By Kary Booher/For OzarksSportsZone.com
Over the past two years, a dozen members of Forysth High School’s baseball program have walked across the graduation stage and so, naturally, their departures create mixed emotions for players as well as coach Jim Julian.
On the one hand, starting jobs are there for the taking in 2017. On the other, there are many unknowns.
“We talked to them after last season and during the summer that there’s going to be a number of spots to win,” Julian said. “We’ll have a few varsity guys and some guys who had good JV years. But it’s going to be a few steps up.”
Julian has done a remarkable job at Forsyth, where he is 235-76 overall and about to head into his eighth year as head coach and 16th on staff. A year ago, the team finished 19-9, won the Southwest Central League and reached the district championship before falling to Conway.
Clearly, expectations have been a priority, and it’s worth wondering how the influence of last year’s seniors positively influenced the guys who will make up this year’s team.
Look to Tyler Groves, Casey Wallace and Caleb Terrell for immediate leadership.
Groves, a pitcher and shortstop, batted .329 last year, when he also collected 17 RBIs, doubled four times, hit two triples, a home run and scored 23 runs. On the mound, Groves was 3-3 with a 4.48 earned run average and 49 strikeouts in 39 innings. Terrell threw 38 innings last year, finishing 2-3 with 17 strikeouts.
“They both had solid years and gained a lot of confidence,” Julian said.
Groves’ bat also should make a difference.
“He handles the bat well and understands situational hitting,” Julian said. “We’ve talked about having him in the leadoff spot. He showed a little bit of pop last year.”
Wallace, who could play third base, hit .240 with 10 RBI and 16 runs scored.
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The rest of the lineup is up in the air. That leaves an entire cast as possibilities: Jake Jordan, Kendon Doublin, Johnny Mayhew, Cale Wallace, Kaleb Etheridge, Will Hitchcock, Brian Kellem, Jacob Burrow, Collin Gwin and Dawson Deroo.
The key, of course, will be pitching and defense.
“It’s going to be a (jump) from JV to varsity, but we played solid defense last year,” Julian said. “Just like everybody, that’s what we focus on – make the routine plays. But it’s easy to say that. You have to go out and do it.”
That said, Forsyth didn’t have a fall baseball season as it has in prior years. That’s because the school district added football to the high school athletic department, and several players joined as the team builds toward a full varsity schedule.
It may not have been a concern last year, given the team had quality talent in Jett Schanda, Layn Hurst, Austin Padgett, Nick Aumiller, Dylan Jordan and Chris Cole.
In fact, Hurst set the National High School Federation’s career RBI record, and last year’s seniors were sophomores on the 2014 team that reached the state quarterfinals before losing to eventual Class 3 state champion Springfield Catholic.
Obviously, Julian would have preferred a fall baseball schedule to ready this year’s group. Fortunately, the offseason has gone well.
“So far, they’ve been working hard in the weight room and with preseason conditioning,” Julian said. “I think we’ll be seeing some good competition for some spots.”