Last season the Wellsville-Middletown varsity baseball team may have seemed to come out of nowhere to the rest of the state to finish as the runner up in the class one state tournament, but locally not everyone found that development to be an earth-shattering surprise.
Even if it was that accomplishment that propelled head coach Earl Burton from interim to permaneant status in his role atop the program, based on all the various teams his son Ben Burton has played on over the years, those kids had been spending evenings at his house for years at that point. The fact they all came together and did something special was simply the end result of all that time together and getting it done on the diamond was simply because it had to happen somewhere.
"Last season was magical as we finished second in the State. We had three seniors graduate that made big contributions to the Tigers, but this year’s team is ready for the challenge," Earl Burton said. "We have only one senior this season, four-year starter Tyler Bunch, and seven returning juniors. This group is led by Benjamin Burton, First Team All-State, along with Isaac Ussery and Ethan Burton, both Second Team All-State."
During this past offseason Earl Burton was able to raise $20,000 for field improvements that ended up costing $31,4547.28. For that price the Tigers were able to raise their infield four and a hlaf inches in order to allow for more home games and outside practices. This includes a two inch water line across the entire WMR1 campus thanks to sponsors including Walmart in Mexico and Warrenton, The Wellsville-Middletown Athletic Boosters and Earl Burton's New York Life Insurance Co.
"Cameron Huff will return to his starting catcher’s position this season after missing most of last year with a broken wrist. Kollin McCoy will be in the outfield chasing fly balls," said Earl Burton. "The strength of the Tigers should be their experience. This group has started since their freshmen year and have shown growth every season. The pitching should be anchored by Ben and Ethan Burton. They will also share time at short stop."
Two things most people don't know about this team is that Ben and Ethan Burton are not related and the Tigers have been slotted second in the preseason rankings. One thing all this success seems to have at least begun to help alleviate is numbers issues because, even though the softball and girls basketball squads played with low numbers this season, the baseball team has a 16-person roster for 2017-18. The most surprising part of that equation is the seven freshmen who joined the program this spring.
"Our defense should continue to improve with experienced players in place. We hope to continue where we left off last year hitting. As a team we hit .337 with runners in scoring position and averaged eight runs a game," Earl Burton said. "Sophomore Alex Stewart, who was a part time starter, and the incoming freshmen look to be more than ready to fill the holes from last year’s senior class."
As a member of the Eastern Missouri Conference the Tigers regularly face larger schools like North Callaway and defending league champion Montgomery County. It's facing all that fierce competition that turned Wellsville-Middletown into battle-hardened athletes when they needed to be in 2016-17, but the non-league games they play serve evry similar purposes, as well.
"The Tigers schedule is a tough one. The EMO is always tough (three-Class 1, two-Class 2, five-Class 3, one-Class 4 schools) but the non-conference schedule we put in place will also challenge these Tigers," said Earl Burton."They will play more Class 3 and 4 schools this spring than small schools. The coaches have decided that if we can challenge this team with larger schools in the end we will become a better team by districts."
Tyler Bunch Senior 5
Ben Burton Junior 1
Ethan Burton Junior 14
Isaac Ussery Junior 22
Cameron Huff Junior 29
Travis Gray Junior 55
Roger Yelton Junior 15
Kolin McCoy Junior 32
Alex Stewart Sophomore 13
Wyatt Cassidy Freshman 6
Jared Brinegar Freshman 24
Clayton Ebers Freshman 20
Branden Hill Freshman 26
Dylan Cornelius Freshman 3
Jacob Hollensteiner Freshman 10
Layton Maskey Freshman 21
Head Coach-Earl Burton
Asst. Coach- Justin Caldwell
Asst. Coach- Levi Jacyna