The Pilot Grove Tigers baseball team can’t wait to take the field for the fall season in 2017.
After finishing 10-6 overall and capturing the district title, the Tigers are poised to give it another run in the CAC as well with 13 players out and five returning starters.
However, Pilot Grove is also taking a cautious approach to the season with five of the 13 players being freshmen.
“We are going to be young,” stated Pilot Grove baseball coach Derek Skaggs. “We have a lot of guys who will see some playing time that haven’t played a whole lot and a couple of guys who haven’t played in a long time. Losing Brady Rentel on the mound is going to be tough but for Bailey Quint as a freshman coming in to pitch, he has a pretty strong arm so we look for him and Cole Meisenheimer to be our 1-2 guys. We also have two positions (second base and right) that I am looking at and just switching the outfield around to see who is going to be our leader out in center field.”
The Tigers also have a strong desire to contend for the CAC title this season. After falling short last year, Skaggs said he looks for Sturgeon to be the repeat favorite.
“They were young last year but we contended with them,” Skaggs said. “I think it was a one-run game that we lost to them last fall in conference so hopefully we can do some small things like hitting the ball. That’s kind of been our focus this fall. We want to get everybody where they can put contact on the ball. I know New Franklin is kind of down right now and Cairo is young so they might have some freshmen that can help out but mostly Sturgeon I think would be the frontrunner.”
As for Pilot Grove in the CAC, Skaggs said he would like to think the Tigers can compete for the title. He said the Tigers are for sure a second or third best team.
“It’s going to depend on how our pitchers perform and how our defense plays behind them,” Skaggs said. “Obviously it will also depend on how well we make contact with the ball. However I feel like we have five kids that can hit the ball, it’s those other 3 or 4 guys and what they  provide for you.”
Aside from the top five being a strength of the team this season, Skaggs said if the Tigers can get the first couple of hitters on it’s going to give the better hitters opportunities to move them around. He said pitching should also be a strength even though they lost Rentel.
“It’s going to come down to throwing strikes,” Skaggs said. “If you can throw strikes, you are going to be alright.”
Of course like any coach at the start the season, Skaggs is also cautious about his team. He said if the Tigers had one glaring weakness this season it would be baserunning. Skaggs said the Tigers are not overly fast.
“We are going to have to move the guys around with either some bunting or taking advantage of maybe some catchers that can’t perform at the higher level,” Skagg said. “If we can also limit the errors and limit the extra bases and do those things  than we will give ourselves opportunities to be in one run ballgames.”
Although the fall season is built more to get the players ready for the spring season, Skaggs said  the Tigers would still like to win the conference championship. He said with everybody being fresh, the Tigers will get a early look at Sturgeon  with two games against the Bulldogs in the first week.
“The first game against Sturgeon will be without our main pitchers and then we will go at them with our top pitchers on that next Friday,” Skaggs said. “I think the first game is all about getting the guys comfortable at the plate.”
The Tigers will definitely have the pitching to contend for the title this season. Although the Tigers lost ace Brady Rentel, sophomore Cole Meisenheimer returns after finishing 3-2 in the spring with a ERA of 3.58. Meisenheimer also struck out 44 batters while giving up only 22 runs and 26 hits in the spring.
Skaggs said its a toss up between Meisenheimer and Quint.
“They are both better in certain areas but those are definitely our one and two guys,” Skaggs said. After that, we’ll have Austin Kollmeyer and Anderson Twenter throw some for us. Their thing is to come in and just throw strikes. I also have a few younger guys that I really want to try to develop while I am here helping out for the spring. It’s all about trying to be productive with the time you have in your season and thinking about the following year, too.”
As for the infield, senior Donnavan Gerke will return at catcher for the Tigers. Although Gerke struggled at times at the plate last spring, Skaggs said his knowledge of the game makes up for it behind the plate. “I have been working on Donnavan to come out with a little bit more verbal leadership behind the plate,” Skagg said. “We want him to be a little more outspoken and verbal and taking charge with his words and his commands.”
Senior Austin Kollmeyer will also return at first base for Pilot Grove after hitting .268 in the spring with 11 hits in 41 at-bats.
As for the second base position, Skaggs said right now it’s wide open between freshmen Luke Kollmeyer and Hayden Krumm.
As for the left side of the infield, Skaggs will go with either Quint or Meisenheimer at shortstop and sophomore Kealin Vinson at third base. While splitting time at short last spring with Rentel, Meisenheimer finished the season hitting .324 with 12 hits in 37 at-bats.
Skaggs said he likes the shortstop position this fall because the Tigers will always have a athletic player there at all times. As for Vinson at third, Skaggs said he returns with experience there. “Kealin has been hitting a lot better,” Skaggs said. “He played all summer so his bat is coming around a lot better than as a freshman. You can see that confidence starting to come about in him and I have just been on him about blocking all the balls. Third base is a hot spot and body is important over there in that spot and we have been trying to make sure he gets his body down to block balls.
“I think we are going to be pretty good on the infield. Second base is always a spot where you can stick a young guy in there. As long as we have experience at the other three spots, that’s what I have kind of been preaching to them to throw strikes and let our infield deal with it because they are pretty confidence at this point and time.”
In the outfield, Skaggs will look to senior Anderson Twenter in center, junior Lucas Fahrendorf in left and junior Gavin Shepherd in right.
Skaggs said Twenter played a little bit in the outfield last spring but just couldn’t seal the deal out there. As for Shepherd, Skaggs said Gavin played quite a bit defensively but was hit for by Laben Twenter. Skaggs said Luke Kollmeyer, Hayden Krumm, Dalton Reuter and Dylan Schupp are also options in the outfield.
“I feel like the outfield is just as good as last year,” Skagg said. “I know they are hitting the ball better offensively than the guys that played that position. As young as they are they are just lacking a little confidence right now. Again if we can get out and don’t have to go through any pitching injuries, I think we can compete every game out.”