By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The West Plains Zizzers enter the 2017 hoping to build on last season’s success.
They’ll do so with a new face in the dugout.
Head coach Zeb Wallace takes over for the Zizzers after spending the past four seasons in Walnut Grove.
Wallace’s first order of business will be re-tooling the West Plains lineup, which lost seven starters to graduation.
The departures of Trey Cooper (Williams Baptist), Blaine Dunbar (Missouri S&T), Jake Quarti (State Fair CC), Brett Wilbanks (State Fair CC), Tyler Wood, Jacob Hess and Daniel Crewse open up a bevy of opportunities for both new and returning players.
A trio of Zizzers return to lead the 2017 lineup.
Senior John David Mulford returns as an invaluable utility player for West Plains.
“John David returns the most varsity experience of our senior class and is our only returning All Conference selection,” Wallace said. “He is very athletic and will likely play up the middle for us. His left handed bat will be best suited toward the top of our lineup.”
Junior Andrew Wheeler returns to bolster the Zizzer rotation.
“Andrew is our only starting pitcher that logged double digit varsity innings last year (21 IP),” Wallace said. “He also led the current team in AB’s. His experience, and leadership, will likely find his way toward the middle of our lineup and the toward the front of our rotation.”
Junior Camdon Murphy gives West Plains a solid defensive anchor at the catcher position.
“Camdon leads our returners in BA (.295) and is hungry to take over handling our pitching staff,” Wallace said. “He is comfortable and quick behind the plate and will be our coach on the field. His speed and ability to put the ball in play will put him at the top of our order.”
With seven open spots in the lineup, West Plains will rely on a host of newcomers to the varsity squad.
Seniors Austin Jones and Evan Washington; juniors Dylan Dunbar, Austin Wood, Jacob Webb, Mason Wilbanks, Landry Randolph and Nathan Harris; and sophomore Hunter Burtrum will all look to make an immediate impact on the varsity roster.
“This year’s team has the ability to go far,” Wallace said.. “What we lack, largely in part to the successes of last year’s senior class, is varsity experience; however, the lack of varsity experience isn’t due to lack of talent. In fact, it’s directly related to the talent of the class of 2016. I suspect this team will be much, much, different in May than March.”
Success for West Plains depends on its ability to navigate an extremely competitive conference and district schedule. Last season’s district No. 6 seed, Nixa, defeated Glendale, Ozaark and Kickapoo to win the championship.
“There are no off nights for in the Ozark Conference,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t get any easier in our district, either. I look for us to be a much different team by districts than where we start the season. This team has the ability to surprise some people if we buy in and work hard.”
West Plains travels to Ava on March 11 for jamboree play. The Zizzers open the season March 17 with tournament play in Harrison, Arkansas.