COLUMBIA — Justin Towe has a shovel in his hands. It’s the hottest day of the year so far, and the Rock Bridge High School baseball coach is hard at work before practice.
The sun beats down on his back as the metallic clang of the shovel scraping against gravel fills the warm March air. He is leveling the ground in the Bruins’ bullpen so he can put new artificial turf down.
Towe said the visitors' bullpen is already finished. The Bruins' will be nicer, though.
The bullpen will be ready for opening day and so will the Bruins.
The last time Towe’s team took the field, Rock Bridge lost by one run in the Class 5 state quarterfinals to Willard High School. The memory of the defeat hangs in the minds of the Rock Bridge players and coaches. Towe said it motivates his team, and he has high expectations for the Bruins this year.
“We return most of our guys,” Towe said. “So there’s obviously going to be a lot of excitement with that.”
Rock Bridge will start the season ranked No. 4 in the state for Class 5. Such high standing has become commonplace in Towe’s 17 years at Rock Bridge.
“We’re kind of to the point now where we always expect a lot of good things,” Towe said. “Whether or not they happen, that’s kind of up to the coaching and the playing. But we set pretty lofty goals all the time.”
Senior pitcher Kyle Teter didn’t know the Bruins were ranked. When he found out, he just grinned.
“That’s cool,” he said with a laugh.
Senior catcher Jacob Schmidt said he doesn’t think about the high ranking, and he is used to being a target for other schools.
“We’re Rock Bridge,” Schmidt said. “Everybody always looks for us. We’re always a big target. We always have that pressure, but that doesn’t really bother us. We’re expected to perform every year that way.”
The Bruins have won 96 games in the last four seasons. Rock Bridge’s staple has been excellent defense.
“Offense, from year to year, kind of comes and goes,” Towe said. “We try to hang our hat on defense.”
Towe said he spends the preseason practices drilling his players on the defensive side of the ball. He has a lot of capable players competing for time on the field. The Bruins have 12 or 13 pitchers looking to see varsity innings.
Rock Bridge’s first game is Saturday at Hickman High School. The Bruins are scheduled to scrimmage with Hickman, Battle High School and Fort Zumwalt West High School.