By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Mountain Grove has enjoyed an unprecedented three-year run of success in the winter and spring.
The boys basketball team spent a large chunk of this winter ranked No. 1 in Class 3 while earning a trip to a third straight final four. The baseball squad is coming off three straight district championships and is only two years removed from its first state title in program history.
“They surprise me,” said head baseball coach Derwin McGownd. “(Duane) Hiler, I’m sure, did not think he would have another possible final four run with this group, but these kids, they are amazing with the stuff they do. Their work ethic and attitude means they want to go out as winners.”
The Panthers do have some retooling to do in order to keep up the pace. Four starters and six seniors departed and most of the seasoned returners are tied up in basketball.
The gaps are highlighted by First Team All-State Selections Treye Collins and Brock Coffman, the latter also being the reigning South Central Association Player of the Year.
Mountain Grove does bring back a duo that landed on the honorable mention list for All-State: seniors Cade Coffman (1B/P) and Hayden Newberry (SS/P). They, with fellow senior Connor McNew (P), should claim three of the top four slots in the batting order.
McNew is expected to be the ace of the pitching staff following a 4-3 campaign as a junior. He got the start in the Panthers’ 8-7 win over Ava in the district title game and again in their season finale: a 6-5 loss to South Callaway in sectionals. He tied Cade Coffman with a team-high 44 strikeouts over 46.1 innings with a 3.02 ERA.
Coffman brings a 4-1 record with a 3.41 ERA to the table.
Senior Bailey Linton (P) also carries some starting experience, going 2-0 last year with 19 strikeouts in 24 innings with a 1.46 ERA.
Newberry has bounced around the field over the last two seasons but could be asked to contribute more on the mound after not making a start in 2017.
“Newberry can play any position,” said McGownd. “He played outfield and second base on the state championship team and then shortstop last year. We will try to get him some reps on the mound also.”
Offensively, Newberry is the leading returner in batting average (.412), hits (35), and RBI (21). Junior Raliegh Wakefield (1B/OF) will be another key bat after driving in 13 runs on 18 hits last spring
John Felkner is also coming off an All-SCA campaign in the outfield as a sophomore. McGownd said that caught many folks by surprise and is confident enough to transition the junior behind the plate.
“There is no doubt in my mind he can do it. More than anything, he is just going to have to prove to himself that he can do it.”
McGownd has little reason to doubt the confidence of this group, especially the upper class. It has grown accustomed to winning and will not settle for anything less in their final go-round.
“They are not going to be happy unless they win a conference title, district title, and make another run at a state championship. I think that is a real possibility as far as the conference and district.”