Wildcats take aim at Ozark 7 hardware

Saturday, April 3, 2021
Seth Freiburger slides safely into second base during the Wildcats’ 3-1 win over Wheaton on Tuesday. Kyle Troutman/editor@monett-times.com

Verona early-season conference title hopes on line Monday

It may barely be April, but the Verona baseball team has a chance to win some hardware on Monday, and not in the typical tournament fashion.

The Ozark 7 Conference has only five teams with baseball this year, and the Wildcats are 2-1 so far with the final conference bout in two days.

Dillin Shrum tosses a pitch for Verona in a 3-1 win at Wheaton on Tuesday. Kyle Troutman/editor@monett-times.com

Verona has earned a 15-0 win over McAuley Catholic and a 3-1 victory over Wheaton. The Wildcats’ lone conference loss came Thursday to College Heights in a close game, 10-8.

Against Catholic, Wildcats exploded for 9 hits in the contest, running away with the game after a 7-run first inning. Verona avenged an early-season 3-0 loss to Wheaton on Tuesday, taking advantage of some wild throws in the top of the fifth to plate a pair of runs, then adding another in the sixth for good measure. Dillin Shrum pitched all seven innings, striking out 6.

Against College Heights, Verona out-hit its opponent 10-7 and nearly completed a comeback. Down 5-4 after 4, College Heights unloaded 5 runs in the fifth. In the next inning, Verona was able to get 4 back, but the deficit remained. Jacob Stellwagen pitched for the Wildcats, going 4 innings and striking out 7. He also led the Wildcats in hits with 3.

Brad Longley, Verona coach, said the team has gotten off to a strong start this season, especially considering the strength of schedule.

“We started with a tough Purdy tournament where we went 0-3 [against Crane, Billings and Pierce City], then we went straight into conference play,” he said. “If we can win Monday, we’ll at least have a share of the conference championship, but we will be against an Exeter team that is doing pretty well this year. We went into conference play with not a lot of rest, so the schedule has been brutal early on. But, we practice hard and that’s a huge help, because I demand a lot and they do all I ask.”

Verona is led by five seniors, but Longley said that doesn’t exactly translate to experience.

“We have the physical ability to play with teams,” he said. “We just have to eliminate the mental mistakes and play with heart and desire. Our five seniors provide a good outfield, but none of our seniors play summer baseball, so the learning curve is still steep in the mental aspects of the game.”

Longley said post-conference play, the team’s aims are to continue preparing for districts and to make sure things outside the diamond are going as planned.

“We have teamwork down and a great camaraderie with our parents,” Longley said. “We want to keep getting better and learn about baseball, but also learn about life. We teach a lot of lessons off the field, and we demand for grades to be above the MSHSAA standard. We teach about baseball and implement life skills along the way.

“[On the field], we would love to get a couple wins in districts and get better between now and then.”

Verona travels to Exeter (4-2) on Monday, with the contest slated for 4:30 p.m. The Tigers are also in the conference hunt, defeating College Heights 8-7 and earning a tournament win over Wheaton, 5-4.

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