By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Marionville High School coach Jason Grose has a good problem this spring. His baseball team has a lot better depth than a year ago.
“So competition, effort and energy at practice,” Grose said, “should be awesome because each day most kids will have to prove themselves all over again.”
That’s not the only reason why Grose is optimistic as the curtain rises on the 2019 high school baseball season. You see, the Comets have three seniors and a junior who have been everyday players the past two seasons and are ready to lead roster of 15 varsity players.
Plus, the Comets have motivation, considering they have been through the fires. A year ago, they finished 12-11 and reached the district tournament semifinals.
The key will be the pitching staff, which features right-handers James Hammonds, Emmit Neely and Jordan Williams.
Hammonds, now a senior, was a first team All-District and second team all-conference selection after striking out 39 in 39 innings and compiling a 4-4 record and 4.49 ERA. Neely, a junior, struck out 10 in 11 innings, while Williams pitched 10 innings. None had earned run averages lower than 4.49.
Other pitchers include seniors Earnie Larkin, Wesley Breedlove, Evant Dotson, James Tucker, sophomore Kyle Brattin and freshmen Lake High and Wyley Brown. Larkin was a second team All-District selection and honorable mention all-conference.
“I am most worried about our pitching,” said Grose, a 2006 Rolla High School graduate who played collegiately at Central Methodist and Westminster. “Last season, we really, really struggled on the mound. However, we are now in a new conference (Southwest Conference) that is more suitable for our size school. Not having to play some much bigger schools should, by default, improve some of our numbers. If we pitch like we did over the summer, we can be really good. If we pitch like we did against quality competition last spring, we will just be around .500 again.”
The offense could rev up.
Larkin, who can play anywhere, could bat leadoff after he hit .460 with 13 RBI and 21 steals last year.
“We never have to worry about his effort, but we need him to be more vocal this year,” Grose said.
Hammonds, who also could play second base, shortstop or third base, will bat second or third after he hit .471 with a .545 on-base percentage last year, with 10 RBI and eight steals.
“He was voted a team captain last year and could be again this year,” Grose said. “But we need him to be more vocal and more consistent with his effort for our team to be as good as we can be.”
Dotson, a senior catcher, hit .250 with 10 RBI last year and offers nice flexibility in the lineup from fourth to seventh.
“He made great strides last season after having some growing pains as a sophomore,” Grose said. “His greatly improved ability to block pitches in the dirt and control the running game with his strong arm improved our defense.”
Wil Gahn, a sophomore first baseman, could be in the middle of the order. He had only limited time last year but did contribute 16 RBI. Williams is a favorite at second base and hit .304 last year, earning the everyday role for the last 10 games of the season. He could bat second or fifth through seventh, where you may see High, a freshman, who could see a lot of time at shortstop.
Neely was the everyday third baseman last year but could move around more this spring. He hit .308 with 11 RBI and had seven steals.
Look for Jeremy Vickers to move to center field and possibly bat third or fourth in the lineup after batting .382 with 11 RBI and 17 steals.
“He is a great pure athlete that keeps refining his baseball skills and actually ended up leading the team in hitting as a sophomore last season with a .382 average,” Grose said. “With two seasons and two summers under his belt, I’m looking for Jeremy to have a huge junior year.”
Matthew Bowling will compete for the third base role or in the outfield, where you may also see James Tucker, Jacksen Smith and Kyle Brattin. Breedlove could play anywhere, while Duane Hammonds can catch. Cale Clark and Jacob Gray, both freshman, are on the roster, too.
“I think we’ll be good offensively. We don’t have a lot of home run power, but we have a lot of kids that should have about 10 extra-base hits,” Grose said. “We also return a lot of team speed. Our returners had 70 steals last year and we’ll run even more this season.”