By Kyle LoJacono
It’s not a constant discussion, but the fact does enter the minds of the Wharton baseball players — is this going to be the year?
The program has yet to make the playoffs in its 14-year history, but the Wildcats (14-8) have a different feeling this season.
“I thought our team chemistry would be good because most of the seniors have been here for four years,” said senior pitcher Shaun Rubin, who has signed to play at Harvard University. “We knew it would be tough, but we thought that team chemistry would help us win some more games. We may not have the best talent, but we gel well.”
Senior pitcher/shortstop Collin Woody said it would be a “big deal” to break through.
“If we could do that it would feel like we’re leaving a legacy; like we were the guys who did it,” Woody said.
It would also mean a lot to nine-year Wildcats coach Scott Hoffman. He has been working to build the squad into what he experienced while playing third base at Gaither, a program that has made the playoffs 11 times since Wharton opened.
“Everybody has a goal, and ours is to try and become like Gaither and be successful every year,” Hoffman said. “It’s a work in progress, and I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Hoffman said it’s taken some early-season wins to build confidence.
“The key is they believe in themselves now, and at the start of the year they didn’t,” Hoffman said. “We didn’t know what to do when things went wrong. Now we can grind things out and pull though in those games. … Everyone just has to do their job. When we get a guy on second we have to get him over and get him in. We have to catch the ball, and we need great pitching.”
Hoffman said the squad must do those things in order to compete in Class 8A-District 7, where five of the six teams are above .500. The grouping includes Alonso, the defending 6A state champs.
“We call it the Big East, the American League East and the SEC,” Hoffman said with a laugh. “I mean this district is brutal. We take a lot of pride in that. This is 8A. You can’t go any higher. We take it like a badge of honor because the teams we play all have guys who are Division I players.”
Wharton has navigated the schedule and is tied for second place in the 8A-7. Junior shortstop/third baseman Tuck Neuhaus, a University of Louisville commit, said that shows they can compete.
“In past years we’ve felt kind of overmatched,” said Neuhaus, who came from Steinbrenner as a sophomore. “This year it’s a battle. Whoever wants it most might win it, and I know our team wants it.”
Rubin said the players are mindful of what they do well and have to stay within their ability to be successful.
“We’re not going to out hit a team, and we don’t have real flashy guys like some other teams,” Rubin said. “We’ll win the close games by playing together. We’ve shown all year we can come back in games. We’ve won a lot of one-run games because of our pitching, defense and timely hitting.”
If they do that then a playoff spot might be the first major achievement for the Wildcats.
“I think a district championship is possible,” Neuhaus said. “From there a deep playoff run maybe. I do think whoever wins states is going to be from this district, and there’s no reason why it can’t be us.”
Wharton travels to Leto on April 17 at 7 p.m. The 8A-7 tournament is at Durant, with the championship on April 26 at 7 p.m.
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches