For several players on the Houston High School baseball team, the 2023 season represents the culmination of more than a decade of working together.

The squad enters the campaign with a roster featuring 13 upperclassmen, including six seniors and seven juniors.

“I’m very excited to play this year,” said senior Garyn Hall. “We have a very veteran team, but we also have a lot of talent. I can’t wait to hit the field with my brothers.” 

“We’ve been together for a long time,” said senior Danny Venable, “We’ve pretty much grown up together and we’ve been through thick and thin, and this is really like a group of brothers and best friends.”

Last year, the Diamond Tigers finished with an overall record of 15-7 and went 4-2 in South Central Association conference play, falling to Hartville in the district tournament semifinals.

Now in his 26th year as HHS baseball head coach, Brent Hall figures the Tigers have everything they need to be successful this year.

“We have a very veteran team and they’ve done this together for a long time,” he said, “and this is sort of their climax. I feel confident; I feel like we can play with anybody.”

Garyn Hall returns as the Tigers’ leader after earning several postseason accolades in 2022, including All-State First Team, South Central Association conference MVP and First Team, and All-District.

HHS senior Garyn Hall slides into third with a stolen base during the Tigers’ innings against Plato at a preseason Jamboree Monday in Houston.

Along with Venable (who’s primarily a second baseman and pitcher), other seniors include third baseman Casey Merckling, catcher and pitcher Ryan Wolfe (who will be behind the plate this season after playing center field the past two years), outfielder Austin Goetz and infielder Trenton Lathrom. The squad’s juniors include Jake Allen (infield, outfield), Wyatt Hughes (infield, pitching), Stone Jackson (outfield, infield, pitching), Aiden Kelly (outfield, pitching), Grayson Mitchell (infield, outfield), Sheldon Starr (infield, outfield) and Gage Yardley (infield).

Along with Garyn Hall, Merckling, Wolfe, Hughes, Jackson and Kelly each earned some sort of postseason recognition last season. Hughes received All-State Honorable Mention.

Several underclassmen will also play significant roles for the Tigers.

Coach Hall said pitching should once again be one of his team’s strong points and scoring runs shouldn’t be a major issue, but the experience factor can’t be downplayed.

“We’re just older and wiser,” he said. “When you have guys who are older than players on the teams you play, that usually factors into your success. I don’t expect a lot of growing pains, and if we do have any, I think the guys are now at the point where they’ll know how to get through them instead of kind of limping through them.

“I just think their experience level will help them deal with the trials and tribulations that go with the game – and this is a game of failure.”

Junior first baseman Stone Jackson reaches for the ball as sophomore Kolby Sisco dives back to the bag on a pick-off play during a live-pitching practice session last week at Tiger Field.

While the Tigers don’t appear to have many glaring weaknesses at the plate or in the field, Coach Hall said there’s always room for improvement.

“You’re never there,” he said.

With every new season comes at least a few positional changes and lineup shuffles.

“There will be a couple of guys in positions they haven’t played before and a couple who might not in the spot in the lineup that they’ve always been in,” Coach Hall said. “They’ll have to adapt to that, but I don’t foresee any problem with that because these guys have always done what I’ve needed them to do, and they’ve done it without reservation.”

That willingness to do what’s best for the team is a pretty big deal, Coach Hall said.

“One of our best attributes is our togetherness and unity,” he said.

That unity trickles all the way from the top of the Tigers’ pecking order to the bottom.

“In every sport, every team has a best player and a worst player,” Coach Hall said. “We try to make sure that whoever that worst player is feels as wanted, as needed and as important as that best player. Everybody wants to be the best player, but we want everyone to feel as close to that as possible.”

Brent Hall is entering his 26th season at the helm of HHS baseball.

Buying into that sort of mentality has been a prerequisite throughout Coach Hall’s tenure.

“I’m a pretty easy-going guy, and there aren’t many things that will get me really riled up,” he said. “But not having a team mentality and not being a team player is something I won’t stand for. I feel like all of our guys have the same sort of mindset, that we’re not doing this for ourselves, we’re doing it for each other.”

The Tigers will take the field this year in new red uniforms with white pinstripes (with players’ names on the backs of their jerseys), and Tiger Field will soon be equipped with a new scoreboard featuring bright numbers that will be far more visible to fans.

Jeff Richardson returns as HHS baseball assistant coach.

Coach Hall said the project to replace the old scoreboard (the oldest one on campus) was part of a plan to eventually upgrade all outdated scoreboards. Funds for the new unit came from a contribution by the school district and proceeds from the team’s annual spaghetti dinner fundraising event on March 4 that brought in more than $10,000 (a record surpassing last year’s $7,000).

“We had a group of donors who were willing to foot the bill,” Coach Hall said, “but we didn’t have to use them. So what started with donors stepping up ended with us being able to do it ourselves.”

Coach Hall said the current team’s progression over the years has involved the efforts of numerous people other than the players.

“There are a lot of parents and others who have been there to see this through for a long, long time,” he said.

Houston hosted a preseason Jamboree on Monday of this week, including Cabool and Plato. The Tigers begin the season this Friday (March 17) in a wood bat competition at Van Buren before hosting the annual Houston Wood Bat Tournament next week. The tournament’s field includes Cuba, Mountain Grove and county rival Licking.

“This year should be fun, “Venable said. “We know what to do, now it’s a matter if whether we do it or not.”

“We’ve all worked hard,” Garyn Hall said, “and now we just have to go out there and play. I’m feeling really confident.”

“We all work together well,” Wolfe said. “However this season ends, it’s going to end in tears. We as a team will decide if they’re happy tears.”

HHS senior third baseman Casey Merckling prepares to throw to first during Monday’s preseason Jamboree in Houston.


Name, grade, position

Austin Goetz, 12, OF

Garyn Hall, 12, IF/P

Trenton Lathrom, 12, IF

Casey Merckling, 12, IF

Danny Venable, 12, IF/P

Ryan Wolfe, 12, C/P

Jake Allen, 11, OF/IF

Wyatt Hughes, 11, IF/OF/P

Stone Jackson, 11, IF/OF/P

Aiden Kelly, 11, OF/C/P

Grayson Mitchell, 11, OF/IF/P

Sheldon Starr, 11, OF

Gage Yardley, 11, IF

Shaun Buck, 10, OF/P

Logan Dixon, 10, IF

Colton Hecker, 10, IF

John Jordan, 10, IF

Caeden  Root, 10, C/IF

Kolby Sisco, 10, IF

Owen Wells, 10, IF

Elliot Greiner, 9, C

Eli Newsom, 9, C

Ryan Painter, 9, OF

Aiden Scantiln, 9, OF/P

Head coach: Brent Hall

Assistant coach: Jeff Richardson

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Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at

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