By Kary Booher/For OzarksSportsZone.com
Despite sensing his baseball team has varsity-ready talent a year after New Covenant Academy finished as the Class 1 state runner-up, coach John Hartley has a simple message for his team.
In essence, don’t get a big head.
“Forget last year. We’re not going to speak about it. We’re not going to live it. It’s a new beginning, with new guys,” Hartley said. “It’s about how they all progress.”
The Warriors, in only their third season of fielding a varsity team, should listen to the man. After all, Hartley is one of southwest Missouri’s “old guard” of baseball, having coached 22 seasons at Willard with other stops in Billings and Seymour high schools as well as time coaching College of the Ozarks.
That said, even Hartley cannot help express optimism about the road ahead. New Covenant Academy appears to have talent up and down the lineup, with at least nine players capable of taking the mound, too.
Both strengths will be key as the Warriors move up to Class 2, with a District 11 Tournament that features Billings, Blue Eye, Crane, Galena and Marionville. A year ago, the Warriors finished 23-5, won the Mark Twain Conference and put seven players on the All-District team.
Among the notable names this season is C.J. Fernelius, a senior catcher who has signed with Evangel University. He hit .419 last season, with 10 of his 31 hits going for doubles, and earned first team All-District, all-conference and second team All-State. He also drove in 18 runs and, after playing for the Midwest Nationals in recent years, joined Hartley’s 417 Baseball, a summer program.
“Every summer, he’s seen better pitching. But to meet his own expectations, he’s going to have to hit .500 or better,” Hartley said. “I think he’s capable of that. He’s put on some muscle and bat speed.”
Three other seniors will play key roles – pitcher Ben Cannefax, outfielder Corbin Morgan and infielder Noah Phipps.
Look for Cannefax to eat a lot of innings along with junior left-hander Alan Ramsey, an all-conference selection. Cannefax finished with a 1.50 earned run average last season, with Ramsey finishing 5-1 with a 1.02 ERA. Phipps hit .296, while Morgan batted .389 with 28 hits and 21 RBI.
Other notables are all sophomores in Ryan Carmack, Ryan Rodgers, Timmy Smith, Cam Altena and Tedd Fraser. Smith is one of the school’s better athletes.
However, challenges await. Who will cover the leadership left behind by several players last year? Among them was Cody Malan, the Springfield High School Player of the Year who was 9-0 on the mound, and Silas Siebert, who batted leadoff. Plus, last year’s lineup had four who could bat left. That’s been cut in half with graduation.
At that, the schedule offers no rest as Hartley booked a busy schedule that includes top teams from most classes, including Bell City, which beat NCA in the Class 1 state championship game. Plus, the Warriors, like everybody, will have to adhere to the state’s new rules on pitch counts.
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“I wasn’t going to fiddle with the schedule (after the new rules). I made this schedule nine months ago, and we’re not going to change it,” Hartley said. “It’s going to make us better at the end.”
The way Hartley sees it, 2017 could be just as memorable as last year.
“We’re going to have fun, but you never know,” Hartley said. “There are a lot of things that can get in the way of success. You never know if kids are going to get along. But I think this could be a fun team.”