By Rick Duncan
(Based on Coach Antle Interview by Shari Harris)
One individual can attain the essence of sports status, whether it be a player or a coach by contributing to their team in such a way that their actions are followed by others in order to achieve excellence. But, at times when enough entities, whether individual or as a whole come together, the essence of sports can apply to an entire team. This week The Licking News would like to honor Coach Harv Antle, the entire Varsity and JV Licking baseball team as a whole for setting an example of “The Essence of Sports.”
Licking Wildcats baseball has started off the season with high scores and excellent records. On September 1, the Wildcats defeated Conway on the road 14-3 in five innings, improving their record to 6-0. The JV team also defeated Conway on the road 12-1, going undefeated at 2-0. Previously, the Wildcats won four games at Sky Bacon Stadium in Springfield.
Although the team is slightly different from last year, overall fielding and defense is very sound and appears to be as good as last season, as long as everyone stays healthy. Keyton Cook, Logan Gorman and Austin Stephens are covering Cole Wallace’s spot in CF. Karson Walker and Kellar Davis are covering second base, where Keyton Rinne was last year. Cole McCloy (also a Licking Gator) and Kannon Buckner are now behind the plate filling Malachi Antle’s catching duties from last year.
“Both have worked very hard to step in,” Coach Antle said.
Along with sound fielding, pitching continues to be a strength. Keyton Cook, Kellar Davis, Silas Antle and Rusty Buckner, all seniors, lead on the mound. Davis has been dealing with some inflammation in his arm, therefore he is resting it until next spring. Sr. Austin Stephens, So. Karson Walker, Jr. Kale Cook and Jr. Jordan Ritz are also available for pitching relief. Seniors Logan Gorman and Garrett Gorman are also able to help out on the mound. Overall, pitching is very deep in talent.
Senior Derek Mendenhall also returns this season. In the box Mendenhall hit a valuable triple in Springfield and is expected to play a major role batting this season. Jr. Cole McCloy is also expected to play a major role behind the plate. His catching skills and game awareness intellect are very apparent when he enters the field.
Although there is depth at every angle, offense consistency will need some improvement and last year’s seniors will be missed. Their goal is to find the optimum lineup that would be able to have the same batting production even if the order was inverted. Having multiple base hitters in the line-up is every coach’s dream, so no matter what the rotation, your early batters can start the momentum.
When the fans take to the stands and the players hit the field, many watching never see what is behind the scenes. A typical weekday entails weightlifting before school, the actual school day, then extensive practice and games in the afternoons, and this does not take into account all the studying and other school and play preparations. Given all the above, last year nearly ten individual players earned Academic All State honors, and the team achieved Academic All State Team. Coach Antle teaches players to be servant leaders, to help teammates and the team to get better while bringing the team together. He sees a high level of trust and accountability within the team, not a lot of jealousy. They cheer for their teammates, forming a complete team effort.
Hartville beat Licking to win Districts in the spring of 2022 and beat Licking in regular season play during the spring of 2023. Tuesday, Licking avenged Hartville by defeating them. Hartville still has a strong team and this win is a major motivation builder. Silo, Oklahoma, was the strongest team that Licking faced in Springfield. Their previous coach was the winningest High School coach ever, but it was quite a win, because the new coach inherited a strong team. Coach Antle believes Licking is the first Missouri team to defeat them.
The Frisco League Conference Tournament is coming this week and Licking is the first seed.
“Any team can beat another on any given day,” said Coach Antle, “but we like our chances. We are deeper than the opposing teams in pitching,” he pointed out.
Iberia (2nd seed) and Crocker (3rd seed) are expected to step up and play tough. Coach Antle isn’t taking anything for granted. Licking has won the tournament the last three years. Antle would like to win it this year as well. The seniors would be 4/4.
Other outside forces are assisting the progress of Licking sports, the Triumph Sports indoor facility being one of them.
“This facility has been a tremendous boon to our program,” Coach Antle said.
All of their offensive training can be done indoors during cold and rainy weather. Pitching, live at-bats and open hours at the facility through the summer for players helps tremendously. Many have taken advantage and trained there extensively. The clubhouse at Triumph Sports offers the players a place to “hang out” after training, and includes a video game console. It has built team rapport and created a “community” in and of itself.
Local individuals have worked very hard, not only financially, but in putting the Triumph Sports indoor facility together from the ground up. All involved had hoped to have a turf field at the complex for the spring season, but unfortunately, the facility is still waiting on the IRS to approve non-profit status and they can’t proceed until their status is approved. As many are well aware, Licking has to switch games to away games often during the spring due to wet field conditions. Very ironic, that the IRS can pick and choose who is approved on their time, but if you owe them money, they can take it immediately. There is no valid reason why Washington should be delaying our youth and their progress in this way.
Regardless of the unnecessary red tape, Coach Antle, all the Licking Wildcats’ players, students, families, entities and community individuals have not faltered and still push forward with the most positive of attitudes. It is apparent that Licking baseball is setting the stage for some serious excitement this season. Some games are won by one hit or by one pitch, but when individuals on a team come together as one and bypass the “me factor,” believing in the team as a whole, their individual efforts combine the team as one overall in success.
Before the MLB was formed in 1903, the Cincinnati Red Stockings achieved the only perfect season ever in 1869 with a record of 57-0. Since then, there have been some outstanding season performances, such as the 1934 Cardinals, the Cincinnati Reds of the ’70s and the 1998 Yankees. The one thing all teams had in common was teamwork, not individual celebration. It appears that the Licking Wildcats baseball team has that mentality going into this 2023 season; they truly are “The Essence of Sports.”