Through all the rush of a stretch in which Ozark will play 18 games in 24 days, Tigers coach Justin Sundlie hadn’t had time to think much about his program’s added workload.
Ozark has 31 regular-season games on its regular-season schedule. Only a couple years ago, the Tigers played just 27 games.
The Missouri State High Schools Activities Association began allowing teams last season to expand their schedule. This spring, the maximum number of regular-season games a team can have is 36.
Upon reflecting on MSHSAA’s ruling, Sundlie is in favor of the added games.
“I like it the more I talk about it and we didn’t even hit the max,” he said.
This is one of three weeks in which Ozark will play six games. The Tigers will resume a suspended game against Republic on Wednesday, with teams picking up play in the fourth inning and Republic leading 4-3.
Sundlie particularly likes the added games from a hitters’ perspective.
“It gives you more at-bats, which you can’t simulate in practice. I don’t care how many times you try,” he said.
The players, too, say the more games, the better.
“We love the grind," third baseman Gage Depee said.
The Tigers actually started slowly, thanks to Mother Nature. Rain and cold allowed them to play only two games over the first two weeks.
“I told them that when we start going, it’s going to be like bolts flying everywhere. It’s going one after another,” Sundlie said.
Sundlie thinks baseball is unique in that it calls for games to be played on a daily basis.
“Baseball is a game in which you have to play every day to learn to bounce back,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to show up the next day ready to play. It teaches the players to take one day at a time and one inning at a time — don’t focus on all the things you have coming. Just try to stay steady and don’t be complacent or lazy, just keep making improvements.
“I feel like we’ve seen a lot of maturity from our guys through these stretches,” he added.
Ozark’s travels have included a trip to Neosho one night, followed by a trip to Rogers, Arkansas, the next night and a trip to Springdale, Arkansas, the next day.
Sundlie’s best advice for his players is to enjoy the ride while they can.
“Hanging out with your friends and you’re playing baseball, for a 16-year-old kid that’s heaven,” Sundlie said.