By John Miller (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Expectations are high for the Marion C. Early (Morrisville) Panthers in 2020 – and for good reason. The team returns eight starters from last year’s squad that went 19-5 and advanced to the Class 2 sectionals.
“Although we have eight returning lettermen and the majority of our pitching staff back for this spring, the makeup and chemistry has changed considerably,” noted ninth year coach Justin Crumpley. “We have several guys stepping into some different roles, whether it be leadership roles, more time on the mound, or moving into bigger offensive responsibilities. We have a lot of work to do to get us where we need to be, but there is no doubt about it – there is a lot of talent and potential with this group.”
Gone from last year is Honorable Mention All-State and First Team All-Conference pick Hadden Grant, who hit .343 with nine homers and 40 RBIs last year. Grant graduated last spring and will be missed by the Panthers this season.
“When Hadden graduated, we lost one of the most dominant and dangerous power hitters in Panther baseball history,” Crumpley noted. “To say we have big shoes to fill offensively is an understatement.”
Returning for the Panthers are eight starters, led by three seniors: Joshua Bumgarner, Austin Francka, and Braden Grant. Bumgarner is the team’s returning No. 1 starter and offers a big left-handed bat at the plate. Francka is the defensive anchor in centerfield, while Grant is a veteran pitcher and three-year letterman.
Bumgarner went 7-2 on the mound last year, posting a 2.55 ERA. At the plate, he hit .365 2ith eight doubles, a home run, and drove in 28. He was named First Team All-District and All-Conference last spring. Francka hit .239 last year with 21 RBIs, and Grand posted a 3-1 record with a 3.50 ERA.
Also back for Morrisville are juniors Ty Haynes, Dylan Blehm, Garret Trantham, and Cameron Pyle. Haynes is the team’s third baseman and a returning starter on the mound. Blehm is the first baseman, Trantham will play second, and Pyle will catch for the team.
Haynes was 4-0 last year with a 3.38 ERA while Blehm went 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA. Blehm also hit .307 with 23 RBIs. Haynes was picked First Team All-District and Honorable Mention All-Conference last spring, while Blehm was named Second Team All-Conference. Trantham had a stellar year at the plate, batting .301 with 22 total hits.
The Panthers will also look for contributions from toolsy sophomore Hadan Madewell, who batted .270 with 11 RBIs as a freshman last year.
Newcomers to the team include John Presley, Chance Hampton, Triston Bruegman, Ian Vance, and McCrae Walker. Walker, a senior, has been plagued by injuries through his entire high school but is finally healthy and ready to compete for the Panthers this spring.
With such a large contingent of returning players last year combined with a solid group of newcomers, it’s easy to see why expectations are high for the Panthers again this year.