Rogersville continues championship mentality on run to state baseball

Rogersville continues championship mentality on run to state baseball


Rogersville continues championship mentality on run to state baseball



In the fall of 2011, the football team proved Rogersville is not just a basketball town anymore.

And now, with a chance to add to the trophy case with a state title of its own this weekend, the Wildcats baseball team is out to prove it’s just a championship town — period — these days.

That’s a far cry from 1996, when baseball coach Casey Ledl graduated from the school.

But that same year Rod Gorman took over the boys basketball program after Gary McDaniel’s departure. Gorman built upon McDaniel’s strong foundation and the basketball program continues to roll.

Eventually, names such as Buddy Baumann and Seth Conner — both in the minor leagues now — helped build the Rogersville baseball program into a local power, and then-coach Brad Lotz reached state in 2010.

Meanwhile, football coach Doug Smith beat the baseball team to a title, arriving a couple of years ago and winning state in 2011.

Ledl, now the first-year baseball coach, said the shared success is not a coincidence.

“Building administration, teachers, coaches, community, you name it — we have a lot of people who are very into Rogersville athletics. You can’t ask for more than that,” Ledl said. “I think there’s more of a focus on getting to that point. Doug, Rod and I have all tried to push weight programs and have it be more uniform.

“That way the younger kids know what to expect out of all sports, not just baseball, not just basketball, but the commitment to excellence in all those sports.”

Those same coaches, and other teachers and coaches can now frequently be found at baseball games — having fun.

“There is no doubt that Doug keeps the coaches loose, and he keeps kids loose,” Ledl said. “I’ve been very impressed with how many coaches come to games.”

But the Rogersville baseball team this year has helped matters: It’s easy to root for a winner.

The Wildcats enter today’s Class 4 state semifinal against two-time defending state champion Westminster Christian of St. Louis as winners of 21 consecutive after a 3-3 start.

Center fielder Evan Gruener has been the offensive catalyst, as well as one of the best defensive players in southwest Missouri.

That’s just like in football, where Gruener was a junior quarterback for the ’11 champions. Gruener and senior Dayton Karr were major contributors for that football team.

“It’s definitely a feeling that we want to get again,” Gruener said. “It’s come up a few times, because we’re just trying to achieve that feeling again …. Because there’s not much that can replace that.”

Gruener is batting .420 and one of three players with five home runs.

On the mound, senior Justin King has led the way. He was supposed to be part of a powerful, one-two senior punch with Justus Boever. However, Boever was shut down after four pitching appearances because of arm issues.

Boever has been strong offensively with a .365 batting average and five home runs, and King has answered the bell. So, too, have have pitchers Bailey Jenkins, Tad Mitchell and Jacob Schlesener.

King will face a potent Westminster offense led by University of Missouri commit Shane Benes, a junior shortstop who is the son of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes.

While Gruener has his college baseball plans set for Bradley University, and Boever is headed to Crowder College, King’s senior season — so far at 9-1 with a 2.91 earned-run average — might be his last.

He’s most likely not playing college baseball, he said, despite opportunities that are out there.

“This is probably going to be one of my last starts ever, so it’s pretty big,” King said. “But it’s exactly how I imagined going out, though.”


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