By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportZone.com)
If Lebanon High School’s baseball players hit practice wearing those construction-site hard hats instead of regular ball caps, their coach wouldn’t be surprised.
“The thing about the group of kids we will have this year is that they have bought into the fact that it takes hard work and doing the little things correctly,” Lebanon coach Dustin Young said. “Our philosophy is to win every pitch, learn from what just happened, and become better as a result.”
Lebanon appears to be one of those intriguing teams that could be in the mix for the Ozark Conference championship. A year ago, it finished 15-9, 7-2 in the conference, and reached the second round of districts.
And now 12 lettermen are returning. That figure includes nine returning starters.
Lebanon’s offense could be the driving force.
It includes sophomore Zack Stewart and seniors Troy Reynolds, Drew Dustin, Hagan Smith, Tyler Paul and Curtis Mobley as potential run-producers. In order, they drove in 24, 21, 17, 14, 12 and 11 runs last season.
Stewart, who hit .397 and had nine extra-base hits out of his 23 hits, earned first-team recognition on all-district and All-Ozark Conference lists as a freshman.
“Zack has power to all fields along with hitting for a high average,” Young said. “And he can play multiple infield positions and can provide innings on the mound.”
Reynolds (.418, 33 hits including 10 doubles) earned honorable mention All-State as a utility player along with first team all-district as a pitcher and outfielder, second team all-conference as a pitcher and was honorable mention all-conference as an outfielder. He has verbally committed to Lake Land Community College in Illinois.
“Troy has plus power and has proven to be tough out,” Young said. “He has a very strong arm in the outfield and will be called upon to throw big innings for us this year.”
Dustin (.333, 26 hits) earned various postseason honors on all-district and all-conference lists. Look for him to play first base or outfield, and he can hit in the heart of the order – from the left side.
Smith was a second-team all-conference selection as an outfielder.
What helps Lebanon is that several players are versatile. Mobley was an all-conference honorable mention as a catcher last year, but can play all over the infield. He hits for average, too. Colton Zeigenbein, a senior, also was a second-team all-conference as an infield. He is a super-utility player who a year ago played third base primarily. He also has some gap power.
The team also includes seniors Tyler Graham and Kayne Buckley and junior Drew McBride. Graham has signed with Missouri Southern State University. McBride was a second-team all-conference selection as a designated hitter.
The Yellowjackets’ pitching staff appears to be deep. It features Paul (3-1, 1.62 earned run average), Reynolds (4-3, 1.74), Dustin (4-0, 1.42), Smith (1-1, 2.47) as well as Graham and Buckley.
Dustin was a second team all-district and first team All-Ozark Conference selection as a pitcher. Reynolds was a second team all-conference as a pitcher.
“Drew had a huge year for us on the mound,” Young said.
Look for a few other potential contributors in juniors Isaac Ledbetter, John Greenwood, Hunter Honey and Logan Wise. The first three on that list combined for 36 hits last season.
“We still need to identify some players to fill key positions vacated by last year’s senior class, and we expect there to be a strong competition for these spots,” Young said. “We are really looking forward to seeing the experience pay off and the competition that ensues with the positions we have open.”