By Shelley Ebbrecht/For OzarksSportsZone.com
It will be a changing of the guard on the baseball field this spring for the Ash Grove Pirates after losing five key starters from last year’s squad lost to graduation. But head coach Troy McMain said their legacy will live on in the future success of the program.
“Last year we had a good group of seniors who worked to build a new chemistry and better balance than years past,” McMain said. “Those seniors were instrumental in our success and beginning a new tradition at Ash Grove.”
The Pirates ended last season 15-10 overall and took third place in the Mid-Lakes Conference before falling in the district finals, 3-1, to state-ranked Stockton.
“We were able to compete well in our conference and ended up third place which, I feel, set us up for success in our district,” McMain said. “I was proud of the effort of our team and the determination of our leaders.”
Among those who graduated were ace pitcher and leading hitter Taylor Whitworth. He went 4-0 on the mound with a 1.6 ERA in his senior campaign. He averaged .526 at the plate with 13 doubles, 41 total hits and 29 RBI. Whitworth is now playing at Ecclesia College.
Garrett Payne and Jackson Bagley were two more top producing seniors whose shoes will be hard to fill this year. Payne went 3-2 on the mound and hit .451 with 37 hits and led with 14 stolen bases. Bagley was 3-0 in the pitcher’s circle and hit .320 with 13 stolen bases.
“We are aware of the changes our team has gone through with the loss of last year’s seniors,” McMain said. “However, the leadership for this year is strong. They have been working hard in the offseason to make this season an extension of last year.”
One of those leaders will be senior infielder Paul Chavez. Last season Paul hit .391 and was second team all-conference for his performance on the infield.
“Paul is an asset to this year’s team,” said McMain. “He is a second-year captain, a returning starter and has tremendous drive. He could turn out to be a great player again for us this year.”
He will be joined by fellow seniors Paul Brugh and Mason Keith. Brugh hit .364 as a junior outfielder and was also named second team all-conference. Keith hit .194 and is billed as an infielder, but McMain said he played three different positions on the varsity level last season and his diversity will help add depth and consistency to the team again this year.
THE NEW O-ZONE APP IS HERE!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR APPLE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR ANDROID
Braden Trammell, junior, is another utility player who McMain said is athletic enough to play each position and rarely came off the field last season. He hit .292 and was a second team all-district honoree.
Donovan Nicholson, junior, and Cody Beasley, senior, will be at the top of the Ash Grove pitching rotation this year. Nicholson picked up a win on the varsity mound last year while Beasley went 3-0 for the JV squad. Both were overshadowed by the senior pitching squad last year, but are expected to fill the shoes of those seniors on the mound and at the plate.
Draven Zeigler was slated to start for the Pirates last season as a freshman, but an early season injury slowed him down. McMain said he is looking healthy and ready to go for this season on the Ash Grove infield.
“We have been preaching the ability of our younger players to fill the vacancies and to take the opportunity to continue to build our program,” said McMain. “We have strong younger players coming up under good veteran leadership. The players are excited to fill important roles, to develop themselves and to build a stronger program.”
Ash Grove will play in the Pleasant Hope Tournament March 20-25 before hosting East Newton in their home opener March 28. The Ash Grove Classic is set for May 6-9.