By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Morrisville joins the tough Summit Conference this season, which is a conference that is now home to five teams that reached district title games last year with four of them winning
“I love it,” said Justin Crumpley, coach of Morrisville’s baseball program. “Last year we tried to load up the schedule and, even though we didn’t have the best record going in (to district), we felt we were prepared.”
That could be the same scenario for Morrisville, which has some pieces to work with this spring and already has plenty of motivation. You see, a year ago, the Panthers came within two runs of reaching the Final Four, with the tying run at second base and the go-ahead run at the plate in their final at-bat against Adrian in the sectional.
The Class 2, District 13 champs have seven returning starters and eight returning letterman.
Among those returnees are three key pitchers in Hadden Grant, Dominic Canovi and Joshua Bumgarner. Grant and Canovi were First Team All-District.
Gant, a junior who already has verbally committed to Southwest Baptist, was 4-3 with a 2.53 earned run average as he struck out 45 in 44 1/3 innings.
“He is obviously our No. 1 because he’s our most consistent,” Crumpley said. “He fills up the strike zone, and just comes after guys.”
Canovi, a senior, is a left-hander who suffered a knee injury at the end of last season but has been cleared for the spring.
“He has the potential to be the ace,” Crumpley said. “He throws in the low 80s coming off the left side. So we’re anxious to see him. He’s probably got the best stuff if we can get him more consistent.”
Bumgarner, a sophomore, was the best pitcher on JV last year.
“He threw pretty well,” Crumpley said. “We’re looking for him to take a good load of innings this year.”
The projected lineup features Gant atop the order and playing shortstop when he’s not pitching. He’s followed by sophomore left fielder Austin Francka, sophomore catcher Braden Gant, Canovi, senior third baseman Seth Stephens, senior right fielder Ben Presley, freshman first baseman Dylan Blehm, Bumgarner, senior designated hitter Jacob McCroskey and freshman second baseman Garrett Tranthem.
Canovi (28), Grant (36), Stephens (18), McCroskey (16) and Francka (14) were among the team’s hits leaders last year. Canovi also had a team-best 29 RBI.
Francka is the fastest player in the school.
“If he can put the ball on the ground, we like his chances of getting on,” Crumpley said. “And we can bat him second or sixth.”
McCroskey could be a force.
“His stick is his best attribute. He’s got a lot of power,” Crumpley said. “He batted fifth in the lineup last year on a good-hitting team. He’s an RBI guy.”
The team graduated Jonathan Bumgarner, Gavin Lombas and Luke Lower. Lower was the most polished hitter of that group, but Crumpley is optimistic that the team has the talent to fill their spots. They’ll have to get creative, though, at catcher.
“The toughest part was at catcher,” Crumpley said. “But we’ve got that worked out in the fall, with two or three guys rotating in, and we’re pleased with them. We know we’re going to have some growing pains. But our upper-classmen are experienced enough to keep us going in the right direction.”