By Derek Shore (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Diamond High School baseball team has been one of the more consistent programs in southwest Missouri following yet another strong season.
Diamond posted a 17-8 overall record (6-2 in SRVC play) in 2017 and return to the field with lofty expectations despite dropping a heartbreaker in the second round of districts to Stockton last spring.
From last year’s team, the Wildcats lose significant star power from a senior class that was headlined by SRVC Player of the Year and All-State infielder Carter Prewitt. Prewitt was not only the ace on the mound for Diamond, but hit a whopping .575 with ten home runs, 41 RBI, and swiped 25 bases in his senior campaign.
“He was our ace, shortstop, and three-hole hitter for the last three years,” head coach Zach Shockey said. “He was our leader both on and off the field and gave us one of the best seasons at the plate in school history to remember him by.”
The Wildcats also lose two All-Conference Honorable Mention players in Jordan McAlister and Trey Bowman as well as Brantley Wright, Ashton Woodward, Joey Divine, and Austin Hunter to round out last year’s senior class.
“Trey gave us an outstanding 1-2 punch on the mound alongside Prewitt and pitched in his fair share of big games over the past three years,” Shockey added. “He could play anywhere on the field and do an above average job. Jordan moved behind the plate his senior season after being an outfielder and first baseman. He solidified the catcher position for us and didn’t let the extra wear and tear take away from his offense.
“Brantley spent his first two years in the program as a courtesy runner only, but proved to be extremely valuable in the outfield his senior season. Ashton was an unsung hero for our program. His contributions on the mound last season protected our pitching staff from being overwhelmed during busy weeks. Joey was another innings eater who also provided steady hands at first base. Austin was a kid who went from not expecting to play at all to playing third base for us in big games down the stretch.”
Replacing all that talent will be no easy task for Diamond, but seven of the 13 returnees enter their senior seasons, so there’s plenty of varsity experience coming back.
Namely, All-State outfielder Hunter Renfro, who hit .470 with 14 (eight doubles, three triples, and three homers) of his 39 total hits going for extra-bases while driving in 27 RBIs last spring. As a junior, he also went 1-2 on the mound with a 3.28 ERA.
“Hunter is a four-year starter who we will rely on this spring more than ever,” Shockey said. “He has grown into an accomplished hitter that performs at his best against the toughest teams on the schedule. He will step into the pitching rotation this season and roam centerfield for us when he’s not on the mound.
“He can really go get it in the outfield and the energy he brings to the field is contagious.”
The other six seniors are Christian Maturino (pitcher/outfielder), Trey Marbough (pitcher/first baseman), Logan Brock (utility), Brenden Ferguson (pitcher/outfielder), Sam Hardy (utility), and Hunter Russow (utility).
Maturino, who is fully recovered from a knee injury, is a four-year starter and was an All-Conference outfielder in his sophomore season. Marbough, a .452 hitter last year, will bat leadoff this spring where he will get on base and manufacture runs with his speed. Both Maturino and Marbough will also compete for mound time. Brock, a four-year starter with multiple All-Conference honors, will hit in the middle of the lineup.
Not only that, Ferguson established himself as one of Diamond’s top pitchers last summer and took a step forward at the plate as well, according to his coach. He projects as a rotation arm and will patrol either left or center field this season. Hardy will compete for a utility spot and could also see time in a corner outfield position.
The Wildcats also return a key junior in Leighton Bridgewater (catcher/second baseman/pitcher), who hit .405 and collected 15 total hits as a sophomore.
“Leighton was our designated hitter and backup catcher last season,” Shockey said. “This year he will have to step into a much larger role that will include catching, pitching, and middle infield. With a season facing varsity pitching under his belt, he will look to break out offensively this spring as well.”
The rest of the returnees includes one junior in Durham Mickey (pitcher/third baseman) and sophomores Noah Hubbard (outfielder), Ben Moreland (pitcher/outfielder), Cameron Addington (catcher/shortstop), and Brodie Wilson (third baseman).
Diamond’s top newcomer will be sophomore Austin Behler, a pitcher and shortstop, who showed signs of potential both on the mound and in the infield this past summer. Behler is expected to compete for a starting spot this spring.
“My outlook for this season is optimistic,” Shockey said. “We have a number of players who have been patiently waiting behind a strong class that are now ready to take their opportunity and run with it. We lost our starting staff to graduation and transfer, but we have a stable of arms that gained confidence in the summer and will be ready to go this spring.”
Diamond will open the season at the Lamar Tournament on March 16.