Last year was definitely a fun one for Barton baseball.
The Cougars not only put their accomplishments in the record books in numerous spots, the season climaxed with a Region VI title and trip to the NJCAA World Series.
Barton’s first NJCAA World Series appearance ever.
So now what?
“Last season was fun,” Coach Brent Biggs, whose Cougars went 47-15 last season and set the school record for wins in a season. “But we lost of lot players from that team, especially position-wise.”
Some of the most notable players to depart the program after taking it to heights not seen before are Kaden Fowler, Brady Michel, Josh Hendrickson, Brett Bonar, Carson Engroff and Dawson Pomeroy.
All received some form of all conference or all region recognition.
But make no mistake, this year’s edition of Barton baseball is back to compete for big accomplishments once again.
That season was supposed to start Friday and Saturday at Carl Albert State in Poteau, Okla. But baseball in February is tenuous.
That season will now start, hopefully, in Midwest City, Okla. Thursday. Barton added games with Rose State on Thursday and Friday to replace the Carl Albert series. Barton was already slated to play in the Oklahoma City area on the weekend.
The Cougars will also play Clarendon and Seminole in OKC Saturday as well as Indian Hills on Sunday.
In the field, Barton has two players back with significant starting and playing experience.
Brett Erickson is back at second base after earning 1st team All Jayhawk West honors last season. Also back is Harrison Denk in the outfield. Denk is remembered for one of the biggest catches of the season last year, climbing the wall in the Region VI tournament in a win over Cowley.
“We basically have to replace everyone but Denk and Erickson as far as the regular position players go,” Coach Biggs said.
Erickson hit .333 last season for Barton and led the team with 12 steals. He also scored 52 runs. Denk hit .327 and scored 46 times. Both are superb defenders in the field.
On the mound, Barton has more experience back. Of course replacing Hendrickson and his 11-3 record, 2.52 ERA, and 125 strikeouts to just 20 walks in 96 innings will be tough.
But Zach Curry, Easton Smith, Nolan Riley and Tanner Howe combined to throw a large chunk of innings for the Cougars.
“Those four probably threw about 70 percent of our innings,” Coach Biggs said. “It is a good group. We just have to figure out how to fit them together and implement the new guys in the rotation.
“If you can pitch, you are on the right track. Hopefully this group will be good again and improve on last year.”
Curry went 7-0 last year with a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts. Riley started seven of his 20 appearances, going 2-0 with a 4.81 ERA.
Howe set the school record for appearances, pitching in 29 games with one start. He posted a 2.63 ERA . Smith threw in 22 games – all out of the bullpen – with a 3.18 ERA.
Biggs is also looking for contributions from sophomore lefty Jacob Ensz and 6-6 freshman Jake Skala.
“In the fall, pitching was our strength,” Coach Biggs said.
Some new faces Biggs is looking for contributions from in the field include freshman catcher Chandler Bloomer and shortstop Andrew Stewart.
“Chandler should be a big key to our offense and Andrew will be at shortstop for 60 games,” Biggs said. “Other than that, we have to figure out what the guys roles will be. We are no where close to that yet.”
Another addition is the turf infield at Lawson-Biggs Field.
“It’s really nice,” Coach Biggs said of the turf. “We probably wouldn’t have been able to get outside to practice much this year if not for the turf. We’ve been outside seven or eight times because of it.
“So it is already paying dividends for us. Just to get some reps in. That is big.”
The Cougars are picked to finish second in the Jayhawk West by the league’s coaches behind Hutchinson.
“Almost everyone in the conference returns a big nucleus of guys,” Coach Biggs said. “We are freshman heavy. They other teams will be sophomore heavy. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.”
Barton’s home opener will be Feb. 20 when McCook comes to Lawson-Biggs. Western Nebraska will be in for a 4-game series that following weekend then its right into West play.
“We have a good group,” Coach Biggs said. “Position-wise, there is not a lot of experiecne, so it might take a while.
“We have some question marks about how this team will respond with the scoreboard on. It’s easy when you are just scrimmaging. We just won’t know these answer until we get started.”