Every other week Ozarks Sports Zone will rank the area’s baseball teams based on dominance by class, essentially their pound-for-pound ranking in their respective class. Rankings are based on results, recent success and strength of schedule. Coaches from all area teams are asked to provide information.
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1. Aurora (C4, 9-0, 1) – The Class 4 top-ranked Houn’ Dawgs got a close call Saturday against Republic, but ultimately pulled it out 13-7 in 9 innings. Other than that they’ve been unbelievable. The pitching staff led by Zac Shoemaker and Wyatt Sparks (33 strikeouts each) has an ERA of .918 with 91 strikeouts in 61 innings. The offense is extremely balanced with eight of nine starters hitting over .300, including Sparks and Shoemaker who are hitting .485 and .448 respectively. Even catcher Kaleb Baker is throwing out two-thirds of all would-be base stealers. Coach Hoffman’s club has talent, experience, composure and resiliency; a perfect formula for success.
2. Mansfield (C2, 7-0, 2) – The Lions barely remember what losing feels like. They haven’t lost a school-related baseball contest since falling 6-5 to Plato on May 23 in last year’s Class 2 sectionals. It’s been difficult to play without their long-time leader Doug Jones, who passed away earlier this year, but retiring his jersey last week was a great way to honor him, his family, and those who cared so much about him. On the field, the results have been spectacular, especially the pitching. The staff has a combined 1.30 ERA led by Jonah Williamson (3-0, 2.33 ERA), Sean Neal (2-0, 0.0 ERA) and Jordan Evans (1-0, 0.0 ERA). A challenging week awaits with games against Conway, Licking and Fordland.
3. Monett (C4, 10-1, 3) – The Cubs are fresh off a Carthage Tournament championship in which they allowed just one run in three games against Seneca, Carthage and Nevada. The Seneca win was redemption for their only loss on April 1. The pitching has been outstanding with the trio of Ian Meyer, Corey Spain and Jonathan Hawkins all under a 1.0 ERA. We’ll get a better idea just how good the Cubs are Tuesday night when they visit top-ranked Aurora with the Big 8 top spot at stake.
4. Lincoln (C2, 12-0, 10) – Well, it’s pretty safe to say the Cardinals have been the most impressive team statistically. Ranked no. 1 by the coaches in Class 2, Lincoln is not only unbeaten, but they’re outscoring their opponents 157-10 and only two of those 10 runs were earned. Connor Spunaugle, Sam Hinrichs and Corbin Reese have been the workhorses for the pitching staff, accounting for 50.1 of the 63 innings pitched. Oh by the way, they’re hitting .405 as a team. Most individuals could only dream of hitting .400. Their whole team is doing it. Will they ever return to Earth?
5. Salem (C4, 7-0, 13) – At this point last year the Tigers were smack dab in mediocrity with a 5-5 mark. Fast forward to this season and they’ve yet to experience defeat. With seven starters returning from a district champ team, their list of wins is impressive with a pair over defending Class 3 state champ Mtn Grove, Class 3 ranked Cuba, Licking, Houston and MV-BT/Liberty. Despite that, partially due to their geographical location in “no-man’s land”, they’re earning very little respect statewide. I would expect that to change soon and it’s reflected in these rankings by a big jump up the list.
6. Walnut Grove (C1, 6-3, 5) – After taking their lumps thanks to a brutal early schedule, the Tigers have hit their stride. Saturday they wrapped up a perfect 5-0 Wheatland Tournament with wins over Hurley, Humansville, Halfway, Morrisville and Fordland; playing the final three games in a 24-hour period. Logan Thomazin (.483), Hayden Jeffryes (.385), Justin Dennis (.387) and Kyle Keith (.367) make up a murderer’s row lineup for Coach Stepp. One thing is for sure, the Tigers will be battle-tested come playoff time as they have games against Class 1 top 10 teams Greenfield and Wheatland and Class 5 foes Hillcrest and Willard coming up in the next two weeks.
7. Webb City (C5, 8-1, 7) – Since an 11-9 season-opening loss to Arkansas Class 7A Bentonville the Cardinals have been very good with eight straight wins, six of which they allowed one run or less. Those wins weren’t against walkover teams either; Rogersville, Republic, Branson, Carl Junction, Joplin, Neosho. Last weekend they brought home the Ft. Scott Tournament championship with three wins in two days.
8. Galena (C2, 9-2, 15) – The Bears are one of the biggest risers in this week’s rankings after showing great resiliency in a brutal five-game week. During that stretch they took losses to Pierce City and Class 4 Springfield Catholic, but also pulled out big wins against Crane (10-0), defending Class 1 state champ Bell City (9-3) and Class 1 runner-up New Covenant (8-6 in 10 inn.). Coach Richardson’s lineup is hitting .343 led by Austin Holt (.514), Logan Sorrell (.424) and Luke Burk (.457). Sorrell and Caleb Hall are both 3-0 on the mound. Hall has a miniscule ERA of .323. If they can get through that week with their head above water, they can pretty much do anything.
