By Justin Samspson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
After a 13-12 campaign that ended at the hands of eventual district champion Strafford, Fair Grove returns six of its eight all-conference selections from 2017.
The talent will serve as a springboard to the effort to climb back into the upper echelon of the Mid-Lakes Conference.
“We had some quality wins last year that were big wins for our program,” said head coach Christian Overstreet. “I felt like we took steps forward throughout the year and were playing our best baseball at the end of the year like we set out to do.”
First Team selections Noah Argenta (Sr., C/P) and Josh Thompson (Jr., OF) will lead that effort.
Argenta, now a captain, was a new addition to the pitching staff last season. He rewarded that vote of confidence with 52 strikeouts over 44.2 innings and a 3.29 ERA while earning an All-District nod as a catcher.
Overstreet has been impressed about the muscle Argenta has packed on while honing his skill behind the plate.
“Noah has established himself as one of the best blocking and receiving catchers in SWMO and I look forward to him building on that reputation with a big senior year for us.”
Thompson started every game in center field as a sophomore while also seeing time on the mound. He was one of the most consistent hitters at Fair Grove, sporting a .369 average with 16 RBI. He also is the top returner in hits (28) and stolen bases (11).
“(Thompson) has something that can’t be coached: his great instincts in the outfield and ability to track fly balls hit into the gaps. He saved our pitchers a lot of runs and kept other teams from having big innings by either taking away a bloop over the infielder’s heads or a gap shot that could go for extra bases.”
Brett Tolbert is back for his senior year after a Second Team All-Mid-Lakes selection as a pitcher and an honorable mention in the outfield. He turned in a 3-3 record with 50 strikeouts over 33.2 innings and a 3.53 ERA.
He also drove in 15 runs while swiping nine bases.
Multi-sport junior Rhett Hill will bolster the pitching staff as he enters his third straight year as a varsity starter. He is listed as a utility player but found the most success on the mound, turning in a 1.87 ERA to snag an all-conference honorable mention.
“Our strength this year will definitely be our pitching rotation. We have 85% of our innings back from last year and a lot of big game experience from the top three guys in our rotation.”
Senior Drew Edwards (OF) and sophomore Hale Beckley (3B) also return to the starting lineup.
Replacing all-conference shortstop Ryan Burks, now at North Arkansas Community College, as well as filling the gap at second base have been top priorities for the Eagles this offseason.
Overstreet expects plenty of competition after adding juniors Cayden Stayce, Austin Sisco, Landon Baker, and sophomore Ambrose Royles.
Fair Grove has hovered around .500 or below in five of the last six seasons, but the coach believes the experience on this team will help the Eagles grow into contenders down the stretch.
“We have a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but I feel like with our senior leadership and the overall leadership from our upperclassmen, our guys will get better every day in practice and hopefully that will lead to us playing our best baseball of the season come district time.”
“Our guys like to have fun and play loose, but at the same time they understand when it’s time to lock in and go to work. I am looking forward to seeing the transformation of this group from the beginning of the year to the end.”