Marion County relies on pitching and defense in turnaround

Marion County starting pitcher Cooper Stotts delivers a pitch during a home game against Brashear on April 19 at Marion County High School in Philadelphia. Stotts pitched a no-hitter in the Mustangs win over Brashear.

PHILADELPHIA, Mo. — Marion County was coming off several seasons of futility as it entered the 2021 baseball season hoping for more success.

The Mustangs had not won a game since 2017 and were on a 22-game losing streak before Marion County won the home opener on March 29, defeating Bevier 9-4 at home.

Marion County head coach Hank Whetstone said a couple of wins the team earned in pick-up games during the summer of 2020 helped mentally take the pressure of his team going into the 2021 season.

“The keys to success are fundamentals, teamwork, educating and helping those at the lowest level of their abilities,” Whetstone said. “A few talented players can’t win ballgames on their own, baseball is a team sport.”

The biggest key to Marion County’s success was its pitching, led by juniors Cooper Stotts and Spencer Whetstone, who both were Class 1 District 13 All-District Team selections.

The left-handed Stotts pitched a 15-strikeout no-hitter against Brashear on April 19.

Whetstone led the club in innings and completed four out of the six games he started. He posted the lowest ERA on the team and earned a 2-1 win over North Shelby on April 22.

Coach Whetstone said the win over North Shelby helped get his players to start believing in themselves as a team.

“The win over North Shelby was definitely the best for our players,” Whetstone said. “Any day we can get a win over North Shelby is a great day for us. We may be neighbors and friends, but on the field we are rivals.”

The Mustangs also relied on freshmen Jonathan Goodwin and Jackson Stewart to give them quality innings out of the bullpen.

“Pitching was definitely the base of our team’s success,” Whetstone said. “Once our defense didn’t make a lot of errors, we started winning some ballgames and won some close games against some competitive teams.”

Improving the team’s defense was a big goal for Whetstone as he entered his third season as the Marion County head coach.

“Defense is the best medicine for a pitcher to pitch confidently when he knows plays are going to be made behind him,” Whetstone said. “The two keys in baseball are making defensive plays and offensively just putting the ball in play. We started doing both this year.”

Offensively, Marion County relied on getting on base, speed and timely hitting.

The sparkplug offensively came from leadoff hitter Root Cheney, who had one home run and 16 stolen bases.

“We are not a power-hitting team and my philosophy is one hit at a time and one run per inning wins ballgames,” Whetstone said. “We had three players above .400 and six players above a .300 on-base percentage with a team on-base percentage of .362. I feel like getting on base is the first key to scoring runs.”

The Mustangs started to gel as the season went on, winning six out of their final eight regular season games going into district play.

Marion County’s run ended with a 9-3 loss in the Class 1 District 13 quarterfinals to Canton, the eventual district champion.

“The district game versus Canton was tied at 2-2 until the bottom of the fifth inning,” Whetstone said. “The final score did not tell the tightness of the game. We felt like either team could end up on top through five innings. Spencer Whetstone had 4.2 innings of great pitching and I felt like I needed to throw a different arm at them and Canton capitalized on my pitching change.”

The Mustangs had big games offensively from several of their hitters in the district quarterfinal, giving hope for next season. Whetstone went 2-for-3 with a walk and Cheney went 2-for-4. Sophomore Sean Kindhart went 1-for-2 with a walk and freshman Shawn Martin went 2-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs.

“On-base percentage is probably more important than batting average,” Whetstone said. “This game should definitely be a spark for our players going into the next season. Hopefully, we can pick up next season where we left off this season.”

Marion County had a mostly youthful team this year that included five regulars who were either freshman or sophomores.

Graduating from this year’s team are seniors Landen Holt, Nathan Wellman and Matthew Gerding.

“I want to thank them for their hard work in starting what I believe is going to be a competitive baseball program at Marion County,” Whetstone said. “(We have eight returning players.) I am looking forward to the 2022 season with inheriting seven incoming freshman, which should give me a solid group of players.”

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