By Shelley Ebbrecht/For OzarksSportsZone.com
The Diamond Wildcats return the field with lofty goals for the 2017 season. But with nine returning starters, you could say they know what to expect.
“My expectations are that we will be a strong contender to repeat as SRVC champions, compete and win against a tougher regular season schedule than in years past and make a run at a district title,” said third–year head coach Zachary Shockey.
Four seniors return to the infield for the Wildcats. All-Conference third baseman Trey Bowman led the team with .471 batting average and went 5-3 with a save on the mound. Shortstop Carter Prewitte hit .451, had a 5-4 record with a save and led the team with 9 extra base hits to earn all-conference honors.
Jordan McAlister had a team-high 35 hits with a .455 average and will catch for the Wildcats this year. Joey Divine hit .273 as a junior and will split time at first base.
Juniors Logan Brock and Blake Drake were all-conference and all-district honorees last season. Brock the team’s designated hitter, hit .459 and led the team with 20 RBIs.
Drake hit .440 with a team-high 26 steals and will anchor the outfield at centerfield. Outfielders Christian Maturino and Hunter Renfro complete the junior class with Cole Seward, sophomore, will play second base and be the fourth pitcher in the rotation.
The team finished 16-8 last year after losing to Clever in the first round of its district tournament. Jeremiah Bridgewater, catcher, was the lone starter lost to graduation.
“This team should be much improved on the offensive side of things, as we return almost the whole team for the third consecutive season,” Shockey said. “Experience against varsity pitching is valuable and we have it. I expect us to remain steady on defense and to get strong seasons from our rotation.”
Diamond’s top newcomers are sophomore Durham Mickey and juniors Trey Marborough and Brandon Ferguson.
“All three proved themselves capable of giving us innings out of the bullpen last summer and will get that opportunity this spring,” Shockey said. “Marborough will challenge for time at first base and right field while Ferguson can play anywhere in the outfield.”
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Shockey said the team spent the offseason focusing on building bullpen depth in response to the new pitch count limitations and diversifying what they do on offense.
“Our strengths are outstanding team speed with 161 steals and a 92 percent success rate, consistent defense and strong depth in the pitching department,” he said. “I think this year will see us hit for more power than in years past.”
The Wildcats will hit the field in the Lamar Tournament beginning March 17 and will open regular season play at Miller March 28. The team’s home opener is set for Thursday, March 30 against Purdy.