John Craig takes over a Billings baseball program looking to turn things around after winning five games last season. Craig has 10 years of coaching experience coming in with his most recent job at Woodland High School in southeast Missouri.
Tradition is one of the things that attracted him to the Billings job.
“I started out coaching in the SWCL. I know it’s a great small school league. Billings has a great baseball tradition from the late 80’s with Coach Quigley winning a state championship in ‘94. There is plenty hunger here for more success,” Craig said.
Craig will look to the leadership of senior Peyton Gold behind the plate. Gold was a first-team all-conference selection as a junior. He is a strong hitter as well with six home runs and a .420 batting average last season. The senior is committed to play baseball at North Arkansas next year.
Gold will key the biggest strength for Billings according to Gold: defense.
“We should be really good defensively starting behind the dish with, in my opinion, one of the better catchers in the area Peyton Gold,” Craig said. “We have solid depth and a lot of athleticism. Our lineup has the possibility of being pretty good top to bottom.”
That lineup will be filled out on the infield by Nate Hunt (junior – third base), Jacob Henry (sophomore – shortstop), Brian Henry (sophomore – middle infield) and Tanner Gordon (junior – second base).
In the outfield, Trent Blakenship returns to right field for his junior season after earning second-team all-conference honors in the outfield last year. He also brings back a .317 batting average. Duncan Harter (senior – left field) and Kobe Clinton (junior – center field) will round out that unit.
Jacob Henry, Hayden Fender, Blankenship, Harter and Gold will be the key pitchers for Billings this year.
Craig will look for his team’s talent to come together throughout the season with an eye on a strong finish in the postseason.
“I do know we have a lot of talent, so if we can put it all together, we will be a tough out come the district tournament,” Craig said. “After winning five games last spring and playing .500 ball this past fall, our team is headed in the right direction.”
Billings has seen a lot of turnover in the coaching ranks in recent years, but it has not affected the attitude of the players according to Craig.
“It’s not easy for a group of young men to come to the ballpark hungry every day when they have had as much coaching turnover as they have had,” Craig said. “However, this group has accepted coaching as well as any I’ve ever worked with. I can’t wait to see what they are capable of.”
Billings opens the season on Mar. 15 at home against Southwest (Washburn).