Every other week Ozarks Sports Zone will rank the area’s baseball teams based on dominance by class, essentially their pound-for-pound ranking in their respective class. Rankings are based on results, recent success and strength of schedule. Coaches from all area teams are asked to provide information.
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- Aurora (C4, 4-0) – Pitching, pitching and more pitching! The Houn’ Dawgs have one of the best lineups in the area 1-5, but it’s their hurlers that make them the overwhelming number one on this list and a preseason favorite to win state in Class 4. Junior Missouri State commit Wyatt Sparks led the way in the team’s ROTB Tournament championship, going 2-0 with a 0.0 ERA, 3 hits, 24 strikeouts, including a near no-hitter in Saturday night’s 5-0 championship win over Catholic. Zac Shoemaker and Austin Erickson were equally as dominant in their wins over Walnut Grove and Reeds Spring respectively.
- Mansfield (C2, 3-0) – Picking a number two on this list wasn’t as easy, but why not the Lions? Coming off a district championship last spring they went 16-0 this fall led by a strong senior class. So far so good as the Lions are 3-0 with double digit wins over Mexico, Newburg and Dixon to their credit. This season is being played in honor of hall of fame coach Doug Jones who lost his battle with brain cancer in late January. The school will retire Coach Jones’ jersey prior to their game next Tuesday. He won 741 games, 22 district titles and a pair of state championships in his illustrious coaching tenure.
- Monett (C4, 4-0) – The Cubs are coming off their winningest season ever, and while they lost five quality seniors, Coach Calhoun returns several key contributors headlined by all-state players Ian Meyer, Zach Burgherr and Mason Swearingin. So far, the Cubs have beat up on primarily smaller competition, but have been absolutely dominant in doing so, outscoring Spokane, Purdy, Pierce City and Marshfield by a combined 39-5.
- Plato (C2, 3-3) – Graduation also hit the Eagles hard with the loss of five seniors from last year’s Final Four team, but all-stater Wiley Miller (.595 avg, 46 rbi, 15 sb; 1.90 ERA) returns as one of the area’s most decorated players, leading a squad that went 21-1 in the fall season. Mixed results early, but not too surprising as they played six games in seven days.
- Walnut Grove (C1, 1-3) – The Tigers were oh-so-close to a district title last season, but ultimately fell 2-1 in 9 innings to eventual Final Four participant New Covenant. The majority of that roster returns this season as they should be considered a major contender in Class 1 led by all-staters Logan Thomazin and Hayden Jeffryes. Don’t let the record fool you. Many of these guys are fresh off a state basketball title, and their three losses were very competitive ones to quality teams (Aurora, Clever, Forsyth). They did all that without ace Hayden Jeffryes, who is expected to return to the mound this week after rehabbing a shoulder injury.
- Hurley (C1, 1-1) – The Tigers are fresh off back-to-back district titles and have head coach Joey Little back after a four year hiatus. Replacing two-time all-state selectin Justice Jones won’t be easy, but returning all-stater Isaac Carlson is a good start. The Tigers posted a 14-1 win over Everton before falling to a quality Crane squad 4-3 in extra innings the following day. Many coaches believe Hurley is very close to Walnut Grove if not ahead of the Tigers.
- Webb City (C5, 4-1) – Many are high on the Cardinals this season and the early returns are good. After falling in a shootout to Arkansas 7A power Bentonville, the Cards have ripped off dominating wins over Rogersville, Republic, Branson and Carl Junction; allowing just two total runs. They lose four starters, including all-state selection Calem Nutting, from a district title team, but return the big bat of Channing Mickey and have a newcomer you’ll be hearing a lot more about. Junior lefty Tyler Martin burst onto the scene last summer. The Nebraska verbal commit throws in the mid 80’s with good off-speed stuff.
