By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Hartville baseball finished the 2019 season with a successful 18-7 record, falling in the opening round of districts to Ava.
“Last year we finished 18-7 overall,” said third-year head coach Clint Horn. “We were undefeated in conference play to win a very tough Summit Conference title last year.”
The Eagles graduated a trio of all-conference selections in Luke Goslee (.435 BA, 27 RBI, 1 HR, 10 SB, 2-1-3, 1.79 ERA), Jarrett Calton (5-1, 2.33 ERA) and Stone Mathews (.265 BA, 19 RBI, 1 HR, 2 SB)..
Goslee and Calton garnered all-district honors, as well.
“Luke was our four-hole last year, starting left fielder and go-to arm in relief,” Horn said, “Stone was another middle of the order bat we will miss, and his final stats did not show how big of an impact he had at the plate for this team. Jarrett was our No. 2 arm last year and gave us a very reliable option on the mound.”
While replacing a trio of key losses won’t be an easy task, Hartville does return a talented core of returning players, including junior catcher Eli Cook (.427 BA, 18 RBI, 1 HR, 23 SB).
“Eli has been our starting catcher since he came into the program as a freshman,” Horn said, “He is a top-of-the-order bat and our leader on the field.”
Cook received all-conference and all-district honors last season.
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A trio of seniors in shortstop Holton Simmons (.442 BA, 22 RBI, 27 SB), pitcher/infielder Caleb Moore (.228 BA, 14 RBI, 3 SB) and pitcher/center fielder Tucker Dedmon (.265 BA, 18 RBI, 13 SB, 4-0, 2.66 ERA) also return to lead the Eagles.
All three seniors were all-conference selections last season, while Simmons and Moore garnered all-district honors, as well.
“Holton is our lead-off hitter and really sets the tone for us with his speed and offensive abilities,” Horn said. “Caleb is a three-year starter and has been at the top of the rotation for us for all three years. Tucker does not have much size, but he is the best defensive outfielder I have coached and has a plus arm.”
Simmons, Moore and Dedmon will continue their respective baseball careers next season at Evangel University, Three Rivers College and North Central Missouri College.
Hartville also returns three junior starters in second baseman Ryce Piper (.286 BA, 18 RBI, 7 SB), utility Braden Branstetter (.323 BA, 24 RBI, 4 SB) and outfielder Cody Mahan (.297 BA, 8 RBI, 1 HR, 10 SB).
“This fall, Ryce hit in our four hole, and we expect his bat to continue to be a big factor for us,” Horn said. “Braden is our utility man and has played every position in a varsity game except catcher. Cody’s speed and good arm are a plus in the outfield, and his ability to put the ball in play and run has been a great asset for our team.”
Junior outfielder Bryce Coday and sophomore utility Eric Wilson round out the Eagles’ returning core.
In addition to its strong returning cast, Hartville welcomes a host of varsity newcomers to the roster this season, including Brody McNiel, Hunter Lowery, Justin Parker, Rory Kirkpatrick and Isaac Boyer.
With the benefit of a fall season, Hartville’s roster was able to adjust to new roles and develop some experience within its younger players.
“With graduating three impact players last spring we had some big shoes to fill. We needed to figure out who would hit in our three and four holes and who would fill the innings we lost on the mound. Our team responded well and finished the fall 16-2 while playing a tough schedule.”
Heading into the spring campaign, Horn believes his pitching staff will be a definite strength, and its depth will allow the Eagles to remain competitive throughout the season.
“Our pitching will be a strong point this spring with Moore and McNiel at the top,” Horn said, “Along with four other guys, who we feel really confident in eating up the other innings.”
Hartville should also field solid lineups at the plate and in the field, according to Horn.
“We do not have a lot of power, offensively, but plan to use our speed to make up for that on the bases,” Horn said. “Our defense was a plus last spring and this fall and barring any injuries, we expect it to be at that level again.”
Hartville opens its season at home Friday, March 20, against Spokane.