Compare Waurika’s 2012 baseball roster to the list of players who opened the 2013 season Monday, and the word “gone” is omnipresent.
All-state honorable mention selections and four-year starters Gage Pittman and Tyler Fuller? Gone.
Four-year starters Taylor Fuller and Robert Gomez? Gone.
Veterans Cameron Bloodworth, Blake Latta and Evan Waid? Gone.
Sophomore Austin Masoner? Gone.
Gone. Gone. Gone.
Nine players who were part of the 2012 club that went 18-7 and won the program’s first district title in 12 years — gone. All graduated last spring, with the exception of Masoner, who won’t play in 2013 because of a shoulder problem that traces to a football injury this past fall.
The other eight players gone are now alumni, who had a hand in Waurika going 97-35 during their high school careers.
Everett Hodges looks at who’s missing and realizes those who are gone took a great legacy with them and will be extremely difficult to replace. However, the skipper who coached the 2012 graduates for two of their four seasons, draws some solace — and hope — remembering how he felt when those now gone first arrived in the high school program.
When Pittman, the Fuller brothers and the other 2012 graduates were freshmen in 2009, Hodges didn’t really know what to expect. WHS had lost several key players from a 2008 club that was 17-13 in Hodges’ first season as a prep head coach.
“There was a time I was nervous that first year (the 2012 graduates) were in high school,” he recalled. “Almost every one of them had to be starters, and you never know what will happen with that many young players.”
But as it ended up, Hodges said, “Those guys were the core for the next four years. And they were good years.”
Hodges didn’t anticipate the current flock of Eagles will immediately make people forget the 2012 grads, and he’s going to spend the early weeks of the new season trying to fit pieces into the puzzle. But a few pieces are in place.
Senior Mason Wilkerson joined Tyler Fuller as the pitching aces a year ago, and Wilkerson will be building on a season in which a 5-4 won-loss record was bolstered by a sparkling 1.91 ERA and 64 strike outs in 47-2/3 innings.
Although he hit just .214, Wilkerson also became an offensive key in the 2012 post-season, when he hit all of his team-high four home runs and collected most of his 17 RBI.
Sophomore Blaine Shockley is another key returner, after hitting .346 and showing versatility as a ninth grader.
“There’s no doubt ‘Wilky’ is our main pitcher,” Hodges said. “When he’s on the mound, we’ll have a pretty good chance of winning. He pitched some really good games last year, and in the playoffs he went on a hitting tear.
“Blaine has got a good baseball mind and he works hard. He’ll be our shortstop and our number two pitcher, and he may have to catch some, because right now our biggest void is at catcher. For four years, Gage Pittman (now playing at Oklahoma Baptist University) was always there.
“Freshman Dillon Pittman — Cage’s little brother — will catch some, and freshman Brandon Taylor will step in right away. He can hit, but he needs to get used to high school pitching. Brandon can catch some and play some first base. For a while, it may be catcher by committee.”
The other two returners are junior Garrett Bachand and sophomore Brandon Herron, who were backups in 2012.
“Garrett was kind of a utility player last year, but he’ll probably be at third (base) and has shown a pretty good glove, and Brandon Herron will be starting at second base. He didn’t play much varsity last year, but he works hard and baseball is his sport,” Hodges noted.
The new pieces for the puzzle are two former players who’ve returned to baseball, two move-ins with past experience and a pair of freshmen bothers, Noah and Nic Gomez.
“Zack Shipley (a senior) moved in from Marlow and helped our basketball team. He’s a little green but he’s pretty quick and will play one of the outfield spots for us. And we’ve got a transfer who just came in from Mineral Wells, Texas, and just started practicing,” noted Hodges, who added that junior lefthander Danny Ralls will sit out for 15 days before being eligible.
“(Sophomore) Leo Roberts has come back to baseball after not playing last year, and he’s probably a starter in the outfield. (Senior) Shane Marshall played for us two years ago, and he hits the ball pretty well.
“Nic Gomez is a little bit ahead of his brother Noah right now, but they’ll get some time in the outfield.
“We are short of pitchers, but we’ll probably try Garrett and Brandon Taylor and Dillon Pittman.”