Every other week Ozarks Sports Zone will rank area high school baseball teams based on several factors, including record, strength of schedule, recent success and the “eye test”. Rankings are based on dominance by class, essentially how they stack up pound-for-pound against other teams in the rest of the state. Coaches are contacted to provide recommendations, stats and team info.
(Classification, record, last ranking in parenthesis)
1. Aurora (C4, 7-0, NA) – The defending Class 4 state champs are off and running and haven’t skipped a beat. The Houn’ Dawgs cruised to the ROTB championship with an 11-1 run-rule win over a very good Springfield Catholic team. Senior ace Wyatt Sparks started the week with a 14 strikeout perfect game against host Clever and finished with 4.2, 4-hit innings against Catholic.
2. Mansfield (C2, 2-1, NA) – The defending Class 2 state champs aren’t shying away from quality competition early in the season. The Lions have wins over Mexico (C4), Reeds Spring (C4) and a hard-fought 3-0 loss to Class 5 state ranked Ozark. New head coach and Mansfield alum has seven starters back and are a legitimate contender to repeat as state champs.
3. Ozark (C5, 3-0, NA) – The Tigers are always strong but 2018 has the makings of greatness. One area coach called them one of the most talented teams the area has ever seen. Reigning COC Large Pitcher of the Year Parker Hanks (Northwestern) along with Forrest Barnes (Missouri St) lead the way for Coach Essick’s team that’s off to a perfect start. Tuesday features a big test with a trip to Kickapoo.
4. Strafford (C3, 4-0, NA) – The Indians were good last year, making it to the Class 3 quarterfinals before falling to eventual state champ South Callaway, and they are absolutely loaded this year, especially the pitching staff led by junior Tony Caldwell. Meanwhile, the offense has put up 61 runs in their first four games. A tough week is ahead with three games in four days starting with trips to Skyline and Catholic before hosting Mtn Grove Thursday (weather permitting).
5. Webb City (C5, 4-1, NA) – The Cardinals are coming off their third straight district championship and have a lot returning, including senior lefty Tyler Martin (Nebraska) and a JV team that went 18-3 last season. The Cardinals are one of a handful of quality COC Large teams, so far with wins over Carl Junction and Republic, but a 6-2 loss at Branson.
6. Hurley (C1, 1-1, NA) – The Tigers have become a perennial Class 1 power with final four trips in two of the past three seasons. Replacing Isaac Carlson won’t be easy, but five seniors are motivated to make another deep run this spring. The Tigers have played just two games so far with an extra-inning win over Norwood and a 4-3 loss to Crane. The home opener is Tuesday against Southwest (Washburn).
7. New Covenant (C2, 2-3, NA) – The baseball factory that is New Covenant is back and thinking big in 2018, returning seven starters from a 16-win team. The Warriors never shy away from bigger competition, dropping three straight to Aurora, Conway and Clever at the ROTB Tournament last week. If you’re looking for an indication of their fire-power against smaller competition, just look at the 48 runs they put up in wins over Bradleyville and Spokane.
8. Dora (C1, 4-1, NA) – The Falcons are poised for a breakout 2018 with all but one starter back from last year’s district championship team. White River Conference MVP Austin White leads that returning group, but it’s a talented freshman class, including the Luna triplets that will add depth to the lineup and rotation. Following a season-opening loss to Class 3 Licking the Falcons have four straight wins, scoring in double figures each time.
9. Eminence (C1, 2-1, NA) – Fresh off their state basketball championship the baseball version of the Redwings are building on an 18-win season in which they reached the Class 1 quarterfinals. Several key players are gone from that team, but it doesn’t hurt to have three all-stater’s back. So far, they have big wins over Bakersfield and South Iron to go with a 10-6 loss to Ellington.
10. Mountain Grove (C3, 2-1, NA) – No rest for the weary; many of the athletes who led the Panthers to another basketball final four suited up for the baseball team two days later. Four starters are gone from last year’s district championship team, but a strong core returns led by Cade Coffman, Connor McNew and Hayden Newberry, all who were on the state championship team from two years ago. Following a season-opening extra-inning loss to Licking at the Houston Wood Bat Tournament the Panthers have wins over Houston and Cuba.
11. Kickapoo (C5, 3-3, NA) – Not many programs could bounce back from losing 70 percent of their production, but Kickapoo has the returning talent to do just that. Fresh off a co-Ozark Conference title, Coach Jason Howser is testing his team with the toughest non-conference slate the team has ever seen. Junior Mason Auer (MSU verbal) leads a talented, but inexperienced rotation. Of the Chiefs’ first six games, Willard is the only local opponent, Kickapoo taking a 3-2 loss at the Willard Leadoff Tournament.
12. Halfway (C1, 5-0, NA) – So far, so good for the Cardinals who have allowed just seven runs in their first five games. There are high expectations for Coach Chip Weeg with eight starters back from last year’s quarterfinal team, including first-team all-state senior Dallas Dodd and three other seniors.
13. Pierce City (C2, 3-2, NA) – The Eagles, with ten starters returning, are looking to get over the hump this spring after winning 20 games and the SRVC championship last year but falling in the district semifinals. Many of the same names that led the talented football and basketball teams make up the nucleus of this group and are hungry to bring PC its first ever district baseball title. Sandwiched between losses to Conway and Monett, the Eagles won the Purdy Tournament with wins over Pea Ridge, Purdy and East Newton.
14. Monett (C4, 3-2, NA) – There’s some big names to replace from last year’s district championship team, but Corey Spain (Arkansas verbal) is a nice piece to have returning. The junior all-state honorable mention selection already owns a 2-hit shutout of Carl Junction and a tough-luck 3-2 loss to Reeds Spring, combining for 31 strikeouts in his first two starts. This team will take some time to develop, but could be a tough out when the playoffs roll around.
15. Plato (C2, 2-2, NA) – After being upset in the district championship last season the Eagles are hungry for a big 2018. Seven starters return from a 20-win team, and the crazy part is none of them are seniors. After season-opening shutout wins over St. Paul Lutheran and Lesterville, the Eagles have suffered back-to-back losses to Bismarck and Iberia.
Knocking on the Door: Licking (C3, 4-0, NA), Willard (C5, 5-2, NA), Glendale (C5, 3-3, NA), Catholic (C4, 4-1, NA), Galena (C2, 4-2, NA), Lincoln (C2, 4-0, NA), Walnut Grove (C1, 2-0, NA), Clever (C3, 4-1, NA), Hollister (C4, 4-1, NA), West Plains (C5, 4-1, NA), Nixa (C5, 4-0, NA), Reeds Spring (C4, 4-1, NA)