By Scott Vanscoy (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Pierce City head coach BJ Curry starts his third year with many question marks as his team suffered several key losses due to graduation. The Eagles went 18-5 and 9-0 in conference play.
“We had a very good year,” said Curry. “We went undefeated in conference play before losing in extra innings in the district championship game to Purdy.”
The Eagles were hit hard by graduation as they lost seven starters and nine letter winners from last year’s district runner up team. Among these were two All-State players in Bill Ashley and Hunter Hatfield.
Ashley, a three-year starter at catcher, hit .514 with 12 doubles, five triples and six home runs. Ashley also drove in 43 RBIs and stole 18 bases, all while providing a defensive force behind the plate. Ashley is continuing his baseball career at Labette Community College.
Hatfield was the Eagles’ No. 1 starter for the past three seasons and made himself into a force at the plate, as well. On the mound Hatfield was 3-1 with an ERA of 0.56, while at the plate he hit .506 while driving in 16. Hatfield, capable of playing several spots, will be playing at Arkansas Pine Bluff this year.
Three other Eagles received postseason honors from last year; Hunter Tindell (1st team all-conference/district), Donell Kleiboeker (second-team all-conference/ district), and Dallas Kleiboeker (second-team all-district). Tindell will be hard to replace because he not only was one of the Eagles’ best hitters, hitting .446 with 4 home runs and 38 RBIs, but he also went 7-1 with an era of 3.41 from the mound.
Donell Kleiboeker was a three-year starter at third base and also pitched for the Eagles. He hit .381 with 25 RBIs for Pierce City. Dallas Kleiboeker, centerfield, batted lead-off and set the table for the big sticks behind him in the order; he also drove in 19 runs of his own. Three other players were lost to graduation: Gage Brown played left field and was a plus defender, Aric Zabala who played a solid second base for the Eagles, and Logan Kluck.
The Eagles return just two starters and three letter winners, all juniors; so many positions are open for the taking. Aaron Garner has started on the left side of the infield for two years. Garner is a plus defender, good base runner, and a .367 hitter, while stealing 17 bases. Garner was named to first-team all-conference and first-team all-district.
“We will look for him (Garner) to lead this group on and off the field,” said Curry.
Seth Fisher emerged as a reliable defender in right field late last year.
“Fisher made a huge jump in all areas of his game and we expect him to make another jump this year,” said Curry. “He will be a big part of our success this year.”
The other junior, Gabe George, is a strong kid who Curry expects to hit. He will also be asked to lead the pitching staff after a successful sophomore campaign (2.97 era). He will be playing on the infield when not pitching.
Four new faces will compete for varsity innings this year: junior Aiden Kleinman and sophomores Zach Argyris, Kyler Fenske and Hunter Seeyle.
Kleinman will look to play either left field or second base this spring.
“He has waited patiently for his opportunity to play. He had a good summer and we look forward to him taking full advantage of his opportunity,” said Curry.
Argyris will get some innings on the mound and compete for time at third/first base. Fenske is a good athlete who will compete for the starting centerfield job while Seeyle has good hands and will compete for the second base job this spring.
“We have a young team and I am excited to see what they make of the opportunities this spring will provide,” said Curry. “Our focus is on getting better each day and building a foundation for our future successes. We are entering a new conference that will be highly competitive. We are looking forward to competing and becoming a dangerous team come May.”