By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In so many ways, Lockwood High School coach Jonathan Nash will be reminding his baseball team of this throughout the spring:
“We have the talent. We just need to work hard,” Nash said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be competitive.”
There’s reason to believe that Lockwood can be just that in the Spring River Valley Conference. After all, the Tigers feature these key numbers – 7, 6, 5 and 8. In order, that’s the number of returning lettermen, returning starters, the make-up of the pitching staff and seniors.
Not bad, huh? Plus, don’t read too much into last year’s 7-10 record. Three winnable games got rained out, and the lineup was missing three key bats – all injured – in a toughened-up schedule.
Look for senior Justin Nentrup as a key cog, given he is expected to lead the pitching staff and bat third in the lineup. A year ago, he was a First Team Class 2 District 13 selection as well as All-SRVC as a second team infielder and honorable mention pitcher. He hit .481 last year with five doubles out of 25 hits, 10 RBI and 19 steals.
“He’s a pretty good pitcher,” Nash said. “He’s pitched a lot of quality games since his sophomore year, and he’s hoping to play at the next level.”
Paxton Masterson, a junior who didn’t pitch last year, also should see a lot of innings along with junior Roy Snider, Dylan Gallup and senior Logan Sparkman. Snider won three games last year. Gallup is a freshman but competes year-round. Sparkman’s 6-foot-2 size could be a big advantage, helping to eat innings.
The projected lineup calls for senior Brady Oeltjen (LF/1B), Masterson (catcher), Nentrup (P/SS), Sparkman in center, senior Jack Purinton in the outfield, Gallup (2B/3B), Snider at shortstop, senior Zach Brewer in the outfield and sophomore Lakin Neill in the infield. Damien Jordan, a sophomore, and Spencer Neal, a freshman, also could see playing time. Among the newcomers are senior Joe Edwards and freshman Jamie Kramer.
Sparkman and Masterson were All-SRVC last year. Sparkman hit .333, with 14 RBI, 10 steals and 21 runs scored. Masterson hit .359 with eight RBI and 13 stolen bases. Oeltjen is a fourth-year starter.
What helps is that Nash is now in his fifth season on staff, second as head coach, and understands what makes these guys tick. That could help make up for the graduation of three players, including All-District and All-SRVC talent Will Beerly, who had 31 total hits last year along with 17 RBI and 16 steals.
“I know the types of leaders we have,” Nash said. “They’re a good group of guys, especially the senior class. I coach football, too, and in football there were no superstars. Someone else always stepped up. So hopefully it’ll be that way in baseball and we’ll be hitting on all cylinders at the right time.”
Overall, 19 guys are on the roster, a needed number for a group eager to compete in the Spring River Valley against Pierce City and Liberal.
“We should be right up there,” Nash said, “if we play to our potential.”