their home season on Friday, February 7, at 1:00 p.m. with a doubleheader against William Penn College (Kan.). The Bobcats are excited to take the field following many months of preparation. We hope you will join us at Bob Smith Field on the campus of College of the Ozarks. Don your winter coat, grab some gloves and a blanket, and meet us at the field!
As we await the first pitch, following is a season preview to better acquaint you with this year's squad:
The College of the Ozarks baseball team is coming off a solid 2019 campaign, which included 28 wins and an NCCAA World Series semi-finals appearance. Heading into the 2020 season, the Bobcats and Head Coach Neale Richardson are hard at work to be well prepared for another deep playoff run.
Entering his sixth season, Richardson has tallied a 147-121 record, including three 30-win seasons and numerous post-season appearances. In support of Richardson, fifth-year assistant Justin McMillin returns to develop the Bobcat pitching staff and will be joined by a pair of part-time volunteer assistants in Howard Greenwood and Troy Nimmo.
Richardson and McMillin have put in countless hours recruiting quality players to help offset the loss of several key seniors from 2019, which include Jay Kaufman, Kole Kelley, Collan Thrasher, Ethan Whiteis, and Isaac Norsic.
The Bobcats’ 2020 roster is comprised of 24 eligible players, featuring four seniors and six juniors who will provide leadership by example for six sophomores, one red-shirt freshman, and seven new recruits.
Kyle Giefer, the most experienced returning pitcher, will play a pivotal leadership role to an overall young staff. The senior left-hander will look to build upon last season’s four wins and 42 strikeouts from the mound, while continuing to provide high-caliber defense at first base and solid offensive numbers when he is not on the bump. Sean Neal, a junior southpaw who led the team in pitching appearances out of the pen last season (15), will look to chew-up innings and provide stability in relief. Neal is slated for a promising year after ending last season with a couple lock-down performances at the World Series. Senior Connor Pomering looks to work his way back on the mound, following an injury that kept him out of the game most of 2019. The right-hander’s repertoire features a low 90s fastball, and he is a dark horse to take over the closer role for the Bobcats. Following a medical red shirt after only three games played last season, Spencer Greene hopes to remain healthy and contribute on the mound. The right-handed standout from Mansfield, MO will pitch primarily from the pen to start the season but could potentially see some time as a starter. Junior Trent Hyde will sport his first year in a Bobcat baseball uniform. An all-around athlete, the right-hander hopes to contribute some solid innings on the mound in support of the team. This year’s freshman class features a bevy of promising arms for Richardson’s squad. Rhett Hill (Fair Grove, MO) is a right-handed pitcher that could have an immediate spot in the rotation. Hill is highly competitive and used his control of a mid-80s fastball to garner an All-State and Springfield News Leader All-Area First Team Selection his senior season. He possesses a solid glove and will be utilized across the infield, as well as behind the dish. A trio of decorated left-handed pitchers will vie for significant innings. Michael White (Poplar Bluff, MO) earned All-Conference, All-District, and All-State his senior season. He is a hard thrower and has the potential to be a number one option for the Bobcats. Three-time All-Conference and two-time All-State award winner Riley Loyd (Little Rock, AR) is penciled in as a mid-week starter and will likely see plenty of innings in relief as well. Tad Jones (Huntsville, AR) is the classic southpaw that mixes speed, location, and a sweet breaking ball to keep hitters off balance. The three-time All-Conference selection will start the season in the bullpen. Joe Lee and Colin Pyatt are a pair of relievers working through some arm issues—both could make an impact before the season is over. The right-hander, Lee (Columbia, Mo.), had a solid high school career until an injury kept him off the mound his senior year. Improving every day, Lee looks forward to contributing early this season. Pyatt (Wentzville, Mo.), a lefty, could be ready very soon and be useful in the pen or as a starter.
