By Kary Booher/For OzarksSportsZone.com
Back in 2013 and 2014, the Hartville High School baseball team reached the Class 2 state semifinals. The Eagles won it all in 2013 and finished runner-up in 2014.
However, it’s been a challenging time since and, to longtime coach Joe Garrison, it’s time to get right.
“I started seven seniors in the fall and anytime you can start seven seniors, you feel like you’ve got a strong group,” Garrison said. “But we’ve gone to the school of hard knocks. I’ll be happy if we come out, work hard and play like we’re capable of. There is hope there. I believe the tools are there.”
Garrison said he has even challenged himself to be better, given the team finished 7-13 last year.
As he sees it, it’ll take his 15 years of coaching experience – he is 302-234 overall, including 258-212 at Hartville – to be creative in shepherding pitchers through the state’s new and strict pitch count/rest-day rules.
As he put it, “If I’ve got a four-game week, with the pitch counts, I’m going to use my seventh- and eighth-best pitcher on varsity, and I’ve never had more than five varsity pitchers (per season).”
The staff should be headlined by seniors Jace Keith, a left-hander, and James Schmidt. Keith was 2-7 with a 3.17 earned run average in 54 innings last year. His six shutouts tied a school record previously set by 2009 graduate Clint Horn. Schmidt was 4-2 with a team-best 2.53 ERA in 46 innings.
“When those two are on the mound, I feel confident I know what to expect out of them,” Garrison said.
Tyler Hennigh, a junior, also will be on a staff that includes sophomore Luke Goslee, sophomore Jarrett Carlton and freshman Caleb Moore.
“They’re going to have to be prepared every day,” Garrison said. “For small schools, (the pitch count rule) is really going to put your pitching at a premium and you need defense behind them. Your errors now cost you more than in the past.”
It should help that Braden Keith, a versatile senior, can handle catching duties and lead the younger arms.
“Braden’s one of those versatile players you can move around,” Garrison said. “At the Class 2 level, those are valuable guys.”
Other notables in the lineup include first baseman-outfielder Hagan Simmons, second baseman Broc Arnall, freshman shortstop Holton Simmons, outfielders Deric Jones, Logan Pyatt, Matthew Marco and Hennigh. Ethan Martin, Noah Taylor and Tyler Russell also are in the mix. Jones, Pyatt and Russell also are seniors.
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Jace Keith hit .317 last year, while Braden Keith hit .364 with a .465 on-base percentage.
Holton Simmons showed good signs in the fall season and will play a premium position, but the seniors will need to guide him and others, Garrison said.
“Arnall, Hagan Simmons and Deric Jones, they are going to have to carry the weight and to have the discipline to do what leaders on a team are supposed to do,” Garrison said.
Hartville is in Class 2 District 9, which includes Crocker, Laquey, Plato, Richland and Stoutland. Plato reached the state quarterfinals last year.
“We’re hungry, and I’m going to be pushing and challenging everybody that (the past two years) doesn’t happen to us again,” Garrison said. “I’m going to be motivated, too, to do better things, as I hope these seven seniors will be.”