By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Two runs – that’s the total number the Purdy baseball team lost by last year.
The Eagles lost 4-3 in the season opener against Monett, then won 24 games in a row before losing 3-2 to Seymour, the eventual state runner up, in the Class 2 sectionals.
“We got hot early and stayed hot,” coach Joshua Hughes said.
“We felt like we were right there we just came up short in that sectional game. Had some key contributors throughout the year and we lost three guys but we bring back six so we’re hoping to get back to that same point and even go further if possible.”
The Eagles have won at least 20 games in three of the last four seasons. Last year’s team pulled in a bevy of postseason honors – all nine starters earned either All-State or All-Conference honors. That’s the first time in Hughes’ coaching career that’s happened.
“And I’ve had some really good teams,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive and tells you a lot about that team.”
Hughes himself was named the Southwest Central League Coach of the Year.
If Purdy wants to make another postseason run this year it first must replace those three starters who graduated. Kyler Propps earned honorable mention Class 2 All-State honors as an outfielder and was a “utility superstar” according to Hughes. He led the team in on-base percentage, runs and stolen bases.
“He played right, center, second, short, pitched. He did a lot of things for us and batted leadoff,” he said. “We’ve got to find a guy that can play multiple positions or find three or four guys. Either way he’s going to be hard to replace.”
Mason Schallert was a first team All-State designated hitter and utility player who batted .507 and drove in 45 runs while batting third or fourth for the Eagles. On the mound he went 7-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 39.2 innings.
“Mason was our MVP last year, he did it all,” Hughes said. “He was our senior ace.”
Carl Hughlett earned first team SWCL honors at catcher and was an All-State player there as a junior.
“I just can’t replace him right now,” Hughes said. “He’s going to be tough to replace no matter who we put back there. We’re going to miss his leadership, his arm, his blocking ability and just overall his absolutely get-after-it attitude.”
Of the team’s six returning starters, seniors Zane Brown and Andrew Martinez and junior Osiel Aldava earned all-state honors last season.
Brown was a first-team pitcher, the team’s junior ace, and he batted anywhere from fifth to seventh in the lineup. He batted .373 and on the mound was 7-2 with one loss coming to Monett (a state quarterfinalist in Class 4) when he entered the game in relief in extra innings. Brown also pitched the sectional game against Seymour. He allowed just six earned runs all season and finished with a 0.96 ERA. He struck out 59 and walked nine and added three saves.
“He just did everything that you could expect out of a guy,” Hughes said.
Martinez was a first-team all-state outfielder and has been one of the better hitters in the area for a long time, Hughes said. He’s already decided to take his career to College of the Ozarks next year. He batted .450 as a junior, scored 42 runs and drove in 38 more. Martinez also moved into the team’s No. 3 starting pitcher role last fall; he’s a left-hander.
The remaining returners are all juniors this year; they played third base, shortstop, second and center field. Aldava was an honorable mention all-state infielder who played at third and batted .459 with 32 RBI’s and 35 runs.
“The thing about him, this fall he had one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen out of anybody,” Hughes said. “Had 49 RBI’s in 24 games in the fall. He’s kind of taken that role that Mason had last year and so he might see some innings on the mound.”
Jake Brown was a First-Team All-SWCL outfielder who started in every game in center field as a freshman and sophomore. After batting eighth or ninth last year he will likely bat first or second this spring.
Shortstop Andres Aldaba was a First-Team All-SWCL pitcher as the team’s third starter. He went 5-0 with a 2.1 ERA and will likely be the team’s No. 2 starter this year.
Clay Henderson played second base and was a Second-Team All-SWCL infielder. He batted second last year and could be the team’s leadoff hitter this spring.
Hughes said he has several freshmen and sophomores who could see varsity time, too, especially after he got an extended look at them during the fall baseball season. Sophomore Zach Henderson will at least be one of the first guys off the bench to courtesy run and will fight for an outfield spot. Sophomore Matthew Cornelius already has a good bat and could earn the DH role or play on the infield.
All six of the team’s freshmen played some varsity in the fall. Bosten Goetz caught all but one game and did a great job blocking the ball. Ezequiel Garcia played on the infield and possesses a strong arm; Hughes moved him to the outfield and will try to get his bat in the lineup. Travis Hughes played in all but one game last fall, mostly as a designated hitter, but also in right field. He batted. 347. Twin brother Trey Hughes battled injuries in the fall and didn’t get to play as much. Josh Brown (Jake’s younger brother) played first base in 18 games in the fall and is already 6-foot-1. Alexis Aldaba (Andres’ younger brother) played some at third and pitched.
As far as pitching goes, eight of the 14 players on the roster threw innings in the fall.
“We’ve got the pitching, we’ve just got to figure out how to use it and use it to our best ability,” Hughes said.
Hughes has revamped the team’s schedule this year and it now includes East Newton, Monett, Seneca, Lamar and Mt. Vernon from the Big 8 Conference.
“I don’t know if our record’s going to show like it did last year but it’s going to prepare us to get to a point we can compete at the end of the year for a district title and that’s our goal every year,” he said. “We set two goals, win conference and win district. I’ve never been a big guy to set a state championship goal but if you win districts you’re down to 16 teams in the state. You’ve got to win districts.”