The Missouri state baseball playoffs are expanding for the first time in three decades.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association has expanded from four to five classes for its baseball playoffs, the first expansion to the system since the state went from three to four classes before the 1983 season.
Missouri crowned just one state champion from 1950 to 1972, then went to two classes from 1973 to 1979 before expanding to three classes.
The area’s past four champions in Class 4 — Rockwood Summit (2012), Francis Howell (2011), CBC (2010) and Fort Zumwalt South (2009) — will move up to Class 5. Westminster, which has won the last two Class 3 championships, moves up to Class 4, as does Bishop DuBourg, which won the Class 3 title in 2010.
CHAMPIONSHIPS MOVE TO T.R. HUGHES BALLPARK
The site of the state championships is also changing.
After six years of playing the championships at Meador Park in Springfield, the final four games will move to T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon — the first time the title games will be played in the St. Louis area since the Class AA final was played at Heine Meine in Lemay in 1977.
The championships were held in Columbia from 1978 until moving to Springfield in 2007.
BRENTZ CHOOSES DIFFERENT PATH
One of the area’s top players, Jacob Brentz, elected not to play his senior season at Parkway South. Instead, the University of Missouri signee will pitch in the Perfect Game Iowa Spring Wood Bat Scout League.
The league, which plays a seven-week schedule with games on Saturdays and Sundays at various ballparks in Iowa, was designed to put the top players from Iowa in a competitive scouted environment, according to the league’s website.
Brentz, a left-handed pitcher, could be selected in the first three rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft this spring after impressing scouts over the past few months. Primarily an outfielder in the past, he opened eyes when he hit 96 miles per hour on radar guns during an appearance at the WWBA World Championship tournament in Florida in November.
He committed to Missouri soon after and has been working since to develop as a pitcher in the months since. He threw just 4 1/3 innings during his junior season at Parkway South — he was 1-1 with an 11.31 earned run average in just 4 1/3 innings, with five hits allowed, five strikeouts and four walks — so he made the difficult decision to play in Iowa, where he knew he would be able to throw on a set schedule in front of scouts.
“It was not easy,” Brentz explained. “I grew up playing baseball with my friends and I really wanted to try to win a state championship in high school. But at the end of the day, I have a chance to do something most kids just dream about, so I had to make a difficult decision. The best part is that all of my friends really support the decision and are hoping I do very well.”
WESTMINSTER AIMS FOR THIRD STRAIGHT TITLE
The Westminster baseball program has had a great run in recent years.
The Wildcats go into the 2013 season with some big holes in their lineup, following the graduation of 2012 Post-Dispatch player of the year Tate Matheny and four-year starting third baseman Luke Turner, but coach Rich Van Gilst returns enough talent to continue to be among the best teams in the area.
The veteran coach is cautious about his expectations for this group.
“To play good baseball, which will hopefully translate into wins,” Van Gilst said via text message this week, after losing his voice on a team trip to Florida. “The guys want another playoff run.”
There is plenty of reason to be optimistic. Among the players returning from last year’s 29-4 team are ace senior lefty Ben Lovell (10-0, 1.00 ERA last season), junior shortstop Shane Benes (.364, 17 extra-base hits, 49 RBI) and junior catcher Brett Bond (.300, 10 extra-base hits, 21 RBI). Lovell signed with Belmont, while Benes and Bond have both made early commitments to the University of Missouri.
FRANCIS HOWELL, CBC HIGHLIGHT CLASS 5 CONTENDERS
Two of the past three Class 4 champions, Francis Howell (2011) and CBC (2010), look like the teams to beat in Class 5 this spring.
Howell returns the bulk of its team that went 22-9 a year ago and three of those players — senior shortstop Zac Perkins, junior catcher-closer Nic Perkins and senior righthander-first baseman Calvin Munson — were a part of the team that went 32-3 and won the Missouri Class 4 championship in 2011.
“You’ve got three guys who have lived it,” Vikings coach Tony Perkins said. “They saw how those guys approached it. The ‘11 group learned from the ‘08 group (that finished second at state). So it’s just kind of been passed down.”
Howell picked up an impact transfer in junior infielder-outfielder Elijah Dilday, who was a third-team All-Metro selection as a sophomore at O’Fallon Christian and who has already made a verbal commitment to Nebraska.
CBC returns much of its team that went 18-9 a year ago, including a pair of hard-throwing Division I senior right-handers in Robert Plohr (5-2, 0.95 ERA in 2012) and Dan Herrmann (5-3, 3.53). Plohr has signed with St. Louis University, while Herrmann signed with Bradley.
O’FALLON, EDWARDSVILLE, ALTON BEST IN SOUTHWESTERN AGAIN?
The O’Fallon and Edwardsville programs continue to make the Southwestern Conference one of the area’s best leagues each spring.
O’Fallon went 31-8 overall and 13-1 in conference play a year ago and coach Jason Portz likes the group of players returning for the Panthers this spring.
"The expectations are high this year," Portz said, "and we feel if our pitching develops like we think it is going to continue to, this team can be a team that can contend for a final four berth."
The O’Fallon pitching staff will be anchored by senior righty Ethan Wild, who went 8-1 a year ago and is 15-1 with a 0.87 ERA during his time with the varsity squad.
Edwardsville, which went 28-10 overall and 10-4 in league play in 2012, will rely heavily on a senior class of 14 players, led by St. Louis University signee Drew Curtis (.417, six home runs, 35 RBI).
Alton went 25-10 overall and 10-4 in league play a year ago. The Redbirds return strong pitching depth, led by senior right-hander Ray Bailey (8-1, 2.15 ERA), and have one of the area’s top players in senior catcher and Indiana signee Brent Gibbs (.398, two home runs, 32 RBI).