By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2018 was a banner year for Skyline baseball, as head coach Brett Bybee’s squad made it all the way to the Class 2 final four.
The Tigers finished the season with a 25-6 record, falling to eventual state champion Valle Catholic in the semifinal round.
With another postseason run in mind, Skyline must first replace a quartet of graduated seniors in Mason Lile, Brant Gideon, Shane Crawford and Bryndon Carter.
Lile will continue his baseball career at Evangel University, while Gideon is playing basketball at Central Methodist University.
While replacing key components is no small task, Bybee believes Skyline has the pieces in place to challenge in the postseason once again.
“I have a good crop of young, talented baseball minded guys that are eager to have their chance at winning a district and making it to postseason play,” Bybee said.
Skyline will be led by a pair of seniors in Trevor Russell (.370 BA, 40 hits, 21 RBI, 6 SB) and Paden Hodges (.345 BA, 30 hits, 27 RBI, 4 SB).
“Trevor Russell had more strikeouts and wins than any pitcher in class to last season,” Bybee said. “He plays centerfield and bats in the two hole he will definitely be our ace pitcher this year. Paden Hodges will play corner infield and bat in the middle of the lineup. He has a lot of baseball knowledge and can hit for power to drive into runs for us this season.”
Other Tiger returnees include Dax Beem (.289 BA, 24 hits, 19 RBI, 3 SB), Gage Gunter (.357 BA, 35 hits, 15 RBI, 17 SB), Travis Johnson, Zane Kelly, Nick Williams, Ty Pinon and Sam Fillipi.
A host of newcomers could also make an impact this season as they challenge for varsity playing time.
Those players include Preston Scott, Dawson Owen, Lawson Beem, Dawson Pitts, Kaine Zenter and Zack Williams.
Bybee feels his team has the ability to compete late in the season if things develop according to plan.
“As always, the key to us winning is how effective we are on the mound,” Bybee said. “We will be very solid defensively and have the potential to be a very good hitting team also.”
On the mound, Skyline will turn to Russell as its primary workhorse. Last season, Russell threw 73 innings and garnered a 10-5 record and a .960 ERA with 112 strikeouts.
Hodges, Gunter, Kelley and Fillipi also will share pitching duties.
Bybee believes pitching will be one of his team’s strengths heading into the season.
“We do have one of the best pitchers in Class 2 coming back this year,” Bybee said of Russell. “But he can only pitch so much. We will need others to step up and be effective as well. It’s time for these guys to take charge on the mound. We need a pitching rotation that people hate to face and I think we can do that.”
For Skyline to make a return trip to the postseason, it must first navigate a difficult schedule including the likes of Strafford, Fair Grove, Adrian and Stockton.
Bybee also believes new additions to the Mid-Lakes Conference will only increase the competitive schedule.
“Again the MLC is very tough if not tougher with the additions of Clever and Forsyth and getting rid of Pleasant Hope and Marionville,” Bybee said. “It will be key to teach these young fiery guys to learn from any failures we may come across while playing a tough schedule to make us better for districts.”
Skyline opens its season March 15 against Russellville.