By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It will be a new experience with most involved in the West Plains baseball program in 2019. The Zizzers must replace nine seniors and seven starters, while head coach Zeb Wallace also stepped down for an administrative job.
After two assistants followed suit, Mountain View native James Sharp is left with the reigns to the program. He earns the top job following a stint at Arkansas Tech and one year of experience on the Zizzers staff
“I’ve known a lot of these kids for a while. I coached them in a travel league when they were 14 and 15,” said Sharp. “Being here last year really helped because I could start to see what they could progress into.”
The 2018 season had a promising start with four straight victories, but ended with six straight defeats as West Plains bowed out in the district opener with a 9-13 record. That squad amassed six All-Ozark Conference selections, none of which are back to bolster this roster.
Sharp was candid about the evolution of the Zizzers in 2019. He will field a number of players seeing their first varsity innings. In that effort, Sharp’s attention will be less on the win-loss record and more on getting his team acclimated to a level that’s necessary to compete in the Ozark Conference.
“Our big focus just needs to be on playing the right way. We have a brand new team. They need to mature as baseball players more than anything else.”
Garrett Warren and Hunter Burtrum have the most experience of the four seniors on the squad. Their stat lines were nearly identical as they each tallied 11 hits and combined for 11 RBI in 125 plate appearances while hitting just above .200 apiece. They will be a vital part of bringing the rest of the lineup along while manning their defensive posts in the infield.
Garel McGinley and Evan Kinder make up the second half of this crop of seniors, though neither made a plate appearance in 2018.
The entire starting pitching rotation was also wiped out, leaving junior Bo Crites with the most numbers on paper. He primarily made relief appearances for a total of 13.2 innings but did manage to win his lone start of the year.
Fellow junior Jacob Ackerson also saw brief varsity time in 2018, nabbing a trio of strikeouts in five innings of work.
There is no doubt that the previous relationship between Sharp and his players from their travel ball days will play a role in this team coming together. That includes buying into the new coach’s desire to expose the Zizzers to game situations at every possible opportunity.
“Every practice and drill should be a game-like situation,” said Sharp. “It should be high-tempo where we make them play under pressure. That will help since none of them played varsity last year.”
With a more experienced group, one led by conference honorees as they battle for a championship, Sharp’s coaching style will emphasize smart play on the base path. That is the type of squad he plans on developing in West Plains, no matter how many different game-like situations they have to work through to get there.
“We’ll try to score runs on the bases more than at the plate. You don’t have many guys who are going to hit .300 or .400, so you have to manufacture runs and do the little things right.”