2018 Spring Preview: Joplin Baseball

By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

Kyle Wolf is no stranger to the Joplin area or what he believes Eagles Athletics could be, especially on the baseball side.

“Joplin is a school that is waiting to bust out,” the first-year head coach said. “We have good young athletes and there is a ton of baseball history. When you look at the minor leagues all the way through USA Baseball, there were a lot of factors that made me want to jump to this side of the border and start coaching.”

Wolf comes over the state line from St. Mary’s Colgan in Pittsburg, Kan., where he was exposed to about as much winning as humanly conceivable under longtime coach Mike Watt. Colgan owns 20 state baseball championships, 16 coming under the tutelage of Wolf’s former mentor.

It was there he developed a relationship with Joplin athletic director Matt Hiatt, who also worked previously in Kansas. Needless to say, that winning mentality is the first thing Wolf wants to instill at Joplin.

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“The mentality of getting better day by day, those things are not complicated things. ‘Let’s do simple better’ as Joe Maddon famously said with the Cubs. Do fundamentals better, catch it, throw it, and give ourselves a chance to be the best we can at the end of the year.”

The Eagles expect to feature seven seniors, but playing time is up for grabs with only one All-Ozark Conference player back from last year’s 11-17 squad that fell to Webb City in the district title game.

That would be senior Jake Yarnall, and honorable mention in the outfield. He is the top returning hitter after a campaign where he hit .319 to go with 11 RBI. He will also be key to the overall team speed that Wolf touted.

“He is a great leader and an accomplished outfielder,” said Wolf. “He’ll hit near the top of our lineup if not lead off. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense with his bat and once he gets on the bases.”

Junior Grant Jones (OF/P) also returns with starting experience and is expected to raise his game both on the mound and in the outfield. He produced 17 hits and seven RBI with a .243 average as a sophomore.

“He is an extreme competitor and when you see his at-bats, he just keeps grinding it out until he is able to do something productive. I really expect him to have a breakout year and be a name that people recognize.”

Jones’ talents will be needed even more in the pitching rotation as Joplin must make up for the bulk of its innings from 2017. Jones’ 13.1 frames pitched is the highest returning total.

Junior Josh Wells (3B) and senior Alex Etter will take on more of a pitching load as well.

Senior Casey Sade (2B/SS) should see an increased role in the batting order after primarily pinch hitting last year. Junior Blake Dean could also be a big contributor.

It’s a tall workload ahead of Wolf, getting so many guys their first consistent varsity experience, but the process has gone smoothly leading up to Joplin’s last season in the Ozark Conference.

“The kids have bought into some of the things we are trying to get them to understand. We’ve had consistent numbers throughout our open gyms and open fields. They have had good, coachable attitudes and I can’t ask much more than what they’ve given so far.”

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