By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Tyler Henry spent two seasons reinvigorating the Marshfield Baseball program, culminating in a 20-9 record and a district title game appearance in 2018.
Now he is an assistant coach at Evangel, leaving former Bluejay William Pate to take the reins at his alma mater. The 2012 graduate has been involved in the program in some coaching capacity since 2013 and does not expect his style to be a culture shock for the players.
“I play a bit more small ball. I believe in the modern era of baseball: exit velocity, launch angle, things like that,” he said. “I still have an old school mentality, too, as far as moving runners and putting the ball on the ground once in a while.”
Pate assumes control of a team that only lost two everyday starters from a season ago, albeit an All-State selection in Ethan Nunn and an All-COC First Team honoree in Nick Visconte. It’s also a crop of talent that has a different hunger about them. There are four seniors and four All-COC selections that are eager for a shot to bring a championship back to town.
“They understand what it takes to get back to that point. They’re pretty motivated to not have that (loss) happen again. That comes down from our seniors and juniors alike. They’re telling guys they need to be hitting or throwing in the morning.”
Brennan Espy comes off an All-State nod in Class 4 as an outfielder. He batted .389 last spring with 37 hits and 17 RBI. He will also be called upon to contribute more on the mound after just 6.1 innings of work as a sophomore.
His brother, Brooks, was an All-COC honorable mention last year and will return to the backstop. He also topped the .300 mark at the plate while driving in 18 runs.
All COC First Team selection Austin Dobrick played all over the field as a sophomore and will be another vital stick in the Marshfield lineup. He led the Bluejays with a .393 average last year while belting three home runs with a team-high 25 RBI.
Seniors Parker Dinwiddie, Collin Hurley, and Will Smith pad the experience level of the team and will be key contributors offensively and defensively as well. Junior Thomas McElwain will also get more chances at the plate after serving as a designated hitter for much of last year.
“We’ve talked a lot about having good team at-bats,” said Pate. “When we have guys in scoring position, I’m not worried about your launch angle. I want you to score that run.”
Dobrick will join All-COC senior Truett Gardner as the leaders of the pitching rotation. Dobrick clocked 43.1 innings of work in 2018 while earning a 5-1 record with 57 strikeouts and a 2.74 ERA. Gardner (5-2) added 40 strikeouts in 34.1 frames with a svelte 1.63 ERA.
Sophomore Ethan Grace will also compete for innings after impressing Pate this offseason.
For Pate, this will not be about where to find the talent, but simply finding the right mix at the right times. The Bluejays are just two years removed from a three-win campaign and he intends to do all he can to help his players keep this momentum going.
“It’s figuring out who’s best where. You have all these pieces, so where do I put them. How does it maximize our team’s success? They’re puzzle pieces. That’s the case with every team.”