Looking to add to the list of accomplishments on the press box at Wildcat Ballpark, the Union baseball program is busy preparing for the new season.
Ryan Bailey’s team won the Four Rivers Conference title last season, going 11-13 overall and 6-1 in the Four Rivers Conference. The Wildcats were beaten by St. Clair in the opening round of the Class 4 District 3 Tournament in Pacific.
“We won the conference for the first time since 2005 last spring and we’d love to repeat,” Bailey said. “Looking past that, our team was very disappointed in how our season ended last year with a loss to St. Clair in the first round of districts and I sense that a goal for the guys in the dugout is to play better baseball come the middle of May.”
Union played in a jamboree at Lutheran South Monday, taking on the host team and Ft. Zumwalt South.
“It was good to get on the field on a day that wasn’t cold or filled with rain,” Bailey said. “We made some highlight reel plays in the outfield but had some easier plays that we couldn’t handle on the infield. Some guys stroked the ball while others struggled with contact. Our pitching had six scoreless innings but two innings had crooked numbers. All in all, it was a practice and we will learn from it and hope to improve by next Monday for our game versus O’Fallon Christian.”
Bailey reported this year’s team has 35 players with 15 on the varsity, nine on the junior varsity and 11 on the freshman team.
There are four returning starters. Andrew Bruner was the designated hitter last season, but will slot in at first base this year.
Trevor Kelly pitched and played center field in 2018. He moves to pitcher and shortstop this year. He batted .377.
Peyton Burke played shortstop and center field last season, hitting .284. He will pitch and still play the other two positions this year.
Caleb Mabe is the fourth starter and was at first base last season and he hit half of Union’s six home runs last season.
He was injured and is expected to miss most of the season recovering from that. Bailey is hopeful he might be back around the time of the district tournament.
Players with a varying degree of past varsity experience will fill key slots.
“We have five new full-time starters as we head into our first game but they are all kids who have been in our program for a long time who we have confidence in,” Bailey said. “I’m excited to see how they all do.”
Finding a top starting pitcher is a key goal for the team. Last year, Jacob Fleming got the ball in big games and he went 8-1 with a 1.92 ERA last spring.
“I think our lineup has the chance to be strong but we’ll need to find some pitching to have a chance to meet our goals,” Bailey said. “Trevor Kelly and Andrew Bruner go into the season as the top two pitchers in our rotation and they’ve both looked strong in our early season bullpens.
“Isaiah Hoelscher will also see quite a bit of time on the mound and he has had some big moments in years past during legion ball so we hope to see that continue. I think the key to this year will be if our new starters hit like we know they can and we can get just above average pitching on most nights, we’ll compete with the better teams in the area.”
Most of the players have considerable experience in the Union Post 297 American Legion baseball program as well. Union’s Freshman Legion team won the Ninth District regular season title last year and finished fourth in the Missouri State Tournament.
Hoelscher is expected to start at third base and pitch.
Ronin Straatmann will be the starter behind the plate this season.
Drew Willingham will play left field and pitch.
Matt Bray has been penciled in as the right field starter.
Zeek Koch gets the nod at second base.
A number of younger players will be looking to gain time as well.
Junior Derek Hulsey is a pitcher and outfielder. Junior Andy Morrow is a pitcher and first baseman. Kaden Hughes, a junior, is looking for pitching time.
“Derek and Andy will be two guys who pitched mostly at the JV level last year who could step in and see some big varsity innings on the mound this year,” Bailey said. “The better they pitch the more at bats they’ll get and that could lead to more time at other positions throughout the season.”
Sophomore Mason Bailey was a standout on Union’s Legion teams last summer and he can play outfield or shortstop.
Sophomore Blake Borgmann provides additional depth behind the plate.
Sophomore Evan Hall can play a variety of infield positions as well as pitch.
“Our three sophomores can all add something to the team this year,” said Bailey. “Blake has been swinging the bat good this offseason and will probably get a lot of DH time early in the season. Mason is a varsity level defensive outfielder who adds an element of small ball to our team that can help toward the bottom of the order. Evan is a well-rounded player who has looked good on the mound in the preseason and we’ll be getting him at bats and innings as much as we can.”
Bailey feels Hermann and St. Clair will be strong in the Four Rivers Conference this season. Sullivan’s pitching is strong, Bailey feels, and that should help.
Pacific and St. James have solid programs while Owensville and New Haven both have new head coaches.
“As always, our conference will be extremely tough,” Bailey said.
Bailey is being assisted by Zach Hoffman, Mike Sachs and Ehren Curnutte.
Hoffman will lead the JV team while Sachs is the freshman team’s head coach.