By Amanda Perkins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
They earned another SCA championship, added a district title, and advanced to state quarterfinals last season, ending with an 18-6 finish. The Ava Bears now return much of their talent from 2019, as well as head coach Rex Sawyer in his 25th year at the helm.
Sawyer’s team is strong in depth. “Almost every position has two athletes competing for the starting role,” he said.
And not only do they have the numbers, they have experience. Senior Carter Campbell returns to a starting position in left field and will also share time on the hill. His all-conference and all-district outfield honors were in addition to his .323 average, 23 hits, and 15 RBIs. Classmate Kayden Myers drove in 14 RBIs with 18 hits and a .290 average in 2019 as the DH and was a solid leader for the Bears.
The junior class certainly isn’t short on talent. Zack Miller is a hard-working third baseman and will share pitching duties. He was named to the all-conference and all-district teams for his work in the infield and picked up 20 hits, 15 RBIs, and a .308 average last season. Payton Evans shared time at second base last season and will now step up to the mound. At 6’3”, Zach Mendel will be a force to be reckoned with as a pitcher. He started at first base last year even while recovering from shoulder surgery and earned an honorable mention all-district nod in the infield. Bryse Dodson adds even more depth to the pitching staff and earned 5 wins and 3 saves last year with a 1.22 ERA, which also garnered all-district and all-conference awards. Last season, he shared time at third and first base. Juniors Quinton Donley and Colton Marler round out the junior class; Donley will contribute to the pitching staff and Marler will battle for a starting position at catcher.
Three talented sophomores return for the Bears. Andrew Dalton (6’3”) will be asked to step up on the hill after starting at right field and earning all-district outfield honors last season. Spencer Skyles started in centerfield and earned all-conference and all-district postseason awards. The speedy underclassman put up .297 for 19 hits and 8 RBIs in 2019. Zach Richards shared time at second base and proved solid on the mound; he earned 3 wins and a save with a 1.75 ERA. He was named to the all-conference and all-district teams for his pitching.
Three more sophomores will battle for starting positions: Reese Adams, catcher; Corey Heinlein, infield; and Kaden Bruce, outfield.
The Bears did suffer two obvious losses with the graduation of all-conference and all-district Thomas Emerich, now playing at Crowder, and all-conference, all-district, and all-state Caleb Johnson, now on the College of the Ozarks’ baseball team.
Coach Sawyer’s goals don’t change much from team to team, year to year; he expects his groups to execute the fundamentals and to compete in every single game.
The Bears open their season at the Mountain Grove Jamboree March 14.