By Pete Temple, Express Sports Editor
Following a fourth-place finish in the Tri-Rivers Conference with a 9-7 record, the Monticello High School baseball team made an impressive run through the post-season last year, advancing to the district championship game before falling, finishing 20-14 overall.
This year’s team has seven returning letter-winners, and high hopes of making another impact at the end of this season.
“We have a lot of momentum going into this season, as we finished a play away from being district champs last season,” second-year head coach Josh Soper said. “There is a lot of excitement among the players.”
Many of those players have a great deal of varsity experience. Two of them are returning second team all-conference players: senior Michael Reuter, a catcher and pitcher who batted .368 with 17 runs batted in last season; and junior Tanner Felton, an outfielder and catcher who hit .468 with six home runs and 44 RBIs. Felton was also a second-team all-district selection.
Five other letter-winners are back: senior outfielder Sam Boyd (.357, 18 runs scored); senior utility player Zach Monk (18 runs, 14 RBIs), senior pitcher and outfielder Matt Holmes (5-2 record, 2.83 earned-run average), freshman Mason Newhard (4-0, 2.59 ERA); and sophomore courtesy runner Peyton Paddock.
“We will be a solid team fundamentally, with good pitching and defense,” Soper said. “Unlike last year when a majority of the 2011 team had graduated, we have a foundation to build off of from last year’s team.
“I think we have an athletic team that is going to make a lot of plays on the field and be able to take advantage of other teams’ mistakes on the bases.”
Soper said the team will need to improve its situational baseball to win the close games.
Perennial power Cascade is the favorite to win the Tri-Rivers Conference title this season, Soper said, adding that Maquoketa Valley should be strong as well.
“We want to improve on a daily basis and to play our best baseball at the end of the season, similar to last year,” Soper said. “We want our kids to be good teammates who grow to respect and love the game of baseball.”
Alex Reid is the JV head coach, Steve Holmes is the freshman-sophomore head coach, and Ryan Gullett is a volunteer assistant.