By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
While the season ended on a sour note, Marionville baseball saw a big improvement last season.
After finishing with only a dozen wins in the previous year, head coach Jason Grose’s squad finished with a 17-7 record and seemed poised for a postseason run.
Unfortunately for the Comets, an eight-win Forsyth team pulled off an upset in the opening round of districts.
“We greatly improved everything – offensively, defensively, and on the mound,” Grose said. “We had some great wins which allowed us to get the No. 1 seed in our district. We played our worst game of the year in round one, and our season ended prematurely.”
A quartet of key graduates departed the program, including Mid-Lakes Conference MVP Earnie Larkin (.441 BA, 19 RBI, 22 SB), Evan Dotson, James Hammonds and Wesley Breedlove.
Despite the lineup holes, Grose believes he has a host of talent and experience poised to step up in new roles this season.
“We had a lot of young talent start every game last year so we should only continue to get better,” Grose said.
Leading the way for Marionville is senior Jeremy Vickers, an all-state selection in 2019 who hit .346 with one home run, 33 RBIs and 19 stolen bases.
“Jeremy will hit in the middle of the lineup again and play center field,” Grose said. “He needs to be — and should be — our leader.”
Classmate Emmit Neely earned all-conference and all-district honors for the Comets as the team’s No. 1 option in the pitching rotation.
“Emmit had a great year on the mound,” Grose said. “He threw 36 innings, went 6-0, had an ERA of 1.75 and had 33 strikeouts. We expect him to be our ace again.”
Junior Jordan Williams, a third baseman and pitcher, also garnered all-conference and all-district awards last season.
“Jordan had an outstanding year as a sophomore,” Grose said. “He hit 397 with two home runs and 23 RBIs. He also threw 27.1 innings, went 3-1, had an ERA of 2.56 and 27 strikeouts.”
Sophomores Lake High and Jacksen Smith were named to the all-conference and all-district teams, as well.
High, a shortstop and pitcher for the team, hit .342 with 17 RBIs.
“Lake started every game as a freshman at shortstop,” Grose said. “He is an incredible defender and ended up hitting leadoff most of the season. He’ll be asked to pitch a lot more this season.”
Smith, a catcher and outfielder, also started every game for the Comets as a freshman.
“Jacksen primarily played left field but also caught several games,” Grose said. “He will catch a lot more this year and play the outfield when he’s not behind the plate. He ended the year with a .292 average and 17 RBIs. He will also pitch this year.”
With a host of open spots in the lineup, several newcomers will challenge for varsity playing time this season, including Duane Hammonds, Kyle Brattin, Cale Clark, Wyley Brown, Jacob Gray, Jacob Davis, Blane Young and Wil Carlton.
While Marionville has a number of roster questions heading into the season, Grose believes he has the pieces in place — and overall work ethic — to hit the ground running.
“We all have high expectations this year,” Grose said. “Although we graduate a lot, particularly on the mound, I think we are going to be better. This group really loves baseball and they compete their butts off.”
With Neely and Williams returning, Marionville has the foundation in place for its pitching rotation; however, the team must develop the rest of the staff quickly to be competitive in the early weeks of the season. Clark, Brown will fill the No. 3 and 4 spots, while High, Smith, Brattin, Vickers and Davis could all end up throwing innings as well.
“I am most worried about replacing the 70+ innings on the mound that graduated — 70+ good innings, too,” Grose said. “But our top two are back, and several kids were really impressive over the summer. If those kids throw like they did over the summer, our staff will be great.”
At the plate, Grose believes his team’s overall approach should lead to a much higher on-base percentage and help generate runs even if power numbers struggle at times.
“Our lineup should be very good,” Grose said. “We are going to strike out way less, which is huge at the high school level. We have some power and some speed, won’t strike out a lot, and should be a very solid lineup.”
Perhaps the biggest reason for optimism as the season approaches, is Marionville’s overall mental approach to the game. Grose believes his team’s competitive nature throughout the lineup could make the difference when games get extremely tight.
“I think our biggest strength will be our competitiveness and toughness,” Grose said. “It is also a baseball-first group. While most of them play multiple sports and are good at those sports, baseball is their true love. We need to build our cohesiveness and team-first attitude throughout the year.”
Marionville opens its season Friday, March 20, in the Pleasant Hope Tournament.