By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After losing its first game of the season, Crane went on an impressive run in 2018.
Ranked as high as No. 6 in the state, the Pirates finished 20-6, falling to New Covenant in the district title game.
Five key seniors depart the program as graduates, including Colton Elder, Harley Howard, Colby Smith, Wyatt Vaught and Brent Williams.
“We graduated most of the power from our lineup last year, so we will be looking to manufacture runs in different ways this season,” head coach Bryan Harmon said. “This group of young men also hit in the top and in the middle of the lineup.”
Despite the losses to graduation, Crane returns a host of quality players.
“Our biggest strength is our depth,” Harmon said. “We have many players competing for playing time at multiple positions. This time last year we were counting on veteran players to lead us, but now must adjust to being a younger team.”
A quartet of upperclassmen will lead the Pirates this season, including senior pitcher/outfielder Nick Brannan (3-1, 3.30 ERA), senior first baseman/designated hitter Bryston Branstetter (.286 BA, 14 RBI, 4 SB), junior pitcher/outfielder Heath Quick (.400 BA, 22 RBI, 4 SB) and junior catcher/infielder Darin Terrell (.440 BA, 37 RBI, 10 SB)
Terrell was selected as an all-state honorable mention last season and the MHSBCA Newcomer of the Year.
“All of these players will be expected to step up and replace the leadership we lost to graduation last year,” Harmon said.
Eight varsity newcomers will compete for playing time in Crane’s lineup this season, including sophomores Chas Conrad (pitcher/shortstop), Isaac Robinson (pitcher/utility), Isaiah Smith (pitcher/outfielder), Zane Compton (pitcher/second baseman), Koy Essary (outfielder) Hayden Shepard (catcher/infielder) and freshman Wyatt Howard (third baseman).
While Crane’s lineup will feature a new look this season, its pitching staff will also undergo a rebuild with new, younger players entering the program.
“Our pitching staff will be very young this season,” Harmon said. “We have a lot of innings to replace with young arms. We hope that these young players can build strength throughout the season.”
Despite the relative inexperience, Harmon is confident his team will be quickly develop and be competitive late at the back end of Crane’s schedule, which includes teams from an always-challenging Southwest Central League.
“We hope to be competitive by the end of the season and going into postseason play,” Harmon said. “I feel like we could be in the middle of the pack in the SWCL as we rebuild this season. Without knowing who is in our district or even our classification, it is difficult to judge how we stack up against the competition.”
Crane opens its season March 16 with a double-header against Reeds Spring and Gainesville.