Joplin baseball coach Kyle Wolf couldn’t have asked for a better day to get on the diamond and play some competitive baseball.
With the sun shining and temperatures nearly reaching 70 degrees, the Eagles hosted Carthage and Monett in a jamboree on Monday to signal the start of the spring sports season.
“This really is probably the best day we have had to get out here so far,” Wolf said. “It’s great to get out here, face some guys in a different uniform and kind of test some things out.”
Joplin and Carthage battled for four innings in the opening contest, with the Eagles coming away with 3-2 advantage. In the second exhibition, the Cubs walked away with a 6-3 showing over the Tigers. The Eagles used a walk-off safety squeeze to win the nightcap 3-2.
“We are all excited because it’s an opportunity to go out and play,” Wolf said. “The kids are just excited to be out there, but as a coach, you are looking at it from the perspective of ‘What do we still need to do in order to prepare them?’ We saw some things out there that we will get an opportunity to work on the rest of the week and that’s what is great about this.”
“It was just great to finally have a nice day,” Carthage coach Mike Godfrey said. “We have only been on the field four or five days, so it was good to get out and see what you need to work on.”
JOPLIN SEASON OUTLOOK
Wolf enters his second season at the helm of Joplin baseball. After 13-17 showing a year ago, Wolf expects the Eagles to see an improvement in nearly every phase of the game.
“I am really excited for this season because we have a lot of good leadership,” he said. “Last year, we had some older guys, but we were inexperienced. We have had a really good offseason and are just ready to get back out there.”
The Eagles return seven players to the lineup who saw varsity action last season to an extent. That goes a long way for Wolf, who believes that experience can jumpstart the offensive production early in the early portions of the season.
“We have a lot of guys who are carrying varsity at-bats into this season,” Wolf said. “I am hoping that will show up early in the season. We are still tinkering with the lineup.”
Senior Grant Jones figures to be entrenched in the middle of the lineup as a run producer. Senior Josh Wells will also be relied upon in the middle of the order after a solid junior campaign last season. Juniors Tyler Ledford and Cade Carlson and seniors Blake Dean, Logan Irvin, Maurice Auberry and Luke Kuehnel are expected to have significant roles on offense as well.
“It’s a matter of finding our identity and doing what we need to do to score,” Wolf said. “Maybe it’s hitting doubles in the gap, or maybe it’s bunting and running. Whatever it is, we will find our identity and figure out ways to score runs.”
On the mound, Wells and Jones figure to be the 1-2 punch in terms of starting pitching.
“They both compete and both work really hard on the mound,” Wolf said. “There may be guys with better stuff, but I really like the way those two get on the mound, throws strikes and compete.”
Irvin, along with juniors Zech Stayton, Holden and Tyler Ledford, Carlos Maturino, will be looked upon to provide depth on the rubber for the Eagles.
Joplin hosts Parkview at noon on Saturday to kick off the season.
CARTHAGE SEASON OUTLOOK
The Tigers got off to a slow start last season before finding their stride at the right time, winning the Class 4 District 12 title while punching their ticket to the state tournament. The success from a year ago figures to have a strong impact for this year’s senior class.
“This senior class has really embraced being the defending district champs,” Godfrey said. “The key is to play like it and act like it, not struggling for a below average season before we turn it on. Their motivation is to have a good season, not just a good end to it.”
Carthage will be relying heavily on a pair of southpaws seniors on the mound this season. Seniors Trason Vogt and Ian O’Malley return to anchor the rotation.
“Trason and Ian will be our No. 1 and No. 2,” Godfrey said. “After that, we have a lot to sort out. We have some guys with potential who will be able to help, but it’s hard to tell just yet.”
On the offensive side, Vogt will be the table setter in the leadoff spot for the Tigers. O’Malley figures to have his fair share of run-producing opportunities in the middle of the lineup. Juniors Kale Schrader and Tanner Green and seniors Zeke Sappington and Bryce Pugh will help fill out the lineup for Carthage.
The Tigers open the season on the road with a matchup against Cape Girardeau Central at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.