Following a 2018 season in which the Hannibal High School Pirate baseball team finished 16-7 overall and second in the NCMC at 8-4, HHS Coach Ian Hatton is upbeat that 2019 could be even better.
"We look to compete for and win a conference championship this year in the NCMC," he said. "We have a tough conference, but one of our major goals with this year’s team is to improve on last year’s conference record and win it outright."
Hatton's optimism is built on a solid foundation.
"With the returning talent and experience we bring back from last year’s record-setting team, in addition to the new mix of players that will fill various roles both in the lineup and on the mound, we look to pick right up where we left off in regards to on-field success," he said. "There is no doubt we have some things to figure out as far as lineups and the pitching rotation go, but we are equipped with great kids and great baseball players that have the talent and ability to fill those spots with no problem."
Among the team's top returning letter winners are shortstop Gabe Worthington (.412 batting average, 33 hits, 26 RBI and 10 stolen bases), third baseman Will Whitaker (.397 batting average, 31 hits, 35 runs scored, three home runs and 22 RBI) and catcher Chase Kirby (.323 batting average, 22 RBI and a .432 caught stealing percentage). Worthington and Whitaker were first-team all-conference performers in 2018.
"Gabe and Will were team co-MVPs last season. They each impact baseball games in a variety of different ways based on their unique abilities and skill sets within baseball. These guys will be the foundation among other returning players for a successful season," Hatton said. "Along with Gabe and Will, we have a solid core group of players made up of returning upperclassmen as well as underclassmen that will look to make a positive impact on our pitching rotation and in our lineup, filling some big shoes from key losses from a year ago. Also returning and looking to make big impacts this year are seniors Chase Kirby and Adam Baxter. Both Chase and Adam saw significant time at the varsity level last year with Chase being an everyday starter at the catcher position and Adam logging more than 35 innings on the mound."
Key losses from last year's team include pitcher/outfielder Wyatt Waelder (first-team all-conference pitcher, 6-1 record, 2.51 ERA and over 30 strikeouts), pitcher/firstman Colton Brown (5-3 record, 3.84 ERA and over 34 innings pitched) and outfielder Lucas Brown (.315 batting average and .551 on-base percentage.
"With the key pitching and losses in the lineup from a year ago, there are big shoes to fill within our rotation and in our lineup," Hatton said. "There is no question we have a variety of talented players who can fill spots and earn roles, but it will take time to figure out the best options for our team related to the pitching rotation and open spots in our lineup."
Heading into the season Hatton lists speed, contact and power hitting ability, defense, cohesiveness and balance of varsity experience and youth as potential team strengths.
As for potential team weaknesses Hatton pointed to a "lack of in-game varsity experience at multiple positions including the pitching rotation."
"Although we will be fairly inexperienced and/or young at multiple positions this year, we have the utmost confidence in the personnel we have to fill those rolls and have big years statistically in regards to individuals and the team," he said.
Finally, Hatton likes the individuals who make up his team.
"We have great kids who do the right things and take care of business both on and off the field, so we look to continue to build our program in a positive way and continue to win a lot of baseball games," he said.