After a regular season that ended with a below .500 win/loss percentage, the Wellsville-Middletown varsity baseball team blew up the playoffs by making it to the class 1 title game in O'Fallon at Carshield Field.
What most people didn't know about that run is the list of ailments these athletes were working through, including Tyler Bunch and Ben Burton, both of which are trying to heal from lower body injuries so they can join the Tigers varsity basketball squad's summer training program.
"Our overall record ended at 11-12. Not quite what we had in mind at the beginning of the season," said coach Earl Buton. "The injuries we had throughout the season took a toll on the win totals, but gave experience to some players that may not have had the chances if we stayed healthy, building depth."
One reason this postseason supremacy took place is that Wellsville-Middletown's bats simply wouldn't be denied. This included defeating Pilot Grove 5-1 in sectionals on May 22, St. Elizabeth 6-5 on May 24 in the quarterfinals and La Plata in the semifinals 9-5 on May 29.
"The highlight of the season was any game in the post season. Nobody expected the Tigers to perform the way they did, except us," Earl Burton said. "Our expectations at the beginning of the season were to win our District and go to the State Championship. At times, with the injuries we had that looked questionable, but the players never quit believing in themselves. I explained at the beginning if you want something you must work hard and believe in yourself. The players understood that."
Prior to falling to Bell City 10-0 in the championship game against Bell City on May 30, the Tigers ended the regular season on the right note by besting Silex 9-6 on May 16. The squad also destroyed Marion County 19-0 at home on May 12, both if which helped create that wave of momentum this squad rode to the top of the Missouri State High School Athletic Association season-ending tournament.
"A lot of people didn’t expect the run we made, but insiders knew we expected it. That was what we would talk about at practice," said Earl Burton. "As practice came and went, we knew what we wanted and the players always gave good effort."
One problem that lies ahead for Wellsville-Middletown boys baseball is the same one currently being faced by the boys basketball team, which is the fact Jacob Ussery and Seth Oliver just graduated. Add to that the losses of Tommy Wing and Johnny Jefferson for the exact same reason and that makes four spots on a 14-man roster that will need to be addressed after the winter sports season.
"The squad this year matured. In 2016, the Tigers started seven first-year players. They were talented but never understood what it took to win, " Earl Burton said. "They weren’t use to the grind. In 2017, they knew what they wanted, knew it would take a lot of work and set their minds to it. In 2018, I expect the group to be hungry and unsatisfied in the ending. The challenge is for the coaching staff to bring it back together, keep the expectations lofty and not let the players burn out before postseason."
The issue facing this team at the start of the season was that Earl Burton's status as manager was defined as interim. As the yeart went on, the school board liked what it saw and offered him the position permanently. Considering the team returns its best two pitchers and will most likely have just one senior on the roster, the chance for multi-year success is as real as its ever been for this program.
"The Tigers’ season was spectacular. The ending was fun and I think it left the boys hungry for next year," said Earl Burton. "They are ready for summer baseball camp and so I am, excited about the future for this squad. We are returning six starters and an experienced bench. The Freshmen class is encouraging with possibly nine players."