The West Plains Zizzers had high hopes for last season with twelve returning lettermen ready to compete in a stacked Ozark Conference. But the Zizzers instead finished their season with a disappointing 9-11 record.
“We play in a very competitive district in which most teams spend time in the state rankings,” said coach Chris Quarti. “Getting out of district play is always the goal for us, but a very daunting task. The group we have has a good amount of talent, but we have not been able to put a consistent run together and really catch our stride.”
The team is regrouping after losing five key seniors to graduation. Joey Block, a two-year starter in centerfield, “was one of the best defensive centerfielders in the Ozark Conference,” according to Quarti. “Replacing his skill set defensively will be difficult.”
Tyler Collins, starting second baseman, gave the team stability up the middle. Alex Harris and Cole Turner each spent four years in the program and per their coach, were great teammates who will be missed. Matt Wernsing, who struggled with injury last season, is another graduation loss.
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Despite these losses, the Zizzers also welcome back a strong suit of veteran players.
“We are returning a good group of seniors and juniors who will look to have a much more successful 2016 campaign,” Quarti said.
The senior-led team includes Brett Wilbanks (OF/P), Jake Quarti (C), Trey Cooper (SS), Blaine Dunbar (OF/P), Daniel Crewse (OF), Jacob Hess (1B/P), and Tyler Wood (IF).
“Most of these seniors have contributed at the varsity level for the last three years and have a large amount of experience,” Quarti said.
Juniors competing for starting positions include John David Mulford (2B/OF), Justin Nichols (2B/OF/C), Billy Holloway (3B/OF/P), Evan Washington (1B/P), and Austin Jones (2B/OF). Dylan Dunbar (1B/OF/P) and Andrew Wheeler (SS/OF/P) are sophomores expected to compete at the varsity level as well.
West Plains will rely on senior Blaine Dunbar and sophomore Andrew Wheeler to fill the void left by Block. Second base is an open competition after Tyler Collins graduated from the starting job.
“It is our goal to compete for an Ozark Conference title and to be playing our best baseball going into our tough district tournament,” Quarti said.