Going into the 2022 season, Houston High School baseball head coach Brent Hall has some lofty expectations and a couple of pretty specific goals in mind.
“I want to have an opportunity to win the conference again,” Hall said, “and I want to win the district. Once you get out of your district, it’s like playing with house money – it’s all bonus after that.”
Last year, the Diamond Tigers put together a fine 16-4 record and went 6-1 in South Central Association play to earn a share of the conference championship (along with Ava). But the season ended with a loss in the semifinals of the Class 3 District 9 Tournament, as top-seeded Houston fell to No. 4 Licking, 5-4, at Tiger Field.
The Tigers will try again with a roster featuring numerous experienced players, including juniors Ryan Wolfe and Garyn Hall, who were both named to the All-District team last season. Other returning players who have been in the starting lineup in the past include the squad’s lone senior Wiley Sisco, along with juniors Wyatt Hughes, Colton Stewart and Danny Venable.
“I feel very good about this team,” Coach Hall said. “Probably our biggest asset is our unity and cohesiveness. We try to instill in everybody that our worst player is going to be treated like our best player, and that’s how we try to go about our business. The guys do a good job of that; they’re a pretty tightly-knit group.”
Now in his 25th season at the helm of HHS baseball, Hall (who was named SCA Coach of the Year last season) sees pitching as the squad’s strong point, but figures his players can make good things happen in other ways, too.
“Pitching is our best asset,” he said, “and we have a lot of team speed. And we have a lot of guys who have played a lot of baseball and have a pretty high baseball IQ. We lost a few good pieces from last year’s team, but we have the potential to be as good or better than we were last year.
“We’ll just see how that plays out.”
While the Tigers’ pitching should keep opposing teams’ run totals in check, Coach Hall hopes Houston’s offense can do more to support the pitching.
“Sometimes we don’t swing the bat as well as I would like,” he said. “With our good pitching, we have the luxury of a lot of teams not scoring a lot of runs on us, but I would like to be able to average a few more runs a game.”
Coach Hall also has the luxury of having many players on the roster who can do a nice job at multiple positions in the field. In turn, the Tigers’ starting lineups will vary as the season unfolds.
“That’s one of the best things about our kids – they’re very versatile and they can play almost anywhere,” Coach Hall said. “It can be a headache to put together a lineup, but it’s a good problem to have.”
When they get on base, coach Hall likes for his players to take extra bags whenever possible, whether through steals or heads-up plays after hits. Last season, his son Garyn Hall (who plays shortstop when he’s not on the mound) set a single-season team stolen bases record by swiping 33 bags.
While Houston’s roster has several similarities to last year’s, Tiger Field will look a bit different this season, as grass now covers the base paths to first and third. New sod was placed on much of the rest of the surface, too, thanks to a generous donation by local resident Kent Swearengin.
Swearengin’s son, Travis, was part of Houston’s Final Four team in 2017, but died in a car crash last year.
“Travis always wanted to put sod on our field,” Coach Hall said, “and Kent made it happen. It looks great.”
Houston’s roster features many kids who don’t play other sports. Coach Hall said most of his players don’t mind going the extra mile to be their best.
“I don’t think people really know how much time these kids put into their craft,” he said. “A lot of these guys started in November and haven’t stopped since then. Now they’re going to practice, and after practice they’re going to a shop outside of town and working for another couple of hours.
“I can say without a doubt that they’re the hardest working group of athletes in our school.”
Houston hosted a preseason jamboree on Monday of this week (including Cabool and Plato), and kick off the regular season this weekend by playing at the annual Van Buren Wood Bat Classic. Next week, the Diamond Tigers host the annual Houston Wood Bat Tournament, which begins Monday and concludes Friday (March 25).
“I hope the fans like our brand of baseball and enjoy watching the kids go out and compete,” Coach Hall said. “I think they will, because our kids love the game and when they’re playing, they’re happy.”
2022 HHS BASEBALL ROSTER
Jersey no., name, grade, pos.
1 John Kimrey, 10, IF/OF
2 Austin Goetz, 11, OF
4 Jake Allen, 10, IF/OF/C
6 Wiley Sisco, 12, P/C
7 Casey Merckling, 11, IF/OF/DH
8 Shaun Buck, 9, P/IF/OF
9 Ryan Wolfe, 11, P/OF/C
10 Grayson Mitchell, 10, IF/OF
11 Aiden Kelly, 10, P/OF
13 Wyatt Huges, 10, P/IF/OF
14 John Jordan, 9, IF
15 Colton Stewart, 11, IF/DH
16 Logan Dixon, 9, IF
17 Sheldon Starr, 10, IF/OF
18 Caden Root, 9, IF
19 Keaton Goetz, 10, OF
20 Dylan Dzurick, 9, C/IF/OF
21 Gage Yardley, 10, IF
22 Garyn Hall, 11, P/IF/OF
25 Stone Jackson, 10, P/IF/OF
26 Owen Wells, 9, OF
27 David Sutton, 9, OF
28 Kolby Sisco, 9, IF
29 Dakota Hofstetter, 9, OF
52 Danny Venable, 11, P/IF/OF
Head coach: Brent Hall
Assistant coach: Jeff Richardson