By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
First-year head coach Kevin Burgi has a simple philosophy when it comes to baseball.
“If you throw it and catch it and do that well you’re going to be competitive,” he said.
Burgi has explained as much to his McDonald County baseball team, which he’s excited to coach after a five-year stint on the baseball staff at Joplin High School. One of those years he was interim head coach; last year he was an assistant for newcomer Kyle Wolf.
The Mustangs, who went 14-11 last season and lost in the first round of the district tournament to Carthage, return seven starters from that squad, giving Burgi a good core to build upon.
“Just watching the guys I think we’re going to be strongest on the mound,” he said. “For us to be good we’re going to have to rely on our arms. Defensively, the phrase dominate the routine play has been said a lot because in talking to the old head coach Nick Martin, one of the problems they had last year is sometimes those balls would get away that should have been fielded or caught. Improving there will be huge for us. Offensively with the nature of high school baseball, it’s hard to tell who you have in the offseason. We’re going to have to find a way to scratch runs across the plate.”
McDonald County graduated two outfield starters, including center fielder Ty Shaver, who was a second team All-Big 8 pick after batting .303 and stealing 28 bases. Tyler Stoutsenberger, who played in right field, batted .327 and was a first team All-Conference selection. The team also needs a new closer after Raygan Bradley graduated. He had four saves and a 1.45 ERA.
The list of returning starters includes several with All-Conference honors and multiple players who have signed to play in college.
Senior Joe Brown was a unanimous first-team pick at catcher last season who batted .372 with 32 hits and 20 RBI’s while batting third. Burgi said he’s signed with North Arkansas.
“He’s a guy that you look at for consistency at the plate,” he said. “He’s a guy you’re relying on to keep the offense running. Behind the plate he throws well and controls the running game.”
Brown will catch the team’s three returning varsity pitchers. Senior Charley Moore was a second team All-Conference player who went 7-2 with a 2.09 ERA and added six doubles at the plate. Senior Boston Dowd was an honorable mention pick who went 2-3 with a 1.96 ERA. Junior Cade Smith was 4-2 with a 1.73 ERA.
Moore has signed with Crowder College and Down has signed with Cowley County Community Community College.
“Charley Moore is a big, tall righty,” Burgi said. “He’s kind of a (velocity) guy. I’ve been impressed watching him throw a little bit. We’re definitely going to rely on him to throw some innings for us. He’s a very good leader also.”
Dowd has started for the Mustangs since he was a freshman.
“At Joplin we coached against him,” he said. “He’s a good player, he’s competitive. Watching him play basketball and football you can see that.”
Smith threw a “ton” of innings as a sophomore, Burgi said.
“He’s a real tall kid and has a good body,” he said.
Other players who will pitch for the Mustangs are senior Oakley Roessler, senior Izak Johnson, and a sophomore transfer from Purdy, Rylee Boyd.
The Mustangs return a senior-laden infield, which includes honorable mention All-Conference player Jorden Platter, a second baseman who will bat near the top of the lineup.
“I think the term dirtbag comes to mind watching him,” Burgi said. “He’s a hard worker in the weight room. Our strength and conditioning coach has nothing but good things to say about him. If he’s got free time he’s out on the farm working. He’s definitely a kid that you want around.”
Senior Izak Johnson returns at third base and has signed with Missouri Valley. He hit two home runs last year and will bat in the middle of the order.
“He swings the bat well,” Burgi said. “Looks like he’s going to make the routine plays defensively.”
Moore will play at first base when he’s not pitching. He’s a left-handed hitter and will be counted on to provide some run production.
Dowd will play shortstop when he’s not pitching.
The only junior on the infield will be Omar Manuel, a utility player who will fill in for whoever’s on the mound.
“He’s a guy who has a little bit of juice,” Burgi said. “Defensively he’s got pretty good hands.”
Junior Kameron Hopkins will also be competing for time in the infield.
There are some unanswered questions in the outfield. Senior Oakley Roessler started in left field last season and Burgi said he’s improved a lot offensively over the summer and offseason. He was a standout football player at running back.
Senior Micah Burkholder, juniors Koby McAlister, Jackson Behm and Sampson Boles and are in the mix for the other outfield spots.