Cats hope new coach equals same results
When asked about the season to come and the Goliaths the De Soto baseball team is bound to face, first-year coach Joel Thaemert said all the right things.
He said the Wildcats would have to be wary of Kansas highway 10 rival Eudora, a team that lost just one game in the regular season before advancing to last year's Class 4A title game.
He said De Soto would have to watch out for Ottawa, a Class 5A power able to call on more resources and players than the Cats.
He said they'd have to contend with Bishop Ward, the team that has twice beaten De Soto in the regional final, and the team that whooped Eudora in the state championship game en route to its fourth consecutive state title.
And after listing all the right teams his squad had to worry about and the correct degree of admiration, respect and knowledge of each team's accomplishments he threw one final team into the mix, a last team he thought would be pretty good in the coming season.
"And De Soto," he said. "I think we'll be pretty good this year."
Thaemert knows winning baseball. He played collegiately at Fort Hays State, then helped start the high school baseball program in Russell. He was an assistant for three years before taking control. In 10 years as the team's head coach he led his squad to state once and to numerous regional finals.
Now he hopes to continue a practice De Soto already has down --reaching the regional final -- and find a way to push on once more, helping the Cats to the state tournament.
"It was a pretty good program we had going (in Russell), so to come here and see this kind of talent and work ethic is exciting," Thaemert said.
He picked a fine time to take over the program. The Wildcats were 15-8 a year ago and fell in the regional final to eventual champ Bishop Ward, 10-3. Though it doesn't sound like much to crow about, the Cats were the last team to even come close to beating the Cyclones -- Ward won every game in the state tournament via run rule.
Plenty of experience returns for De Soto. Though the Cats will be without centerfield mainstay Colby Childers and the combination of power bat and reliable arm Taylor Burnett brought.
They do return four of their top-five pitchers in terms of innings pitched, and three of their top-five hitters in terms of batting average.
Stocked with seven seniors, seven juniors, seven sophomores and seven freshman, Thaemert said at first glace there's a lot to like.
"I'm really excited about our middle infield, and our corners are pretty solid -- they're all guys that played last year," he said. "Then our outfielders are solid. I'm really pleased with the seniors and juniors we have out there."
Senior Tyler Farmer pitched and played third base a season ago excelling in both roles. He led the team with five wins and was second with a 2.48 earned run average.
He had a .423 batting average and 28 runs scored to lead the team, was one of three Wildcats to hit a home run, had two triples and 13 runs batted in.
Senior Jerod Bader also returns to both the mound and the field. Bader pitched 24 innings a year ago and notched 24 strikeouts while batting .352 with 13 runs batted in.
Senior Austin DeGraeve is back after spending last year patrolling the gap at second base. He hit .386 and scored 19 runs. Junior Travis Crow is back having scored 15 runs. Junior Brady Maasen is back having led the team down the stretch with his pitching, finishing with a team-best 2.26 ERA and 17 strikeouts in just 21-1/3 innings pitched.
That's a lot of numbers -- to sum it up, the Cats were good last season, and a whole, whole lot comes back, both in the field and on the mound.
What it doesn't translate into is anyone simply dominant on either side, however. The pitchers don't rely on fire-starting fastballs and the hitters don't crush home runs.
Farmer's homer is the only one from a returning player, and Burnett led the team in strikeouts.
"We're not going to hit very many home runs," Thaemert said. "We're hopefully going to be a gap-to-gap team. We're going to steal a lot of bases and get thrown out a lot, but that's OK because that's the way I play.
"We have about seven (pitchers) on varsity and we should be solid. We don't have anyone that's going to overpower anybody, but not many people do. We have a lot of strike-throwers and our young pitchers that could push for varsity innings."
De Soto starts it season March 27 at home against Wellsville.