Baseball season is right around the corner, and while the weather is warming, the game is changing. Bigger bases, ghost runners, pitch clocks, shift limitations, you name it. Thankfully in the world of High School sports, this season will be just like the last, except for the crop of new talent ready to take center stage in 2023. Practices are getting underway and teams are champing at the bit to show off their diving catches, filthy curves, frozen ropes, barreled-up sweet spots and blinding flashes of leather.
Ameritime Sports is back in the trenches, eye-blacked up and excited to bring you the breakdowns of this year’s teams. First up are the Festus Tigers.
Last year the Tigers ripped off an incredible season, going 27-9 and making it all the way to the Class 5 State Championship game. They fell to Platte County in the Final, but no one is going to scoff at a team that finished second in the State. Especially one that was so gifted offensively. Last season the Tigers hit .282 as a team, clobbered 17 homers and drove in 282 runs. The team average was the best in years, and the 27 wins set a school record.
Pitching had a little something to do with that as well though. The Festus hurlers fanned 259 hitters in 237 innings and collectively amassed an impressive 3.38 ERA. That helped them to repeat as District Champions and execute a perfect Conference record.
Now let’s talk about 2023. Back at the helm this season with be 14-year Head Coach, Jeff Montgomery, who has spent 27 total years coaching the Tigers in some capacity. He will be joined once again by seasoned Assistant Coach Barry Stafford, who has 22 years under his belt with Festus and was the Head Coach at Woodland High School prior to joining the organization. That’s more than half a century of combined coaching knowledge, so Festus will be in good hands once again.
That being said, there are losses this year. Unavoidable ones, but losses nonetheless, as the Tigers said goodbye to six impactful Seniors due to graduation. Festus will miss Trent Ellis, Connor Hulsey, Kaleb Kennedy, Conner McDonald, Tyler Phillips and Anthony Simon, but the team returns seven starters from last season and has a crop of new faces that should help contribute to another banner year.
Ameritime Sports caught up with Coach Montgomery and asked him about this year’s team and what to expect. Starting with the pitchers, here is his breakdown:
“On the mound, Festus returns Senior right-hander Nate Moore and lefty Ian Brown, who were solid contributors last year as Juniors. Moore pitched in relief to earn the win in the Semifinal game in the State playoffs and Sophomore lefty Mason Schirmer was instrumental in the Tigers’ run to State last year as well, earning the win in the Quarterfinal game. Lefty outfielder and pitcher Jackson Gross has a lot of upside and hopes to bounce back after limited opportunity pitching last year due to injury. Senior Brayden Montgomery will be a contributor this year on the mound, along with Senior Cole Skaggs, as both hurlers have made big improvements. Junior Trenton Young returns from an injury and could be a player that contributes in several roles on the mound or in the field, and joins a host of other Juniors that should contribute in the pitching department. Overall our pitching should be a strength, with the Tigers’ depth, but injuries and a very competitive schedule could create challenges.”
As for the offense, here is Coach Montgomery’s synopsis:
“Festus returns shortstop and Junior Hayden Bates. Bates is a two-year starter and will help to anchor the offense and the infield defense. The offensive numbers will hope to come in big bunches with Catcher Tyler Bizzle and outfielder Gross returning, after good offensive Junior seasons. Speedy outfielder and catcher Wyatt Huskey returns and was the table-setter of the offense last season in the leadoff spot. Festus returns steady first basemen, outfielder (and pitcher) Schirmer to provide some offensive punch. The versatile Brown can pitch, but can also play first base or the outfield. Steady defensive player Montgomery hopes to bring some offense and can play third and first base. A strong athletic core of Brady Nolen, Henry Roux, Moore and Tyler Reece will contribute in the outfield this season and create some depth for the Tigers. A slew of other up and coming Juniors in Will Reese, Trey Anderson, Adam Marr, Gavin Williams and Carter White all should be in the mix to help on the field as well as on the mound. Transfer and newcomer Jeremiah Cunningham brings Varsity experience and will help an already deep club in 2023.”
When asked about the strengths and expectations of this year’s squad the Head Coach responded with, “Our pitching could be a strength for sure, but our biggest strength this year should be our experience and our winning attitude we have developed in the past two seasons. This group of young men came together last year and competed in a way I have a tough time describing. It was that impressive. They are tested. We prepared them and they responded. This year has higher expectations, but I think that with the love for each other, and the fight this team has shown, they will be fine handling those higher expectations.”
It sounds like the sky is the limit for this year’s team and they are in a good position to make another substantial run this season. The schedule won’t be an easy one though. This year Festus has added Father Tolton Catholic, Vianney, Liberty (Wentzville) and Fort Zumwalt West (the Class 6 school that was 30-9 a year ago and ranked #1 in the St. Louis Area). They will also travel to Kentucky on March 24th and 25th to play perennial powers Marshall County and Mayfield.
The season kicks off on March 17th at home where Festus will host the Fox Warriors as part of the 22nd Annual Coach Davenport/Buechting Classic. That is also the day that District assignments will come out per MSHSAA, and should provide additional clarity as far as the road ahead for the Tigers. The Classic will feature Festus, Fox, Cape Notre Dame and Father Tolton Catholic (the defending Class 3 State Champions).
Festus should be a force once again this season, and to say another deep playoff run is very much in the cards, wouldn’t be an overstatement in the slightest.
Good luck Tigers!