Westin Gann, a 2019 NCCAA All-Region Team member, returns to handle the staff behind the plate as the starting catcher. The senior started 47 games last season and provides confidence for his pitchers, backed by a 95.7 fielding percentage. He is always quick to jump on a bunted ball and never shies away from plays at the plate. Gann will look to bolster his batting average to better compliment his eight homeruns and nine doubles produced in 2019. Lincoln Rasmussen will continue to split time between DH and catching. The junior is a noted hard-worker that makes the most of his at bats. Last season, he batted .295 in 78 at-bats, including eight doubles and a pair of homeruns.
Ryan Daggs will continue to patrol the hot corner for the Bobcats and provide innings on the mound this season. Following a freshman season that included NCCAA All-Region and World Series All-Tournament Team selections, Daggs is currently scheduled to bat in the cleanup spot. Ryan hit .349 last season and led the team with 12 home runs and 51 RBI, adding 16 doubles and three triples to his stat line for an impressive .651 slugging percentage. Cade Little looks to spend time at first base this season, particularly when Giefer takes the mound. His error-free freshman year featured 86 putouts and six assists, including nine double plays. Brent Shinkle is a versatile middle infielder, who brings tremendous speed to the lineup. He closed the 2019 season second in stolen bases, swiping 16 in 20 attempts. Junior Dawson Nimmo and sophomore Chandler Tidwell will provide depth for the Bobcat infield with their trusty gloves and have both shown promise in limited opportunities with the bat.
Kolton Giefer will have plenty of opportunities to build upon a solid year last season, as his versatility allows him to play an extremely useful utility role for Coach Richardson. Giefer batted .278 in 133 at-bats, including three homeruns, six doubles, 19 walks, and 22 RBI.
Starting right-fielder Max Pulley batted .340 last season in 191 at-bats and was among the leaders in nearly every category. Pulley led the team in runs scored with 55, was second in total bases with 93, and was selected for the NCCAA All-Region Team. Drawing 36 base-on-balls and getting plunked an additional 13 times helped Max post a solid .473 on-base percentage. Often a lead-off hitter in the past, Pulley will slide down to the three-hole this season. Kyle Abrahamson will be the starting center fielder and bat second in the lineup. Both roles are familiar to Abrahamson, who batted .288 last season with eight stolen bases and 35 runs scored. Kyle’s extensive coverage of the outfield is a great benefit for the Cats, one which resulted in denying their opponents many hits and extra bases. Junior Zach Ford will likely see his role increase this season. The 2019 team leader in stolen bases, swiping 21 in 24 attempts, helped his team to an NAIA No. 9 ranking in stolen bases. Ford is slated to start in left field, where his speed and solid defense will be on full display. After a solid showing this fall, Joel Ogletree’s ability to provide pop at the DH or play in the corner outfield should help him log more time in the lineup. His versatility, along with the capacity to change a game with one swing, should enable him to have a positive impact in his final season. Freshman Darren Sims (Ozark, MO) is a swift-footed outfielder. Sims is expected to be busy this season platooning in the outfield, courtesy running, and providing depth in the bullpen.
“I am excited to see this team take the field,” says Richardson. “It is a very talented group that works hard, has good chemistry, and is a good representation of the College. Our mix of returning offense, along with a talented young pitching staff, should be fun to watch.”
This year’s 53-game schedule will find the Bobcats at home early in the season and on the road a good part of March and April. Each year, Coach Richardson has continued to intentionally ramp up the Bobcats’ schedule, and this year is no exception. The 2020 schedule is designed to push the team toward continued improvement and prepare them for deep post-season runs. Both Freed-Hardeman and Oklahoma Wesleyan, teams scheduled for a total of six games, opened the NAIA Fall Coaches Poll in the Top 13. In addition, 14 matchups are against teams who posted 30 or more wins last season.
“Our demanding schedule last season was pivotal in our World Series run,” Richardson noted. “We are going to use this season’s schedule to challenge our players to perform with the best and test our own mettle. Overall, the coaching staff feels really good about this group.”
We are looking forward to a great season. Come out and join us at Coach Bob Smith Field on the College campus, as we cheer on our 2020 Baseball Bobcats!