By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After a tough 2019 season, the West Plains Zizzers are hoping this spring brings better success. Last year, the Zizzers finished with a 5-16 record and went 1-8 in the Ozark Conference. Their postseason life ended early, getting beat by Kickapoo in the opening round of districts.
With that said, the team has hopes to turn things around in 2020.
“We should have a much better season this year,” said second-year coach James Sharp, who previously served as an assistant at Arkansas Tech before joining the Zizzers’ coaching staff as an assistant two years ago. “We have a lot of experience and talent coming back. We also have a few newcomers that should be able to contribute at the varsity level.”
Gone from last year’s team are a trio of key performers: Garrett Warren, Hunter Burtrum, and Evan Kinder. Warren was the team’s left fielder and one of its better offensive pieces. He posted a .367 batting average last spring with three home runs. Burtrum also excelled offensively, batting .333 with 16 RBIs. He was a three-year starter at third base and gave the Zizzers a solid presence on the left-side of the infield. Kinder was the team’s everyday catcher and had an excellent rapport with the West Plains’ pitching staff.
“Garrett’s offensive presence in the middle of the lineup will definitely be missed,” Sharp said. “Hunter was a great defensive player and really helped us on the offensive side of the ball last year. Evan did a lot of things really well behind the plate. We will also miss his work ethic and leadership abilities.”
With those three now graduated, West Plains turns to three top returners to lead the way this spring: junior Haidan Barnard and seniors Bo Crites and Colt Hickson.
Barnard led the team on the mound last year in innings pitched (31) and strikeouts (31). At the plate, he batted .369 with a .438 on-base-percentage (OBP) and drove in 16 runs. He’ll be a key cog for the Zizzers this spring.
“Haidan will be our top-of-the-lineup hitter again this year,” Sharp said. “He’ll also be our workhouse on the mound. We’ll look for him to lead the way for us this season.”
Crites posted a .333 average last year with a .400 OBP and 15 RBIs, while Hickson batted .321 with a .400 OBP.
“Bo brings a lot of things to this year’s team,” Sharp said. “He’s a middle of the order hitter, a regular starter on the mound, and a great team leader. Colt was a solid middle-infielder and top of the lineup hitter for us last season. We’ll look for more of the same from him this year.”
West Plains will also look for contributions from senior corner infielder Kyler Stowers, who came off an injury last season.
“Kyle never really fully recovered from his injury during the season last year,” Sharp said. “He has been working hard this offseason and looks pretty good in the cages. I’m excited to see how he performs on the field this season.”