By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Mountain Grove Panthers spent years at the top of their game, claiming four straight district and SCA conference championships and a state title before graduating almost the entirety of their experienced roster. Last year, they ended their season with a 10-16 record, coming in second place in Class 3, District 10 falling to Houston in the title game.
“I’ll pass the torch,” said Derwin McGownd after coaching his last Panther baseball game last spring. “Mark Vaughan will take over the program, and it is in very capable hands.”
McGownd is now heading the baseball program at Galena.
And Mark Vaughan is no stranger to baseball, and no stranger to the Mountain Grove Panthers, either.
“I have coached most of these boys since they have been coach pitch kids,” said Vaughan. “Most have played travel baseball during the summer months.”
Last year, his son Gaven Vaughan was one of four all-conference players who graduated from Mountain Grove, as well as Dawson Hiler, John Felker, and Joseph Collins.
Vaughan spent 17 years as the head coach at Plato, leading his team to a state title in 2005 and returning to the Final Four in 2016 for a third place finish.
“I was fortunate to have success and would like to continue the success I’ve had,” said Coach Vaughan.
Senior Rhett Wakefield will take on a leadership role to be a key piece of that puzzle. He earned all-conference honors last season and will be the everyday centerfielder and hit in the top of the order.
Classmate Ethan Emery could start at third or DH as he gained experience at each in 2019. His coach said he has a very good bat and could hit in the middle of the order. Cason Lee is a senior who has seen starting time and logged innings on the mound. “He could have a big year on the bump,” said Vaughan. He will be looked to for consistency and strike production.
Four experienced sophomores return. Brendon Rogers earned a starting position last year and will pitch and play corner, hitting anywhere from the top to the middle of the order. Bryce Stenzel also started and played infield in various positions. He will be seen at shortstop, on the mound, and could hit in any spot from the top to the bottom of the order. Jackson Raney is expected to have a big year on the hill. He is also a skilled hitter and will bat in the middle of the lineup. Nick Archer also started part-time last year and logged quality innings on the mound. Archer will play numerous positions and will be a reliable hitter for the Panthers.
Several newcomers will contribute for Mountain Grove. Drew Vaughan, middle infielder, will likely bat in the top half of the order. Brody McNew will compete for a spot at DH or catcher, and Hunter Means could be a pitching asset or helpful in the outfield. All are freshmen.
Jace Dowden, sophomore, has improved over the summer and could earn an outfield position. Classmate Tator Stout pitched and played second base on the JV squad last year and could move into a starting spot. Wes Drew and Colton Allen round out the sophomore class; Drew will catch or play outfield and Allen could play right field with his varsity experience. Junior Andy Walker could also get some starts for the Panthers.
“We will be young, but we won’t use that as an excuse,” said Coach Vaughan. “They will be expected to compete day in and day out.”
He noted most of his players are also on the football and basketball teams, and the varsity experience should be a bonus.
“I would like to have a winning season,” said Vaughan. “We have a chance to compete every game, maybe win a few games we shouldn’t. I think we have the talent to turn the record from last year around if we work hard.”
The Mountain Grove Panthers open their season at Van Buren on March 21.