As always, it’s pitching and defense for the Helias Crusaders.
Maybe even more so this year.
“It has to be more of both,” Helias baseball coach Chris Wyrick said as the Crusaders prepare to open the season with a pair of games today on a trip to Florida.
“The defense is going to have to be strong because of where we play and the teams that we play. With the quality of our schedule, we’re not going to strike out a lot of guys. We’re going to have to make the routine plays, you can throw in the great plays now and then, but we have to make the routine plays to be successful.”
The Crusaders have a plan to count on as many as eight pitchers to log significant innings this season.
“That’s rare, I don’t think I’ve ever had eight I was confident in putting out there,” Wyrick said.
Sam Wyrick, a junior right-hander, and senior left-hander Nate Roark figure to be Helias’ top starting pitchers. They will draw the starting nods today when the Crusaders take on King’s Edgehill from Nova Scotia, Canada, and Thomas Jefferson from Pennsylvania.
“We’re going to go from there the rest of the trip, depending on who we have to use in relief,” Chris Wyrick said.
The other six potential pitchers for the Crusaders include seniors Cole Scheulen, David Hofherr and Drew Miller, along with juniors Trey Rice, Myles Gresham and Thorn Phillips.
“(Rice) can get out righties and lefties because his ball moves so much,” Wyrick said. “We think when (Cole) is healthy, he can get out there and do some good things for us. And Myles is a strike-thrower.”
Hofherr returns to start at catcher and will hold down one of the spots in the middle of the batting order.
“He’s going to need to drive guys in,” Wyrick said.
Ben Miller, a sophomore, is Hofherr’s backup.
“We feel confident that Ben can go in there and do a great job behind the plate,” Wyrick said. “To have two good catchers is a luxury, we’re going to do our best to find them innings.”
Drew Miller will start at first base, with Gresham holding down the spot at second and Sam Wyrick starting at shortstop.
Third base is a battle between junior Landon King and senior Patrick Baker.
When Sam Wyrick is pitching, Gresham will move to shortstop, with King or Brock Brenneke starting at second. King and Brenneke will be at second when Gresham pitches as well.
“It’s not ideal to have your middle infielders moving around like that, but when some of your best pitchers play there, you have to use them,” Wyrick said.
Luke Cavender, a senior, will start in center field.
“He’s a really good outfielder who can go get it with a good arm,” Wyrick said.
The corner outfield spots will be shared by a combination of juniors Maddox Alfutis, Zach Wieberg and Phillips.
“If you’re hitting, you’re going to be in the lineup,” Wyrick said. “You can’t sit a guy who can swing it.”
The batting order is still a work in progress, with Drew Miller potentially holding down the leadoff spot.
“He draws a lot of walks, he gets on base,” Wyrick said.
Sam Wyrick figures to hold down the No. 2 spot, followed by Hofherr, Roark and Cavender.
The rest of the order will be determined by who is swinging the bat the best at the time.
“It may be fluid all year, we may have 29 different lineups with the same guys in different spots,” Chris Wyrick said. “If a guy is hot, if a guy is struggling.
“Some guys aren’t comfortable hitting at the top, they need to bat a little lower because they may get more pitches they can handle.”
Helias is scheduled to play five games in three days in Baseball City, Fla., with the possibility of adding a sixth.
“It’s a fresh look to the schedule,” Wyrick said. “It’s good to play someone you don’t know, they don’t know you.”
This is the start of a 29-game schedule for the Crusaders. That’s fewer than a lot of teams as Missouri allows a total of 36 prior to the start of districts.
“You can get better in games, but you can get better at the game by practicing,” Wyrick said. “We’re going to use those seven days we’re not playing to get better.
“We need to be fundamentally solid, outhustle and outwork people.”
In a schedule oddity, Helias will not be in a tournament during the regular season. The Crusaders cannot play in the Jay Baseball Classic because it is on Easter weekend and the Rock Bridge Tournament fell on a busy part of the schedule.
“I wish we were in one somewhere, but if it’s not advantageous for you when it comes to your pitching schedule or upcoming big games, you probably shouldn’t be in it,” Wyrick said.
But with the likes of Carthage, Ozark, Excelsior Springs, Oak Park and Springfield Catholic on the schedule, Helias figures to be tested on a regular basis. Then there are the challenges of games against Fatima and Blair Oaks, along with Central Missouri Activities Conference contests.
“The conference will be tougher than nails, there are no off-nights,” Wyrick said. “We’re going to have to be ready to play every day or it could get rough. We need to accept we need to come to the park every game ready to play, ready to give ourselves a chance to be successful.”
Helias will open its home schedule Friday against Ozark at the American Legion Post 5 Sports Complex. First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m.