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Warriors baseball looks to younger players

By Lenny Sementi

Tuscola baseball only had two juniors on the roster a year ago. One of those left, and the team ended up with only one senior to lead the way. This is forcing new Warrior skipper and longtime assistant Caleb Englehardt to lean on his youngsters. Colton Musgrave returns as the starting catcher after setting up behind the dish for the past two seasons.

“In terms of personnel, we are fortunate to have one of the area’s best overall hitters and defensive catchers in Colton Musgrave,” stated the coach. “He has been a starter from day one of his career and that would have included his freshman year had it not been canceled due to Covid. We will look to Colton for leadership not only due to his talent, but he is also our only senior.”

When asked about this year’s squad, Englehardt responded, “We are very excited to get the season started. The guys have done a great job with offseason work and it is apparent that the returning varsity players have gotten much stronger and their game awareness has improved. That said, we are very light in terms of varsity experience, especially within our pitching staff. None of that can be used as an excuse. We have to elevate the expectations of our program and work extremely hard to get where we were previously. I really admire how hard our young players are working and the positive attitude that they are bringing to the ballpark. That is a good step in the right direction.”

Three third-year players will look to support Musgrave and will be the backbone of the squad. Austin Cummings, Isaac Halverson and Nate Thomason will be called on to be very versatile and play where they are needed. “Austin has emerged as one of our top hitters and also runs very well,” Englehardt said. “Isaac and Nate both played a lot of outfield last year, gaining valuable experience and will also be relied upon to throw a lot of innings on the mound. Halverson would be considered the number one pitcher at this point.”

Sophomore Jacob Waugh took over the shortstop position as a freshman and will be there again when he is not on the mound. Waugh had a strong first-year campaign and should be a big part of the Warriors batting order. JJ Reynolds is another second year that saw time on the diamond in the late season last spring. He will be at first base, most likely;

“Both guys will be anchors for us at their respective positions as well as two of our top pitchers. Another sophomore Cole McAllister has also shown good potential offensively and will find a way into the lineup,” Englehardt mentioned.

When asked about his freshman group, Englehardt responded with nothing but positive thoughts.

“Caiden Russo, Cooper Lyons, Clayton Neuner and Michael Reese have all been impressive not only for their ability but also for their positive attitudes and work ethic. All will see time on the pitcher’s mound. Russo can play any of the infield positions and is the backup catcher. Reese is also capable of playing middle infield and catcher. Lyons and Neuner will be in the outfield when not pitching. Although it is difficult for freshmen at the varsity level, all of these guys will compete and embrace the steep learning curve ahead of them.”

The youthful group took one on the chin in the opener, falling to Maroa 20-0. Tuscola gave up crooked numbers in the first three innings and never recovered. Halverson took the loss, working one and two-thirds innings. Neuner tossed one and third in relief and Waugh finished it off. Waugh was solid, tossing a goose egg on the board during his outing and striking out one. Cummings had the only hit of the game for the black and gold, going 1 for 2 on the day out of the leadoff spot. Waugh and Musgrave both reached on a walk.

“While the result was terrible, it was good to play a game and identify areas to prioritize as we look to improve. Maroa is an outstanding team, returning 6 starters from a 32-3 Final Four team last year,” the coach commented. “They looked every bit the part of one of our area’s best teams. Offensively they took a great line-drive approach and pressured our defense.”

“Despite the box score, I was happy with Isaac Halverson’s control and demeanor on the mound. He only walked one guy and did exactly what we asked of him, which was to deliver strikes. We just simply didn’t make routine plays behind him with 7 errors. I was disappointed with our effort defensively and that will continue to be a major point of our work going forward.”

“We have been working hard on hitting higher velocity in practice and that will hopefully pay off down the road as we get better with timing. A mindless “hit it hard” approach just doesn’t cut it when you have pitchers carving up the corners of the plate and mixing in good sliders/curves. Hitting is something that must be done every day to improve and we will continue to push the right mindset.”

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