By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
In 2017, Branson dealt with an unprecedented amount of injuries. The Pirates hoped a healthy crop of talent would allow them to improve their fortunes last spring, but they were ultimately bounced in the first round of districts with a 6-18 record.
That was largely based on a struggling offense. Branson was shut out six times throughout the season, a mark that Troy Nimmo made clear cannot be replicated.
“Our record was not good at all, but we had nine games where we led in the sixth or seventh inning and just could not close the game out,” he said. ‘We struggled to hit. When you hit .210 and leave 144 people in scoring position, that doesn’t work.”
The Pirates bring back five starters and seven seniors, led by All-COC pitcher Graham Funderburk. He went 3-2 with a 1.45 ERA in 2018 and is the bonafide ace of this staff. His offseason work impressed Nimmo, who believes who could reveal himself as one of the area’s best throwers this spring.
“When he’s on, he’s as good as anybody. He has a college curveball. If he can stay in the zone, he can keep us in the game against anybody.”
Fellow senior Brady Brashers will join him as a primary pitcher after finding his home at first base last year. Behind those two, there are innings available. Juniors Chance Mobley, Ryan Leonard, Wyatt Ridinger, and Braden Pannell will all compete for them along with senior Jacob Ternes.
Sam Lemley, another senior, will also transition to pitching for the first time since his freshman year. He was primarily a catcher in 2018 but now plans to split time between the mound and third base.
Nimmo stressed that the Pirates don’t have to get fancy on the mound. If they can locate their pitches, they can lure their opponents into making the mistakes.
“We have got to throw strikes. Most hitters will get themselves out,” he said. “That’s what killed us probably more than anything last year. We were very solid defensively, which was a bright spot. With the pitch limitations and the amount of games we play, you need five or six guys that can throw strikes late.”
Lemley also returns with a team-high in batting average (.277), hits (18), and RBI (7). Fellow seniors Zeb Miller (second base) and Kelly Hinson (center field) are the next two most experienced bats. They combined to drive in nine runs with 30 hits as juniors.
The Pirates hope to get another offense boost from senior Reece Chiassen, who impressed at times in his first season in Branson last year despite dealing with a shoulder injury.
While a more productive batting order will be vital to Branson’s effort, Nimmo’s primary concern goes back to pitching. The Pirates may not quite know what they have in the back of the rotation to start the year, but how well they develop may hold the key to when the season concludes.
“It all depends who is on the mound. I don’t care what you do, if you don’t have a couple guys to hand the ball to in the COC, you’re in trouble. Our hope is to build a base of small successes throughout the year and to be playing at our best and be highly competitive by the time district play begins. ”