By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The 2019 baseball season was a successful one for Reeds Spring; however, weather patterns played havoc with the team’s schedule and caused a total of six cancellations.
The Wolves finished the abbreviated season with an 11-8 record, falling to Springfield Catholic in the opening round of district play.
A quintet of graduated seniors depart the program, including Seth Stamps, Cole Watson, Blake Gronvold, Max Mielner and Ben Moler.
Stamps (.440 BA, 17 RBI, 4 HR, 15 SB) and Watson (.338 BA, 17 RBI, 1 HR, 11 SB) received all-conference and all-district honors, and Stamps was an All-O-Zone selection, as well.
“Seth was our starting shortstop for three years and led our team in numerous offensive and defensive categories,” said longtime Reeds Spring head coach Chris Funk. “Cole was our starting catcher for two years and was a very dependable and strong bat in our lineup that always produced at a high level.”
Both players will continue their athletic careers at Southwest Baptist University (Stamps) and Evangel University (Watson) this spring.
While the departed seniors will be missed, Funk expects his program to quickly reload with new faces and roles.
“We had a great group of seniors that continued to lead the culture of the program,” Funk said. “They will be missed; however, we are looking forward to another group of leaders stepping up to lead our program.”
Those leaders include battery mates Paxton Smith (.180 ERA, 8 RBI, 1 SB, 2-0-1, 2.68 ERA) and Justin Locke (.306 ERA, 9 RBI, 2 SB, 5-3, 1.66 ERA).
Smith, a senior College of the Ozarks signee, will handle Reeds Spring’s pitching staff behind the plate this season.
“Paxton will play a vital role in our team’s success this year,” Funk said. “He will be our starting catcher this year after starting games at three other positions in the last three years. Paxton is a very dedicated player that will be the anchor of our team offensively and defensively.”
Locke, a junior all-conference selection, emerged as one of Reeds Spring’s most improved players last season, as well as its most reliable arm.
“Justin became our most consistent pitcher last year (winning five games), and his work ethic is second to none,” Funk said. “This summer, Justin has improved offensively and will be asked to hit in a run-producing spot in the lineup.”
Seniors Logan Chambers (.147 BA, 4 RBI, 1-1-1, 3.12 ERA) and Cody Hughes (.313 BA, 14 RBI, 5 SB, 2-1-1, 5.04 ERA) also return, and both will play significant roles in the Wolves’ pitching rotation.
“Logan has worked extremely hard to continue to improve on the mound,” Funk said. “Known as a consistent strike thrower, he has the ability to throw three pitches for strikes and pound the strike zone. Cody will return this year as one of our top three pitchers and an everyday outfielder. He will hit at the top of our lineup and will be asked to set the table for the middle of our lineup.”
Junior Nick Brianczyk and sophomore Blayne Blevins round out the Wolves’ returning core.
“Nick started in left field for us last year and will be asked to contribute both offensively and defensively,” Funk said. “Nick is a quality defensive outfielder that gets very good reads on the ball. Blayne forced himself in the varsity lineup midway last year as a freshman. He will be looked on to be a run-producer in the middle of our lineup this season as well as playing some first base.”
With a host of open spots on the roster, several varsity newcomers could make immediate impacts, including junior Luke McFerron (1B/DH), junior Tyler Carmody (2B/OF), senior Riley Mason (3B), junior Ryan Thomas (OF), sophomore Hunter Sifford (SS/2B) and sophomore Justin Talley (2B/SS).
“Due to such a senior laden team last year, we have a bunch of younger players that are competing for varsity playing time,” Funk said. “It is exciting to see these young players get an opportunity to compete daily. I really like the mentality of this team; however our success will hinge on how our players deal with adversity throughout the season.”
Funk expects Reeds Spring’s pitching rotation to be a team cornerstone this season, with Locke, Chambers, Hughes and Smith all returning after logging valuable innings last season.
In addition, younger arms including Brianczyk, Thomas, Blevins and Talley could help with middle relief this season.
“I feel the strength of our program is our pitching staff,” Funk said. “We return 88% of our total innings pitched last year on the varsity level, and we feel like we have seven or eight pitchers that we feel comfortable throwing in varsity games.”
On offense, Funk believes the team’s aggressive approach in the base paths will continue to bolster improving numbers at the plate (the Wolves stole 66 bases in 19 games last season).
“Last year we did not have the offensive year we thought we would,” Funk said, “However, we masked some of those struggling offensive numbers by our aggressive base running and being able to score in bunches. This year, I feel we have some better approaches offensively but less varsity experience.”
For Reeds Spring to navigate a difficult Big 8 conference schedule and challenge for a district title this season, Funk believes his team’s overall chemistry will play a significant role.
“We have a team full of unselfish and committed hard working players,” Funk said. “They understand that no one in our program is above the team, and I really believe that most players in our program truly care about other teammate’s success. When you have that type of buy-in, it creates such a high ceiling for success and accountability.”
Reeds Spring opens its season at home Friday, March 20, against Forsyth.