By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
GRANBY — The East Newton Patriots took a major step forward during head coach Jordan Savage’s first season at the helm.
East Newton posted a 12-9 overall record last season and the Patriots enjoyed their first winning season and their most wins since 2014. They improved by 10 wins from the previous season.
The Patriots reached the Class 3, District 12 semifinals, where they took a 10-1 loss to eventual district champion Clever.
“Our success from last season has only added more fuel for this team to improve,” Savage said. “This team has its sights on a district title and they are working hard to make sure they give themselves every chance to make that happen. They are extremely proud of what we accomplished last season, but they aren’t looking back, they are only focused on what we can do this year.”
Teams normally make a leap forward in a head coach’s second year and the Patriots are looking forward to the challenge of making that come to fruition.
“We will look to have a higher baseball IQ and be prepared for any situation we face,” Savage said. “As a program, we are looking to become a very mentally tough, hard-working team that will constantly put pressure on our opponent. This season should be one filled with a lot of close games throughout conference (Big 8 West) and district play. We look forward to competing on every pitch and seeing what we can do.”
The Patriots return an experienced core of players, led by six seniors with five of them returning starters. They are catcher Hunter Liveoak, pitcher and shortstop Kaden Cook, first baseman Zeke Chiles, outfielders Sam and Jeremiah Stewart (Sam in left, Jeremiah center), and third baseman Colten Leech. Junior shortstop and pitcher Ethan Brummett and junior second baseman Jake Anderson are two more returning starters and fellow juniors Noah Brashers (outfielder) and Dakota Walters (pitcher) return with varsity experience.
“With seven seniors, leadership should not be a problem,” Savage said. “We will have a good group and they do a great job of focusing on only what is important. They play for each other instead of themselves. They show up to work each and every day, which with this many older players can be a challenge sometimes. They are always looking for ways to improve. They set the tone for the entire team and their intensity is what pushes them through all obstacles.”
Liveoak, the Patriots’ leadoff man, batted .422 last season with 27 hits, seven doubles, four RBI and 10 stolen bases. Chiles and Brummett drove in 17 and 16 runs, respectively, Jeremiah Stewart matched Liveoak with 10 stolen bases and Brummett added seven, and Cook and Anderson each picked up eight RBI. Brummett and Liveoak each received all-Big 8 West first team honors.
“I have been pleased with our progress offensively,” Savage said. “Some guys have taken big strides in improving their overall mechanics and that should help us find that consistency we missed in parts of last season. As a team, our overall strength and conditioning have also improved, which will help in nearly every aspect of the game.
“We will have a lot of depth at nearly every position and a good group of seniors to lead the way. I believe this team has a great chance to win a lot of games based off of their overall varsity experience. We will have to work hard to find some consistent outfield play and people who have the ability to put the ball in play consistently at the bottom of our lineup.”
Savage said Walters, Jackson Adams, Trey Lawson, Mason Hailey and Bowman are players who have a shot at varsity time at any point.
Brummett, Cook, Walters and Liveoak form the probable pitching rotation and Hailey, Bowman, Dakota McKee, Levi Korn, and Anderson are more arms in the mix.
Brummett put together a 1-1 record with a 3.45 ERA and one save, Cook finished 4-1 with a 2.35 ERA and two saves, and Walters went 1-0 with a 2.10 ERA.
East Newton opens the 2020 season March 20 against Purdy.