By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Every spring is a learning experience for a program looking to find its way. It’s no different for the Central Bulldogs, who spent 2018 under the tutelage of Jerrod White for the first time.
The Bulldogs finished 6-14 as they fell to eventual district champion Rolla in the opener. White found plenty of teaching moments to be eager about from his first spring.
“Ten of those losses were late-inning collapses. The experience we gained last year should allow us to remain competitive late in games and not succumb to pressure,” he said.
Those six wins tie the most Central has earned in any season over the last decade. White will not mince words about the hurdles his team has to leap to stay competitive. The Bulldogs don’t have an everyday practice facility and are utilizing gymnasiums and classrooms to put in their work.
Still, White and company are chomping at the bit to get back on the field.
Five lettermen return that stoke that enthusiasm. Senior Bryce Marion, a Truman State commit, leads that effort as he will split time at third base and catcher. He will be relied on as a primary offensive weapon as he brings back the team high in batting average (.333), hits (15), and RBI (5) from last year.
Sophomore Caleb Davis also earned his keep in his freshman year in the lineup and on the mound. He slapped 10 hits and drove in four runs with a .250 average. Classmate Andrew Murry will join him as will juniors Hunter Harrell and Jerry Gaylor.
While every Bulldog will be expected to raise their numbers, White believes the sum of their parts will provide headaches for defenses.
“We have a lot of frustration-makers in the top and bottom of the lineup that will scrap and grind to be difficult outs,” he said. “Our kids are tough and form a strong bond together. We are looking forward to that challenge.”
Harrell returns as the biggest frame on the pitching mound at 6’3” and 215 pounds. He started the majority of games as a sophomore and has worked in the offseason to improve an already impressive curveball.
The size gap between Harrell and his teammates has closed thanks to Cassville transfer Solomon Rainey. The 6’3”, 200-pound senior could provide a new spark to the rotation with a throwing velocity in the mid-to-upper-80s. He has earned plenty of interest from Division II and junior colleges and has been the hardest worker this offseason, according to White.
Austin Ramsey is another newcomer and another long body that will add to the mix. The 6’4” junior comes from the home school ranks and routinely throws in the low 80’s with a formidable curveball. He also expects to earn time in the outfield.
The pitching staff is likely where Central improved the most this offseason and White hopes the upward trend that the defense showed late last spring can carry over to 2019. If the fielding can back up the big bats at the top of the lineup, that will give the batting order time to progress.
“We’re focusing on getting better every day. We hone in on fundamentals and taking care of the baseball. Throw strikes, make the routine plays, compete like crazy at the plate. We will control what we can control.”