In his 18 seasons as Millard West’s baseball coach, Frank Ryan never had a freshman bat clean-up.
Until Cole Stobbe came along.
Stobbe (pronounced STOW-be) muscled his way onto the varsity team this season and has moved into the No. 4 spot in the Wildcats’ order. That’s a feat for a first-year player in a program that has reached the state tournament 15 times and produced several All-Nebraska players.
“We’ve never had that happen here,” Ryan said. “We knew he was a pretty good player coming in, and he keeps getting better.”
Stobbe, who played on a Frozen Ropes select team the past three years, attended Millard West baseball camps in the past. Ryan said some of his players told him about Stobbe, but there was still no guarantee the newcomer would make the varsity.
But he did.
“It was a little surprising to me when I made it,” Stobbe said. “I didn’t think I’d get the nod, but I’m glad the coaches showed that confidence in me.”
In Stobbe’s first varsity game March 15 at Omaha Westside, he was the designated hitter and batted ninth. He had an uneventful debut as the Wildcats rallied for a 4-3 victory.
“I had a lot of nerves in that first game,” he said. “But I feel like a regular player now.”
Ryan said he batted Stobbe ninth and played him at DH because he didn’t want to overwhelm the freshman.
“After awhile, we started thinking that he could handle the added responsibility,” Ryan said. “And we were right.”
After being the designated hitter for the first six games, Stobbe began playing second base and senior Camden Parks moved to third.
“He’s fit right in,” Ryan said. “He’s earned the respect of his teammates, and that’s why I felt comfortable batting him fourth.”
Stobbe said the presence of senior shortstop Ryan Merrill, a second-team All-Nebraska selection last season, has helped him make the transition to the infield.
“He’s given me a lot of tips,” Cole said. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”
Stobbe is batting .308 for the 12-3 Wildcats, who are ranked second in Class A. He has 10 RBIs and has scored 16 runs. Among his hits are five doubles, a triple and a home run.
One of his best games was Saturday against top-ranked Papillion-La Vista South. He belted a two-run homer in the first inning and added a ground-rule double that turned into Millard West’s third run before the Titans rallied to win 4-3 in nine innings.
“I was running as hard as I could on that homer because I didn’t think it was going out,” he said. “I was amazed that it did, but that was a great feeling.”
Stobbe added that he’s eager to help the Wildcats any way he can. He’s also aware of the fact that for all of those state tournament appearances, Millard West never has won a Class A baseball title.
“I’ve heard about that,” he said. “That’s something we all hope to change out here.”
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