The Jackson baseball team will have a new yet familiar face at the helm of the program as Tatum Kitchen will be back in the dugout for the Indians starting this season.
Kitchen was recently the head coach for crosstown rival Cape Central, but before that he coached at Jackson from 2010 to 2013, where the team recorded a combined record of 61-36.
The Indians also won a Class 5 District 1 Championship as well as a SEMO Conference regular season and tournament title during Kitchen’s first stint.
“I had a very good experience my first four years [at Jackson],” Coach Kitchen said. “I left to go into financial advising and life insurance sales. I thought I wanted to make a career change and make more money, but after doing the training for that I realized, ‘Oh my gosh. All I want to do is coach.’”
Kitchen left the program in more than good hands as now former Indians head coach Bryan Austin took over in 2014. Austin became the winningest coach in program history and finished with a record of 120-68 along with three district, two sectional and one conference championship.
Austin stepped down from the program to take an administrative position at Jackson and is currently serving as an assistant principal for the junior high.
Kitchen and his family live in Jackson, so once he returned to coaching, he knew if the head coaching job for the Indians was ever open again he would apply for the job.
Heading into this year, the Indians are coming off a 20-9 finish, where they were regular-season conference champions but fell in the district semifinals by two runs to eventual district champions Hillsboro.
Jackson will be replacing a multitude of starters from last year’s team as the program graduated players like Landon Hahn, Tyler Martin and Tanner Hecht, who are all playing college baseball now. Hahn is currently Southeast Missouri State’s starting second baseman.
In 2019, Hahn served as Jackson’s leadoff hitter and finished with team highs in batting average (.432), hits (41), doubles (nine), runs scored (44), runs batted in (30) and stolen bases (33).
Martin and Hecht were Jackson’s top two pitchers last season as they combined for an overall record of 12-2, while Martin produced a team-high 52 strikeouts as Hecht had a team-best earned run average of 1.24 among starters.
The Indians also lost another one of their top arms to graduation in Lance Kluesner, who finished with a record of 5-2 with 34 Ks and a 1.40 ERA.
However, Kitchen is confident his team possesses enough talent to be successful this season with the players who return to the program. Coach Kitchen is having his team focus on competing and improving each and every day.
“For us to compete with the elite talent at the St. Louis level, we have to get a lot better all the time,” Coach Kitchen said. “I think we can do that, but we can’t take days off. Our big goal is to be constantly working hard, constantly pushing each other and accepting that we’re deep enough where guys are going to compete for jobs.”
Stepping up as Jackson’s ace pitcher most likely this season will be sophomore Will Richardson, who had two starts last season and finished with a record of 2-2. In 22.1 innings, Richard-son struck out 31 batters and had an ERA of 2.19.
Another key returner who started for Jackson a year ago is senior Seth Spraggs, but the team will be without him for the first few weeks since he is dealing with a hand injury. Last season, Spraggs finished with a .359 batting average, 23 hits, 14 RBIs and 11 runs.
The Indians will also return their designated hitter in senior Blaise Winder, who was behind Spraggs with a .324 BA and 12 RBIs along with 12 hits and 10 runs scored last season. Coach Kitchen is hoping Winder can fill the three-hole position in the lineup.
One player Kitchen and the rest of the coaching staff have been impressed by early on is senior Kalin Ellis, who played in 21 games last year and scored 11 runs. Coach Kitchen hopes Ellis can serve as his team’s leadoff this year.
Kitchen is already familiar with one player on the team in junior Chase Crosnoe since he coached him while at Cape Central during Crosnoe’s freshman year. Crosnoe will probably bat second in the lineup.
Coach Kitchen will have players like Crosnoe as well as senior Alex Meyer step up at the mound this season. Meyer picked up a win along with three saves in relief last season.
Other players like senior Mason Martini and junior Adam McClanahan will also serve in the pitching staff for the Indians.
Working with these pitchers and serving as Jackson’s starting catcher will be junior Quinton Dacus, who will likely bat cleanup.