By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
2019 was a banner year for Fair Grove baseball.
Despite an extra-innings loss to Ava in the district semifinals, the 20-7 Eagles set a school record for wins and, for the first time since 2008, captured the Mid-Lakes Conference title with a perfect 5-0 mark.
While head coach Christian Overstreet hopes to build on that success, some vital holes in the roster need to be filled.
A quintet of graduated seniors depart the program, including Class 3 all-state pitcher Rhett Hill (.354 BA, 26 RBI, 2 SB, 8-1, 0.936 ERA).
“Rhett will leave our program as one of the best players to put on the Fair Grove uniform,” Overstreet said. “Rhett was a four-year starter and played multiple positions throughout his career. His leadership and work ethic will be missed.”
Hill will continue his baseball career this spring at College of the Ozarks.
Teammates Dylan Long, Austin Sisco, Josh Thompson and Cayden Stacye have also graduated from the program.
Long, Thompson and Sisco each received all-conference honors, and Long was named all-district, as well.
Despite the losses, Fair Grove still has plenty of weapons in its lineup.
The Eagles will be led by senior infielder Hale Beckley (.395 BA, 28 RBI, 5 SB), an all-conference and all-district selection last season.
“Hale is the undoubted leader of our team,” Overstreet said. “He had a huge year for us as a junior and led our team in most offensive categories. Hale has had a tremendous athletic career at Fair Grove and I look for him to finish his senior year on a high note with another great baseball season. Our team will depend on Hale’s toughness and leadership throughout the season.”
Classmate Gabe Taylor (.226 BA, 8 RBI, 2 SB), a Central Christian College commit, also returns to the lineup. Used primarily as a designated hitter in 2019, Taylor will provide much-needed senior leadership.
Junior outfielder Tanner Lumley (.381 BA, 23 RBI, 8 SB) will be looked at to fill the void in center field left by Thompson, who was a four-year starter at the position.
“Tanner had a breakout year for us as a sophomore and was at or near the top of the lead for our team for most offensive categories,” Overstreet said. “Tanner is a multi-sport athlete who is a leader not only for our athletic teams, but for our entire school. Tanner did not pitch for us last year because of some arm injuries. If he is healthy, he will be competing for one of the top spots in our rotation.”
A trio of sophomores also return after gaining valuable varsity experience as freshmen, including shortstop/pitcher Kade Gallion (.290 BA, 10 RBI, 12 SB) and infielder Kyle Fritts (.250 BA, 6 RBI).
“Kade had a very strong freshman season for us, and it didn’t take long for him to become the everyday shortstop,” Overstreet said. “Kade is a multi-sport athlete who I believe is one of the best players in his class in southwest Missouri. Kyle is a three-sport athlete for our school, and has had a lot of big-game experience this fall as a starting offensive and defensive lineman for our football team.”
Infielder Logan Daniels (.256 BA, 6 RBI, 3 SB) received an all-conference honorable mention in 2019.
“As a freshman, Logan stepped up and won the job at second base and ended up leading our team in fielding percentage,” Overstreet said. “I look for Logan to be more of a contributor to our offense this year and to use his speed on the base paths to his advantage.”
With several open spots in the roster available, a quartet of newcomers will look to make an impact this season, including sophomore Kadyn Barnes, sophomore Kody Stacye, sophomore Ryken Adkins and senior Ambrose Broyles.
Overstreet believes Barnes could factor into the team’s rotation immediately.
“Kadyn was our best junior varsity pitcher last year and if it were any other year and we didn’t have the pitching depth that we had, Kadyn would have seen plenty of varsity innings on the mound,” Overstreet said. “This year is different and with the high demand for pitching, Kadyn is going to get his opportunity to compete for one of the top spots in our rotation.”
While Fair Grove returns plenty of bats in the lineup, graduation losses left a huge void its pitching rotation.
“From last year’s varsity team, we only have five innings returning for us on the mound,” Overstreet said. “We had five seniors last year who could all pitch, and they did a tremendous job for us. It is now up to the guys returning to decide who is going to win spots in our rotation as well as roles in relief. Each practice or game will be an opportunity for someone to earn a spot or continue to keep the spot they have.”
As the pitching staff develops throughout the season, Overstreet hopes Fair Grove’s potent lineup of multi-sport athletes, used to competing at high levels throughout the school year, will be able to make up the early difference and keep the Eagles competitive.
“As inexperienced as we are on the mound, we do return a lot of our offense from last season and some key defensive players,” Overstreet said. “Our athletic programs continue to produce multiple-sport athletes and I think this will, again, be another big advantage for us this spring.”
With a challenging schedule including the likes of Clever, Strafford, Hollister and Bolivar, Overstreet believes his team will be battle-tested and prepared by the time districts roll around.
“A strong regular-season schedule will prepare us for whatever district we are assigned to,” Overstreet said. “This group of players loves the game of baseball and wants to be coached. Those are two things you can’t ask much more of, so I am excited for what this season will bring.”
Fair Grove opens its season Friday, March 20, at Crane.