Wellsville-Middletown is a Class 1 school, so many of the individuals who just finished up the boys varsity basketball playoff run are the same athletes who will be taking the diamond for head coach Earl Burton and the varsity baseball team.
The one loss the Tigers will have to make up for because of graduation will be All-Eastern Missouri Conference third baseman Tyler Bunch. The group Earl Burton will have to do that with is 16-deep and includes three freshmen, five sophomores, two juniors and six seniors, the jewels of which are returning All-State second-baseman Ben Burton and pitchers Ethan Burton and Isaac Ussery.
"The Tigers are returning seven starters, five of which are seniors (along with) one junior and one sophomore from an 11-8 season," said Earl Burton. "We ended the season disappointed. It only takes one rough outing when you get to the playoffs and it is over. (Last season) ended that way for us. The returning Tigers are aware of that and are determined to have different results this year."
One factor that could create new opportunities for the younger arms on this roster is that in November Ben Burton signed his National Letter of Intent to play baseball starting this fall for Lindenwood University, a National Collegiate Athletic Association Div. 2 school. Even though Ben Burton has always played second baseman and pitcher up until now as a prep hardball player, the Lions intend on utilizing him purely as an infielder, so how his final season of high school goes remains to be seen.
"This team will rely on solid pitching and timely hitting to win. Our pitching staff is rather deep for a 1A school. Each of the last three seasons the Tigers have dropped their ERA and opponent batting averages. This year, I would expect the same," Earl Burton said. "Our hitting needs to improve from last year. We were top heavy last season. I need more production from the bottom of the lineup to achieve our team goal. They've been working very hard in the offseason and it's shown in the cage."
Within that status as a 1A learning institution, Wellsville-Middletown actually only had three games against other 1A schools and went 2-1. The rest of the Tigers contests broke down as they went 5-2 against 2A schools, 3-4 vs 3A schools and 1-1 when facing a 4A school.
The schedule this season is demanding. Our non-conference is always challenging and for the only 1A school in the EMO, the conference is always tough," said Earl Burton. "Our goals for this year are very simple. Bring out best game every game and see what that will do for us."
This season starts on Saturday when Wellsville-Middletown travels to Carrolton for a 10 a.m. contest followed by a game against Father Tolton at 12 p.m. The Tigers then host New Haven on Mar. 18 in non-league action before commencing EMO competition Mar. 22 at Clopton and Mar. 25 at home against Louisiana.
"This year we will rely on our seniors and their experience. Each one of them brings a different talent to our team, but together they make up a very solid core, Earl Burton said. "That has been fueling the Tigers for several years. As we fill in around them, with a talented roster, I expect some positive results."
From there Wellsville-Middletown welcomes Van-Far for an EMO affair on Mar. 28 at 4:30 p.m., the next day on Mar. 29 at 4:30 p.m. the squad travels to the Missouri Military Academy for a non-league matchup and on April 4 at that same time North Callaway will visit for a conference contest. That will set the scene for a non-league visit on April 9 from New Bloomfield at 5 p.m. and Community R-6 is in town for a non-conference contest on April 12 at 5 p.m.