By Pat Dailey (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Dustin Ewers hoped over the winter months that it was a good sign that Ryan Reagan didn’t turn in his uniform following Blue Eye’s fall season.
Reagan recently confirmed as much.
“I talked to him the other day about how he was supposed to have turned in his jersey two months ago and how it was too late to turn it in now,” said Ewers, entering his second season as the Bulldogs’ head coach. “He said, ‘Don’t worry coach, I’m coming back out this spring. I’m playing.’”
Reagan’s value to Blue Eye was proven over the past year. He didn’t suit up last spring and the Bulldogs went 6-11. He returned to play last fall and they bounced back to go 8-8 and finish third in the SWCL Tournament.
With Reagan leading the way, Blue Eye overachieved in the fall in Ewers’ estimation. The Bulldogs dressed just nine players
“We didn’t have the numbers, but we played better than I would have thought,” Ewers said. “We were very competitive. We’re hopeful this spring the numbers will bounce back up. Next year, when we will have a good-sized freshman class, our numbers should be healthy.”
Reagan provides a good outlook on the mound. Last fall, he had a 3-3 W-L record with a 0.93 ERA .
Reagan pitched nine innings of shutout ball in the Bulldogs’ eventual 1-0, 10-inning loss to Crane in the semifinal round of the SWCL Tournament.
“He pitched lights out,” Ewers said. “He pitched well for us all of last fall. He matured and was a great leader for us. He’s a guy we can throw against anybody and feel we have a chance to win. Ryan can get to the upper 70s and maybe touch 80 velocity-wise. He has a ‘plus’ curve ball.”
Jacob Crouthamel emerged from prospect into Blue Eye’s No. 2 pitcher. He’s fresh from a fall in which he was 3-3 with 2.56 ERA.
“Jacob, in his first year pitching, turned into a guy who can throw his off-speed pitches for strikes,” Ewers said. “He’s a strike machine and he lives low in the zone. He gives our defense the chance to plays.”
Jeremiah George will move from first base and fill in as Blue Eye’s No. 3 pitcher. Riley Linscott, a regular at third base, will also contribute on the mound.
Blue Eye’s lineup has been a bit top-heavy, with freshmen and sophomores filling out the bottom half of the order. Reagan, Crouthamel, Linscott and catcher Chase McClenathan are the Bulldogs’ top hitters.
As a lead-off hitter, Reagan posted a .356 batting average with 22 stolen bases.
“Ryan fits in well as a lead-off hitter,” Ewers said. “His on-base percentage has been pretty high. Once he gets on base, he does a good job creating havoc by stealing bases.”
Crouthamel batted a team-high .403. Ewers likes the versatility Crouthamel gives him defensively.
“Jacob will be a big piece to our success,” Ewers said. “I can play him anywhere on the field, infield or outfield. Mainly, he’ll play shortstop when Ryan is pitching. He’ll also play at third and if we need him to he’ll play second. He’s OK anywhere in the outfield. We will bounce him around. I need a guy like that, with only nine players.”
McClenathan led Blue Eye in RBIs last fall while hitting out of the No. 3 hole. He turned 14 hits into 20 RBIs, thanks to eight extra-base hits. He had the team’s lone home run.
Ewers has been impressed with the improvement in center field by Jaret Crouthamel.
“Jaret has progressed unbelievably as an outfielder,” Ewers said. “He’s went from struggling to making plays I couldn’t believe he made. I’m excited to see he continues to develop.”
With momentum on their side, Ewers is counting on the Bulldogs to pick up where they left off last fall.
“Everybody had to step up, they understood that and ran with it,” he said. “We were a family and were there for each other. It was a full team effort. Also, we were blessed to make it though the season without any injuries.”