By Kai Raymer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Strafford enters the 2020 season with something it hasn’t faced the past few years: uncertainty.
After graduating an accomplished senior class, the Indians will have several new names on the field this season.
“We have a lot of guys who don’t have a lot of varsity experience,” said Strafford coach Shane Pierce. “But they are a great group of kids, who I know will be ready to work hard to achieve their goals.”
Returning seniors Mason Foley (IF/P, all-state) and Nick Oliver (IF/P, all-conference) headline the Strafford lineup.
Foley, a second team all-state selection, was 2-1 with four saves and a 3.54 ERA on the mound last season. At the plate, he hit .329 with 12 extra-base hits (two homers), 18 RBIs and a team-high 21 steals.
Foley will play for Drury University in Springfield next school year.
“We’ll look to him to carry a lot of the load offensively and defensively this season,” Pierce said.
Oliver was 4-3 on the mound with a 2.85 ERA. He hit .329 with 25 RBIs and 12 extra-base hits.
The lefty has shown tremendous progress on the mound over the last two years, Pierce said.
“We will look for him to step up big time on the mound,” Pierce said. “When he’s not pitching, he’ll also play first base and hit in the middle of our lineup.”
Junior Kyle Schatzer (C/IF) looks to take a full-time starting role this season.
“He’s continued to improve offensively,” Pierce said.
The Indians will turn to their reserves and JV squad from a year ago to fill out the lineup.
Scout Askren (P) and Jacob Stow (IF/P) figure to have increased roles this season. Askren’s returning from a torn ACL.
“Scout’s a good, left-handed pitcher who I think can help us out a lot if his knee holds up,” Pierce said. “Jacob had a few varsity at-bats last year and will compete for time on the infield and mound.”
Junior Vance Mullins (OF) and sophomore Ben Peterson (IF) are two underclassmen to watch.
“Ben was one of our best JV hitters a year ago,” Pierce said. “We look for Vance to be a leader in the outfield for us. He’s a good defensive player who continues to improve offensively.”
Strafford finished 17-9 overall last season after losing to Ava in the Class 3 District 11 Tournament title game.
The Indians have won 17 or more games each season dating back to 2013, including a district title in 2017 and a state runner-up finish two years ago.
Strafford graduated a stellar seven-player senior class, four of which earned all-conference or all-state honors.
Tony Caldwell, a second team all-state selection, leaves as the most successful pitch in program history.
He went 4-3 with a 2.42 ERA on the mound last year. At the plate, Caldwell hit .320 with eight extra-base hits, 21 RBIs and seven steals.
“He will be missed on the mound, at the plate and in the field,” Pierce said.
Dillon Hester (utility) also earned all-state honors. He had a breakout senior year, hitting 3.56 with 16 RBIs and 14 steals.
“He could play any position, and did,” Pierce said. “He’s an outstanding athlete. He made himself into our second-best hitter a year ago.”
Also gone are all-conference selections Wyatt Maples (catcher) and Dillon Turner (outfield). Maples hit a team-high .364 with 15 RBIs, while Turner hit .284 with two homers and 21 RBIs.
“Wyatt’s an amazing kid and three-sport athlete,” Pierce said. “He was our leading hitter and rock behind the plate, despite playing half the season with an (injured) thumb.
“Turner was a huge contributor offensively for us and an excellent right fielder. We’ll also miss him on the mound.”
Caldwell (Jefferson College, Missouri) and Turner (Ranger College, Texas) are continuing their baseball careers at the junior college level.
The Indians graduated additional depth and varsity experience in Brennen Tannehill (second base), Hunter Langston (center field) and Caleb Semple (third base).
Strafford starts the regular season at the Pleasant Hope Invitational, March 20-27.
“I believe that if we work hard and find some willing leaders, we may surprise some teams this season,” Pierce said.