By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
When the Marionville Comets take the field this spring, they’ll be doing so without three key parts of last year’s team: Aaron Head, Cole Brown, and Michael Mays.
Together, the three combined for over 90 innings and 116 runs created for the Comets last season.
Head, the team’s ace on the mound and No. 3 hitter at the plate, hit .333 with 20 RBIs while posting a 2.32 ERA in 42.1 innings with 60 strikeouts. Cole, the leadoff hitter and centerfielder, batted .376 and led the team with 28 runs scored and 19 stolen bases. Mays, the No. 2 pitcher and arguable the co-ace of the staff, was the team’s No. 5 hitter most of the year, batting .307 with 17 RBIs. On the bump, he threw 50.2 innings, won four games, and had a 2.90 ERA.
“We lost three very good players,” said Comets’ coach Jason Grose. “Also, they all were great leaders that went about things the right way.”
Last season, the Comets posted a 14-10 record, including a 3-3 mark in conference play. Six starters and seven lettermen return as they try to build on last year’s success.
Ryan Mayberry, the team’s lone senior returner, hit .337 last year with a home run, 18 RBIs, and 10 stolen bases.
“He will play centerfield for us and hit somewhere at the top of the order,” Grose said. “He is a talented athlete that I expect to take a big step forward. I will also be looking for him to be our leader, mainly by example.”
The Comets also return five juniors in corner infielder Ty Davis, pitcher/second baseman James Hammonds, shortstop/pitcher Wesley Breedlove, utility man/pitcher Earnie Larkin, and catcher Evan Dotson.
Davis batted .342 with a homer and a team-best 25 RBIs last year.
“He had a pretty big year last year,” Grose said. “He will once again hit in the middle of the order.”
Hammonds posted a 3-1 record, a 1.12 ERA in 25 innings, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4:1.
“James really came on as a pitcher last year, gaining more and more innings as he continued to pitch well against good competition,” Grose said. “He will be our ace and will look to improve at the plate and provide depth to our lineup.”
Breedlove tossed 6.2 innings last year, earning two wins and a 2.10 ERA and will likely become the team’s starting shortstop this spring.
“He proved over the summer that he can handle that position,” Grose said. “We need him to take a big step forward with his offensive game and his control on the mound.”
Larkin hit .284 with 12 RBIs and 15 steals last year, while posting a 2.47 ERA in 17 innings pitched. He also played every position on the infield last year and will likely do the same thing this year, taking the position of whoever is pitching.
“He might even play some outfield,” Grose said. “He will also be one our top four pitchers. Earnie is a guy that could have a really, really good season. He works really hard and has gotten a lot stronger this year.”
Dotson, a catcher, looks for an improved season this spring.
“He had some growing pains last year at the plate,” Grose said. “He showed signs of great defensive ability at times, but consistency needs to improve in all areas. He is another kid that got a lot stronger and more confident, which was evident in football as he earned many postseason honors as a linebacker/tight-end. I think this will transfer into our baseball season as well.”
Marionville also returns sophomore outfielder Jeremy Vickers, who batted .310 with 17 RBIs and 9 stolen bases as a freshman.
“He is probably our best pure athlete,” Grose said. “As he continues to refine the little things, he can and should be a great player. He wants to be very good, which is obviously a great quality. Although he’s only a sophomore, he could develop into one of our leaders if he wants to. He had a good year in baseball as a freshman, had a great year on the football field, and does things the right way. The ability and work ethic are there to be a great leader.”
Newcomers to the team include junior outfielder James Tucker, sophomore infielder/pitcher Emmit Neely, and junior first baseman Wil Ghan.
“I think the biggest strength of this team will be our speed,” Grose said. “If I had to write a lineup today, eight of the starting nine have the potential to steal 10-plus bases.”