Baseball prepares to defend title, preseason No. 1


Photo by Brett Stover.

Graham Ratermann

BBALLThe baseball field is currently covered in snow as the temperature sits just above freezing, but with the first week of practice, returning players still remember last year’s ending.
Last year, the Bruin’s baseball season ended in the best possible way, with a dog pile on the pitcher’s mound as the team celebrated RBHS’s first-ever baseball state title with a 9-6 victory over Francis Howell.
“As Conner [Brumfield] caught the last out, I as well as the rest of the team was kind of in shock,” senior catcher Eric Kuse said. “But then the dog pile happened and everyone was happy and everyone was joyful and coaches were in tears because its glad knowing that all the hard work in practice and all the extra hours you put in pays off and you’ll be able to cement your name and your team’s name in history.”
The celebratory dog pile capped the Bruins’ playoff run, but in only a short time the team began preparing for next year.
“Most of our guys played over the summer,” assistant coach Jeff Bazat said. “Only a few didn’t that were getting ready for football season, but most of our guys took a week off and then they got into their showcase time and summer ball.”
As the weather got colder, the Bruins moved to their indoor facility and the weight room. Each year the baseball team’s lifting routine features a competitive lifting program that pits players against each other in a variety of lifts. Each player completes a regular season that affects seeding and ultimately a championship bracket to determine a winner.
“We do a competition circuit; it’s based solely around creating competition and building team, and so it’s two guys going head to head in one lift or one activity and you see who wins,” Bazat said. “It generates a lot of competition and a lot of heated battles, but it also brings us closer together as a team.”
This year, senior University of Missouri signee Conner Brumfield beat junior Avery Jennings in the finals to claim the offseason lifting title.
“Every year we do a competition lifting circuit and go against each other and compete, coach believes that instills a winning mentality in us and I think it does,” Brumfield said. “We’ve done it every year and it’s been very successful, but coach’s big thing for this year is how we deal with success and if we’re mature enough to deal with it and carry it on.”
This season the Bruins return a host of talented players, including Brumfield, Kuse and senior starting pitchers Logan Twehous and Chandler Wyatt.
Additionally, the Bruins add back to the equation senior speed demon Joe Barbee who only played in six games last season before being forced to sit out with a leg injury. Barbee is a game changer who set the RBHS single season steals record his sophomore year.
“He’s a guy who has the ability to get a hit even if the ball doesn’t leave the infield and then able to steal second base or even get to second base if the ball kicks past the catcher a little bit which puts a lot of pressure on their defense and pitching,” Kuse said. “If were able to get a single there, then we already have a run in the first inning.”
With Barbee back in the lineup, the Bruin sluggers are able to play a more traditional power role, which Bazat predicts will lead to an offensive surge.
“Joe was our catalyst two years ago,” Bazat said. “He led off, set the record in stolen bases, on base all the time, and what he allows our lineup to do is move some of our better hitters down in the order and be in power positions. So if Joe is getting on base like we know Joe can do, we’re going to score a lot of runs.”
With returning star power, the Bruins currently hold stake to the No. 1 preseason ranking issued by the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association and are ranked 21st nationally by Baseball America. With the number one ranking, the team is entrenched to defend it.
“It motivates us even more to win,” Brumfield said. “We have it now, and we want to keep it, but it also puts a target on our back for our opponents and they know who we are and want to knock us off that pedestal so it adds a little bit of pressure.”
Along with the already well-established players, both Bazat and Brumfield expect a breakout season from Jennings.
“Avery is probably one of the more focused guys that we’ve ever had here. He is a very hard worker. He is very focused. He wants to do very well,” Bazat said. “It’s very rare to see a 16-year-old kid as focused as he is about an upcoming season.”
The Bruins start their 2015 campaign with their annual road trip during spring break to Tennessee to play a host of teams, including two 30 game winners last season in Bartlett and Briarcrest. For the Bruins, the trip to Tennessee serves as a sort of spring training to solidify the team.
“We have nine to 10 really good pitchers; we only have a four-man rotation … There are going to be some great battles, and our battles consist down in Tennessee,” Bazat said. “We play eight games in the first week of the season and a lot of guys will get a lot of innings, and we’ll go from there. We don’t really have a set rotation the entire year like major league teams. Its kinda who’s doing well and we’ll go with the hot hand if somebody’s doing well … When we drive back on that bus to Columbia we’ll know who our team is by that time.”
With the pressure of repeating as state champions, Bazat has a simple mindset the coaching staff wants the team to pursue.
“It’s a great honor, and we’re happy to have it, but preseason ranking don’t mean anything and if our boys are able to handle success with great maturity it won’t affect us at all,” Bazat said. “That’s the main thing we need to preach on them: be happy with it; be proud of that honor but also realize that it doesn’t really mean anything and we have to prove ourselves on the field every day.”