By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It was a season like no other a year ago for coach Troy Nimmo, with Branson suffering more injuries than any other in his 20-plus years with the program.
For the Pirates, the sting of losing a handful of players for a significant portion of the season due to a broken leg, broken jaw, broken hand, torn tendons in a shoulder and other shoulder issues was overwhelming.
Branson got off to a 7-1 start, but stumbled to a 15-11 finish.
However, as a result of the injuries, the Pirates are a much more experienced bunch this spring than originally thought.
“We had eight seniors last year and lost five of them a big part of the year,” Nimmo said. “We had a lot of younger guys take over those roles full time, so it’s not like they are brand new this year. They gained varsity experience.”
Logan Porter was gaining experience in his first go-around on the varsity last year and putting together a breakout junior season. His season ended in late April when he broke a leg during a four-wheeler accident in the days following his 9-2 win on the mound versus Springfield Kickapoo.
Porter had a 3-0 W-L record with a 2.00 ERA over 21 innings and was hitting .340.
“Logan was a good one for us before he broke his leg,” Nimmo said. “He’ll assume a starting role again and paper-wise, he’s going to be our No. 1.”
The Pirates also have experienced pitchers in Zach Johnston and Michael Allison. They’ll be joined by Graham Funderburk, Brady Brashears, Mason Fields and Josh Seitz.
Fields is a transfer from California and Seitz a move-in from Ohio.
“We have depth pitching-wise,” Nimmo said. “We have as many as eight kids who have a good opportunity to give us some innings.”
Reece Chiasson, a transfer from Nixa, would be included in that group of pitchers if not for the fact he isn’t fully recovered from labrum surgery a year ago.
“He played for Nixa as a freshman, but had labrum surgery and missed his sophomore season,” Nimmo said. “Coming back off of that, his arm isn’t where it needs to be, yet. I would say he’s a middle infielder. But I don’t know if he can make the throw from third base or shortstop and we won’t be looking at him as a pitcher this year.”
Tyson Holmes, who debuted as a .300-hitting super soph last year, is also one the comeback trail following a labrum injury.
“Tyson is not even throwing, yet,” Nimmo said. “I don’t see him doing anything but hit for us.’
Branson’s infield projects to some sort of combination of Porter, Chiasson, Johnston, Allison, Seitz, Skyler Harris and Ty Werling. Johnston, who hit .342 last year, has signed with Evangel and Harris, who hit .282, with Missouri Valley.
Sam Lemley will be behind the plate as a first-year starter.
“He’s a very good defensive catcher,” Nimmo said. “He’s improved blocking the ball and his arm is getting better all the time. Also, he’s intelligent and calls a good game.”
Kelly Henson and Cameron Banks will be either in center field or right, while Werling and six other underclassmen will vie for playing time in left.
Banks is fresh from a .378 junior season, with the great majority of his hits coming off of bunts.
“Banks worked hard at bunting and got to a point in which he was getting two or three hits game on bunts,” Nimmo said. “He has great speed and can be deadly bunting out of the No. 7 or 8 hole.”
Werling posted a .519 on-base percentage over 12 games as a late-season fill-in at second base. He was the first freshman to start for Branson in nine years.
Nimmo is counting on better luck helping the Pirates be contenders in the COC Large Schools race.
“Surely, we can’t have any worse than five injuries,” Nimmo said. “We want to compete in the top half of the conference.”