By Derek Shore/For OzarksSportsZone.com
Despite unfavorable results, the recent theme for the Crane Pirates baseball program has been “Next Man Up” after losing a number of key players to graduation in the past.
Head Coach: Bryan Harmon
2015-16 Record: 11-15 (2-5 in SWCL play) – Lost Class 2, District 11 semifinal to eventual champion Galena
Top Players: Bryston Hooten (C/OF), Brent Williams (P/SS), Bryston Branstetter (OF), Caleb Head (OF), Colby Smith (P/3B), Colton Elder (P/C), Harley Howard (1B/P), Hunter Brantley (1B/DH), Nick Brannan (OF), Raif Cook (3B), Weston Cloyd (OF), and Wyatt Vaught (2B/P)
That was exactly the case last year for the Pirates as they had troubles replicating a 17-8 season from 2015, finishing with an 11-15 overall record while dropping down the Southwest Central League Conference standings in the process. But there are high hopes at Crane to get back on the winning track.
“Last year was a tough season for us,” said longtime skipper Bryan Harmon. “We were inexperienced at a lot of positions and were streaky because of that. Our best stretch of the season was during the Hartville Tournament when we won three games in two days to take home the championship. We hope to build on small successes and become more consistent this spring.”
For starters, Crane is set to return a whopping 12 lettermen, including eight regulars to the field. Bryston Hooten, an all-state and all-O-Zone (Honorable Mention) backstop, will headline the Pirates after posting a .451 batting clip with 13 extra-base hits and 19 RBI. The 5-foot-10 senior also went a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen base attempts.
“Bryston will be counted on to be a leader both on and off the field,” Harmon said. “He will be expected to drive in runs from the heart of the batting order. His defense will be a key both behind the plate and in the outfield.”
Returning to patrol center field up the middle, senior Weston Cloyd hit .293 with a homer, 12 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases last year. Cloyd was named to the All-SWCL as an outfielder in 2015 and is expected more of this coming spring.
“Weston will be expected to lead the outfield defense from center field,” Harmon added. “He will also be expected to get on base and drive in runs from many different spots in the batting order.”
Appearing in limited action as a freshman, Bryston Branstetter batted .429 with nine hits and 5 RBIs. Branstetter will be counted on to play good defense in the outfield while using his potent bat to drive in runs on offense.
On the mound, Brent Williams the Pirates primary hurler this past spring, compiling a 3-4 record with 3.98 ERA as he will be depended on to pitch against top teams. Juniors Colby Smith, Wyatt Vaught, and Colton Elder will also toe the rubber and contribute as pitchers as well. Those three will also see time at third base, second base, and catcher, respectively.
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Rounding out the returnees are seniors Caleb Head and Hunter Brantley, junior Harley Howard, and sophomores Nick Brannan and Raif Cook.
Head will set the table and be a force on the bases at the top of the order, playing tough defense in the outfield. Brantley will be counted on to hit the ball with authority and drives in runs from the middle of the order. Howard will lead the infield defense at first while being a versatile, productive bat. Brannan will be expected to put the ball in play, and Cook should continue to improve offensively to make the lineup deeper.
Newcomers to this year’s team include freshmen Darin Terrell (catcher), Heath Quick (OF), and Wesley Branstetter (2B/SS).
“After a successful fall season, we hope to build on what we were able to get started,” Harmon said. “We have gone from being the hunter to the hunted in the conference after winning the conference tournament. All players will be counted on the step up their game in order to make the team successful.
“With the schedule, we have assembled, we will have to come to play every day if we are going to have a successful season. Our experienced players will be counted on to teach the Pirate Way to the underclassmen as they help them contribute to the effort.”
Crane opens the season at home against Everton on Fri., Mar. 17.