- Ozark (C5, 2-0) – A year after being upset by Nixa in the district semifinals the Tigers return 12 upperclassmen in hopes of a deeper run this spring. Coach Essick says farewell to COC Large co-player of the year Clayton Engel, but has some high-end talent returning, including four-year starting catcher Noah Tucker, who will be counted on heavily to guide a deep pitching staff that includes 1st team COC Large selection Forrest Barnes and 2nd teamer Parker Hanks. So far, the Tigers have a 10-0 win over Parkview and scratched out a 3-2 victory against a good Hillcrest squad.
- Kickapoo (C5, 3-0) – Imagine losing four college level players and still being a favorite to win your conference. That’s the Kickapoo Chiefs. They too were upset by Nixa in last year’s districts, and while they do lose a heap of talent, coach Howser’s club returns a talented roster. Adam Link leads a deep rotation and already has 10 quality innings under his belt. Missouri State signee Robbie Merced is one of the area’s best defenders and has a developing bat. If the Chiefs are to contend this spring however they’ll need major contributions from the newcomers, which they’ve seen in a pair of wins over Fayetteville and a 13-2 win over a good Willard team in the Willard Leadoff Tournament.
- Lincoln (C2, 5-0) – The Cardinals seem to have picked up right where they left off from last season’s Final Four team and furthermore from spectacular football and basketball seasons. Connor Spunaugle, Mason Sanders, Derek Stephens and Dominic Simmons are just a few of the talented players that return from a 26-win team that lost only two players. Oh by the way, they’ve outscored their first five opponents 100-3! Admittedly, a couple of those opponents weren’t exactly state championship contenders, but Macks Creek is pretty solid and the Cardinals beat the Pirates 15-1 on Saturday.
- Rogersville (C4, 2-2) – Don’t let the record fool you. The Wildcats had a brutal first week against a quartet of quality Class 5 opponents (wins over Nixa and Republic; losses to Webb City and Branson). Seven seniors return from a team that took Aurora to extra innings in the district championship. Missouri State signee Jordan Fitzpatrick leads a talented team with a deep pitching staff anchored by Ryan Gruener (1.95 ERA last season).
- Catholic (C4, 3-2) – The Irish are loaded this season and would have been a monster in Class 3. Unfortunately, they moved up to Class 4 in the recent MSHSAA cycle and are in the same district as Aurora and Rogersville. Despite that, MSU signee Mason Dickemann, who threw a no-hitter against Conway last week, headlines a group that includes a handful of impact players. Sophomore Will Duff, who missed most of last season, throws in the low 90’s when he’s not playing shortstop and has already verballed to Vanderbilt, one of the nation’s top college programs. The Irish made it to the ROTB Tournament championship before falling to Aurora 5-0.
- Salem (C4, 4-0) – The Tigers finished strong last season and have picked up right where they left off, beating four quality opponents in four days to capture the Houston Tournament championship. John Arzt led the team with a .402 avg while going 6-1 with a 1.14 ERA last season. He threw a complete game gem against Class 4 state ranked Cuba. But the key is depth, especially in this new era of MSHSAA-regulated pitch counts, and the Tigers showed they can roll out quality arms four days in a row. Similar to Catholic, it’s too bad they didn’t make the Class 3 classification where they would be an instant contender.
- Diamond (C3, 3-0) – The Wildcats suffered a first round district loss last season and they’re itching to get back out and rectify that this spring. All nine starters return for Coach Shockey’s crew, including a quartet of players that hit north of .440 (Bowman, Prewitte, Brock, Drake). The initial returns are good with wins over Lockwood, Greenfield and Butler. This is definitely a team to keep an eye on in Class 3.
- Galena (C2, 3-0) – The Bears are fresh off their best season in three decades and are looking strong again in 2017 with six starters returning. SBU signee Logan Sorrell (8-3, 1.32 ERA; .337 avg, 21 rbi) is the focal point on the mound and at the plate. Coach Richardson has some quality players around him, but will need to stay healthy and will need some contributions from the newcomers to compete once again in the always difficult SWCL. Week 1 was a solid one with dominating wins over Seneca, Purdy and Cassville.
Knocking on the Door: Crane, Willard, Greenfield, Licking, Branson, Strafford, Forsyth, Dora, Buffalo, Skyline