Not only did West Platte lose the top pitcher and top hitter from a year ago, the two all-state seniors were also the Bluejays’ main battery.
A four-time all-state pick, pitcher McKaulley Stephenson led West Platte to a fourth playoff berth in his four years, while catcher Peyton Morris enjoyed a stellar two-year career with the Bluejays after moving in from Oklahoma. They were a big part of a 2016 run to the Class 2 quarterfinals, which ended with a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Lincoln.
West Platte loses five seniors total, and all were pivotal to success at some point during their four years.
“We’re very, very young so it’s going to be a year of the kids being thrown in the loop, but down the road in a year or two, they’ll benefit from it,” West Platte coach Tanner Lawson said. “I think they know as well as these coaches know that we are not as talented as we have been in the past so they’re all fighting for spots on the team and trying to find a way to contribute to where we lost our seniors last year.”
Pitching will be at the top of the question list.
In addition to Stephenson, West Platte must replace shortstop and No. 3 option on the mound Brett Shepardson, who became the No. 2 when Luke Horseman suffered an injury that ended his standout career early in 2016. The returning starters include seniors Kyle Tabaka (outfield), Alec Carson (outfield), Connor McNair (second base) and Jack Summers (first base).
Gavin Davis, a sophomore, started during the playoff run for West Platte, while senior Grant Eagen is a question mark after suffering a knee injury during football season. Eagen would’ve been the top returning hitter after going for a .354 average and .446 on-base percentage as a junior.
Tabaka had 20 hits and 12 RBIs as a junior, while McNair scored 24 runs — second only to Shepardson’s 25. Summers was third for the Bluejays with five doubles and posting a .422 on-base percentage.
West Platte went 16-7 a year ago and has won at least that many games in six straight seasons. In 2010, the Bluejays won 15 games.
“I think we’re going to focus more on offense and defense because we don’t have the pitching that we have had in the past to keep us in the games,” Lawson said. “We’re going to do our best to coach the kids to play and let the chips fall and hopefully have something going in May and continue on to a postseason run.”