By Denise Tucker/For OzarksSportsZone.com
The 2016 season did not end like the Greenfield Wildcats were hoping, leaving them asking, “What if…?”
Greenfield played a difficult schedule in 2016 and finished with a 14-10 record, with its final loss coming to Lockwood in the Class 1 District 6 championship game (3-1).
But on the bright side, the Wildcats lost only one starter from last year’s squad, although a valuable one.
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Tristan Long was the player of the year in the Spring River Valley Conference and an all-state pick in the infield.
“Tristan was our leading hitter and became our ace by season’s end,” Greenfield coach Nick Engleman said. “His ability and leadership will be missed.”
In 2016, the Wildcats hit .340, scored 174 runs and had a team earned run average of 2.05, including 198 strikeouts in 160 innings pitched.
2017 looks very promising with nine key returnees, which include:
*Jalen Roby – senior – infield/pitcher – second-leading hitter with a .526 average, 30 hits, 15 stolen bases, 13 extra-base hits, 24 runs, second-team all-state, could reach 100 career hits
*Sawyer Dodd – junior – catcher/pitcher – .434 avg., 33 hits, 26 RBIs, 23 runs, 5-4 record, 2.54 ERA, 62 Ks in 44 IP, first-team All-SRVC catcher, all-state honorable mention, could also reach 100 career hits. “Sawyer is a hard worker and it pays off in the field. He is a solid defensive catcher and a solid big-game pitcher.”
*Gage Burns – sophomore – utility – .385 avg., 32 hits, 25 runs, 15 RBIs, 9 stolen bases, all-state honorable mention. “Gage can play any position in the field and is a tough out.”
*Marcus Wright – junior – outfield – .287 avg., 21 hits, 15 runs, 1 error defensively, All-SRVC, all-district. “Marcus is a phenomenal center fielder who can cover gap to gap with his speed and has a plus-arm for an outfielder in Class 1.”
*Roy Beason – senior – infield/designated hitter – .275 avg., 16 hits, 9 base on balls, All-SRVC honorable mention. “Roy is a tough out and anchored the middle of the lineup.”
*Colin White – junior – outfield/pitcher – .246 avg., 7 extra-base hits, 16 RBIs, 1-0 record, 3.23 ERA, 22 Ks in 21.2 IP. “He is a hard worker with power and the arm that is expected from a corner outfielder.”
*Draven Stapp – senior – outfield/DH – .289 avg., 16 BB, .500 On-base percentage. “Draven played for the first time since his eighth-grade year and was a tough out.”
*Hunter Jeffreys – junior – pitcher/infielder – 17 BBs, .402 on-base percentage, 17 runs, 3-1 record, 1.09 ERA, 4 earned runs allowed in 25.2 IP.
*Collin Allen – senior – outfield – “Collin is a solid outfielder who is knowledgeable in the game. He is willing to take whatever role is necessary for the team.
* Jerrett Esposito – senior – outfield/DH – “Jerrett worked hard last year to improve his swing and saw 20 at-bats last year against varsity pitching as a designated hitter. He will have plenty of plate appearances this season.”
Engleman is looking to three newcomers to make an impact this season: sophomore Trenton Wilson (IF), junior Dawson Wimer (IF) and freshman Levi Matthews (IF).
Engleman says the team’s depth and experience will be key to its success.
“We have several two- or three-years starters at almost every position back this season,” Engleman said. “We also have 4-5 pitchers who can throw meaningful innings.”
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But, at the same time, the Wildcats will need to improve defensively.
“We struggled to be consistent in the field,” Engleman said. “We will work hard in practices to improve technique and focus for fielding. Through repetition and high-focus drills, we look to improve on our strengths and our weaknesses.”
Greenfield will participate in the March 13 jamboree at Exeter, which also includes Southwest, before opening the season in the Lamar Tournament on March 17.
“I look for this team to have another successful year and be competitive in both conference and district play,” Engleman said. “The group as a whole is used to success in other sports, and we are wanting to work hard to continue that success.”