9. Rogersville (C4, 7-4, 11) – The Wildcats certainly don’t shy away from the competition. They took top-ranked Aurora to the verge before falling 5-4 on a walkoff and took Bolivar to extras in a thriller before the Liberators won it in 10 innings. Sandwiched in between those losses was a solid 15-5 COC Small win over Buffalo in which MSU signee Jordan Fitzpatrick hit three home runs and Shane Gruener hit a pair of long balls. Fitzpatrick is making a strong early case for a 1 Award nomination with his .459 avg, 8 HR, 19 RBI. That’ll play!
10. Plato (C2, 9-4, 4) – A tough early stretch is paying off for the Eagles, who are just wrapped up a championship in their own tournament last week. The bats have been rattling with 65 runs in the four games of that tournament, raising the team average to .387 and their runs/game to 11.4. Wiley Miller is leading the way with a .500 average, 21 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Jack Morrison and Gaven Vaughan are close behind at .485 and .454 respectively. Miller is also leading the pitching staff with a 3-0 record, 1.29 ERA in 21.2 IP and 40 strikeouts.
11. Diamond (C3, 7-1, 14) – Despite a slew of injuries and inconsistency the Wildcats continue to win. Carter Prewitt took a no-hitter into the 6th inning before they ultimately fell to state ranked Haskell, Okla. in the Mickey Mantle Wood Bat Classic championship in Commerce, Okla. Trey Bowman and Cole Seward have also pitched well, but the loss of leadoff hitter Blake Drake to a torn labrum was a costly one. They’re hoping to get Christian Maturino back from a torn ACL suffered during football season. A trio of key Spring River Valley games are on the slate this week along with a big non-conference matchup against Purdy.
12. Kickapoo (C5, 9-3, 9) – The Chiefs are considered by the coaches as the top Class 5 team in SWMO; ranked 4th in the state. They’ve certainly looked like it at times with wins over Ozark and Willard, while an 8-1 loss to 8-loss Joplin last Friday is kind of a head scratcher. Adam Link (3-0, 1.23 ERA) and Michael Barnes (3-0, 1.00 ERA) have been one of the best 1-2 pitching duos in the area. Unfortunately, they are only allowed so many pitches in a week. They’ll need every one of them this upcoming week with five games on the slate.
13. Willard (C5, 9-3, NR) – The Tigers have been consistently good the last several seasons and 2017 has been no different. All three of their losses have come to state-ranked Class 5 teams. They own a handful of quality wins, including Arkansas Class 5A top-ranked Sylvan Hills, 2-1. Caleb Lasher got a lot of attention two weeks ago when he tossed a perfect game in a 6-0 win over Lebanon with 55 strikes in an extremely efficient 66 pitches. That was part of a 28-inning scoreless streak by the pitching staff. A defending Class 5 state champ Francis Howell and Rock Bridge; the only other Class 5 team besides Willard to win four district championships in the last five seasons (stat courtesy of head coach Scott McGee).
14. New Covenant (C2, 7-2, NR) – The Warriors moved up to Class 2 after a runner-up finish in Class 1 last season, but they haven’t skipped a beat, starting the season with back-to-back no-hitters. During that stretch they faced 62 batters without a hit, breaking the previous state record of 48. Domination would be an understatement in the first five games as they outscored their opponents 62-1! Last week they fell to Bell City, and its ace pitcher, in a rematch of last year’s state championship, but bounced back by beating Class 3 top-ranked Summit Christian (5-3 in 9 inn.). Monday night the Warriors plated 11 runs in the 2nd inning of a 12-0 win over Bradleyville, giving head coach John Hartley his impressive 400th career win.
T15. Forsyth (C3, 10-3, NR) – The Panthers have lost so much high-end talent the last couple years you might think they would be in for a rebuilding year or two. Nope. The #6 team in Class 3 is off to a 10-3 start with quality wins over Catholic, Clever, Walnut Grove and Fair Grove. Their losses came to Class 3 top-ranked Summit Christian, Conway, and Clinton, Ark. Tyler Groves is the latest star to wear the Forsyth uniform, hitting .433 while going 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA on the mound and 27 strikeouts. Look out for a big SWCL game Thursday at Crane.
T15. Pierce City (C2, 8-2, NR) – Fifteen teams just wasn’t enough. I had to sneak the Eagles into the rankings this week. Their 8-2 record speaks for itself, but the fact that they’ve won six in a row, including a 6-1 win over state ranked Galena made it a slam dunk. The losses were against a good Conway team and a 4-3 extra inning defeat against Class 4 6th ranked Monett. PC is outscoring its opponents 105-24 and most of that has come since the opening week. The pitching staff is rocking a 1.8 ERA while the lineup is banging it out to the tune of a .332 average.
Knocking on the Door: Eminence (C1, 8-3, NR), Ozark (C5, 5-3, 8), Catholic (C4, 9-4, 12), Greenfield (C1, 6-2, NR), Mtn Grove (C3, 5-3, NR), Hurley (C1, 2-4, 6), Buffalo (C4, 8-1, NR), Skyline (C2, 7-4, NR), Norwood (C2, 6-2, NR), Glendale (C5, 10-5, NR), Branson (C5, 7-4, NR)