Finishing the fall season on a four game win streak was huge for the Pilot Grove Tigers baseball team.
Although the Tigers still wound up .500 for the fall at 5-5, head coach Evan Oswald said he hopes to carry the momentum into the spring.
With 13 players suited out for the 2019 season, Oswald said the Tigers were also without one of their main arms in sophomore Bailey Quint. He said as unfortunate as that was, it was also a chance for some of the other guys to step up.
“I feel we’ll be stronger this spring because of the experience some of our younger guys got,” Oswald said. “We were pretty young in the fall, but a lot of kids had no choice but to grow up. That will pay off huge as we go into the spring. The expectations are extremely high going forward. We have an extremely talented pitching staff. I have always believed that, if you have pitching then you have a chance. As long as we can stay healthy, I see no reason why we shouldn’t make a run in the postseason.”
With only two players returning that hit over .300 last year, Oswald said one of the weaknesses of the team in the fall was not putting the ball in play enough. He said while the team struck out a ton in the fall, they’ve been the early part of the spring season putting a lot of emphasis on batting practice thus far.
Junior Cole Meisenheimer led the Tigers in hitting last fall with a .429 average with seven doubles, one home run and 11 RBIs. Hayden Krumm, meanwhile, finished the season with a .310 clip with 10 runs scored and eight RBIs. After that the Tigers had several hitters around .275-280 mark for averages.
Oswald said another weakness may be that the Tigers aren’t the fastest team. He said some hits that could go for extra bases, may limit Pilot Grove to just singles. “There may be times that we will have to manufacture runs in order to put some numbers on the scoreboard,” Oswald said. “We will turn our so called weakness into strengths as we move forward.”
Nonetheless, the goals for the season are no different than any previous team to wear at Pilot Grove uniform. First and foremost, the Tigers would like to win a state title.
“If you asked anybody on our team what our team goals is, they would probably say winning the state championship,” Oswald said. “I, personally, want to see us be competitive in every game this season. I want every opponent to understand that Pilot Grove will play hard and relentless until the final out. As we move forward into the season and start picking up the momentum, of course I’ll want to see us make a run in the postseason. With our pitching staff and defense, there shouldn’t be a reason we shouldn’t make a run at the district championship and beyond.”
If the Tigers are to reach their goals of playing for a district title and advancing on into the postseason, Oswald will have to rely on his two young guns in Meisenheimer and sophomore Bailey Quint. While finishing with a record of 3-1 in the fall with an ERA of 2.21, Meisenheimer also threw 31 innings and finished with 55 strikeouts and only nine walks.
Of course with Quint sitting out the fall due to a broken arm, Oswald relied on other pitchers to step up such as Luke Kollmeyer, Dade Christy and Bo Vinson. Kollmeyer finished the fall season at 2-2 with 21 strikeouts in 17 innings innings for an ERA of 6.86. Christy, meanwhile, pitched nine innings and finished 0-2 for the season with strikeouts for an ERA of 7.00. As for Vinson, he pitched eight innings and recorded two saves with seven strikeouts for an ERA of 6.39.
“Bailey and Cole will be our main 1-2 punch this spring,” Oswald said. “Luke Kollmeyer, Dade Christy and Bo Vinson did a great job for us in the fall, so they will also be expected to continue that into the spring. One junior and four underclassmen will be our rotation. I have great confidence in all of them and believe they will give us the advantage more often than not.”
With the emphasis now on pitch count and rest inbetween starts, Oswald said putting a lineup together will be the hardest part.
“Unfortunately the game of baseball only allows for nine players to take the field,” Oswald said. “I’ve got 13 kids and they all deserve to be inbetween the white lines. If I had to put a starting lineup together, it would probably look different each game.”
One thing is for certain, Oswald won’t have to break in a new catcher this season with Dalton Reuter returning from the fall. Oswald said Reuter understands how important he will be for the Tigers to have success. “I look for big things this season out of thing young man,” Oswald said.
As for the infield, Oswald said the corners at first and third base will be held down by the Vinson brothers. He said Kealin will play first base and presents a big targe for his teammates, while Bo had a great fall playing third base. “He really embraces the hot corner and I look for him to have another solid season for us,” Oswald said.
Bo Vinson finished the fall hitting .281 with five RBIs while Kealin Vinson batted .276 with 13 RBIs.
In the middle of the infield, Oswald it will be either Meisenheimer or Quint at shortstop. He said those two players can make all the plays and know the game extremely well. “We will look for them to lead us,” Oswald said. “Our second baseman will primarily be Hayden Krumm. He had a very good fall and knows what to expect.”
In the outfield, Oswald said the Tigers will be very quick with senior Gavin Shepherd leading the way in center field. Shepherd finished the fall season with an on base percentage of .486 with 12 runs scored. “Gavin is extremely fast and gets a pretty good read off the bat,” Oswald said. “He will be expected to track down any hits in the gap, but that’s a challenge he embraces. As for the corner positions in the outfield, Lucas Fahrendorf and Luke Kollmeyer will play our left and right fields primarily. They, as well, are extremely quick. Hopefully, they will cut down some of the extra base hit opportunities as well.”
Kollmeyer returns after hitting .275 in the fall with 15 runs scored and seven RBIs while Fahrendorf hit for a 2.50 clip with one home run and five RBIs.
Four other players that will also get their fair share of playing time this season at Laben Twenter, Dade Christy Dylan Schupp and Gavin Foster.
“Laben could potentially give us some much needed pop in the lineup,” Oswald said. “The contact that he makes, does some pretty good damage to the baseball. Just needs some more consistency. Dade can do a lot of things as well. He doesn’t really have a weak spot. He will pitch, play outfield, and get a few shots at second base. He also has shown to have a strong bat. He’s got all the capabilities to earn a starting spot. Dylan, meanwhile, played extremely well this fall. He will get looks in the outfield and second base as well. He batted .333 this fall, so he’s no slouch in the box as well. Gavin is the last of this rowdy bunch. He didn’t play this fall for us, but has shown to have a very good glove.  He will get his chances as well, just not sure where. I’m sure he will perform well regardless if it’s in the outfield or infield.”