By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ozark baseball enjoyed a winning season in 2019.
The Tigers finished 16-13, falling in the second round of districts to eventual champion Glendale.
A quartet of key graduates depart the program to continue their respective baseball careers at the collegiate level, including Blake Mozley (Missouri State University), Carson Shaver (Missouri State University, Darren Sims (College of the Ozarks), Dylan Frandsen (Drury University) and Brantley Harril (North Arkansas College).
Ozark head coach Mike Essick, entering his 26th season at the program’s helm, will once again oversee a new-look roster as the season approaches.
“We lost a lot of leadership with this class,” Essick said. “As well as most of our offense, defense and our No. 1 pitcher.”
Despite the significant losses to graduation, Ozark does return plenty of talent.
The 2020 Tigers will be led by senior outfielder Jake Skaggs.
Skaggs, an all-conference selection last season, hit nine home runs and drove in 27 runs for Ozark. He also notched 25 strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA on the mound.
“Jake Skaggs hit nine home runs,” Essick said. “That’s a lot for a Class 5 player, especially with our schedule.”
Senior pitcher/catcher Riley Sundlie (32 K, 1.69 ERA), junior pitcher Hunter Tennison (15 K, 2.54 ERA), senior outfielder Seth Glossip (2 HR, 14 RBI) and senior first baseman Eric Scott (.250 BA) all return for the Tigers, as well.
“We will definitely look to those seniors for leadership,” Essick said. “We are awfully inexperienced and will have to grow up fast.”
Varsity newcomers who could challenge for playing time and make an impact on the roster include senior outfielder Cade Homes, junior infielder/pitcher Caleb Casto, junior infielder/pitcher Holden Sabor, junior first baseman/designated hitter Logan Baade, junior infielder/pitcher Garrett Dotson, junior catcher/outfielder Colton Casteel, junior outfielder/pitcher David Howser and junior pitcher Holton Miller.
With open spots and new roles available, those newcomers will need to develop quickly in order for Ozark to be successful this season.
“For us to be any good, they will have to grow up very quickly and make the adjustment to varsity baseball,” Essick said.
While Ozark’s inexperienced roster could endure some growing pains early in the season, Essick believes his pitching staff will be a team strength as the team rebuilds its rotation.
“Pitching should be our biggest strength,” Essick said. “It honestly will be a rebuilding year for us, as we have a lot of unproven talent. Last year’s team was very well rounded, but we lost almost everything. With that though, comes opportunity, and that’s all you can ever ask for in life. There will be plenty of opportunities to be had this year.”
Plenty of potential exists in Ozark’s rotation; however, Essick stressed the importance of finding a solid, dependable catcher for the staff.
“Our biggest X-factor will be the catching position,” Essick said. “We have got to find and develop a solid catcher if we are honestly going to be competitive, but expectations are always high. We always expect to compete for both conference and district titles.”
Ozark opens its season Friday, March 20, against Poplar Bluff.