There’s much that Rock Bridge baseball is looking forward to in the 2022 season.
First is the excitement of returning to a general semblance of normalcy with fewer COVID-19 restrictions.
But there’s no more thrilling change for the Bruins than finally having a new home turf. Rock Bridge played all of its home games last season at the Atkins Baseball Fields just north of Columbia while its home diamond was under construction.
“We didn’t get to play a home game last year,” Bruins assistant coach Jeff Bazat said. “Being able to even walk out of school to go to practice, and not have to drive 30 minutes to get over to Atkins, we feel pretty blessed right now to just be doing things normal again.”
That return to normal has been a boon for Rock Bridge.
The Bruins have started the season 9-2, just about halfway to matching last season’s total of 19 victories. They’ve scored 9.6 runs per game and have lost only to undefeated Nixa and Pell City (Ala.).
Outside of the two losses, the Bruins have scored 103 runs and given up just 34 runs in their nine wins.
Only three of Rock Bridge’s first 11 games were at home. Rock Bridge just finished a business trip in Alabama where the Bruins went 5-1.
This success all comes while the team is rallying for a teammate.
In the fall of 2021, Davis Taylor was injured in a UTV accident. Friends, teammates and coaches held a vigil for him on a Sunday morning last fall atop the parking garage of University of Missouri Hospital.
Taylor, who has an older brother on the Bruins baseball team, visited the team before its jamboree and saw the continued support the team has for its teammate, Bazat said.
“They’re all a tight-knit group and they’re pretty close together,” Bazat said. “They rally behind each other when things like those types of things happen, and they’ve been great at supporting each other.”
That communal support runs through a team that developed its talent last year and is now finding its experience. The experience can provide the difference between the team that began 17-7 last season and the one that finished 2-6 in the final stretch.
Payton Messer heads the Bruins’ core. The senior leader plays center field and will be expected to be the team’s ace.
Senior Toby Scheidt and junior Dane Gray follow Messer’s lead as versatile players. Scheidt can play shortstop and third base, while the coaching staff aims to have him fill some more innings this season. Gray, who Bazat said has gained 30 pounds of muscle, will most likely handle closer duties while batting in the middle of the order.
Gray, Messer and Scheidt are joined by all-state catcher Kaiden Stoffer.
“He’s going to probably anchor part of the middle of our lineup,” Bazat said of Stoffer. “We need him to protect some of our top other guys.”
That continuity will set Rock Bridge up for a run at a district title, something the team hasn’t done since the 2019 season and just once in the past five seasons.
Bonded by a sense of normalcy and a teammate to rally behind, Rock Bridge is ready to go through the season as a goal-oriented squad tackling its to-do list.
“We’re looking to get out there on the field, have some great successes, go through some struggles together and work on getting better through these regular-season games so we can be ready to go come playoff time,” Bazat said.
Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at [email protected] or 573-815-1857.
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