By Pat Dailey (For OzarkSportsZone.com)
Conway appears poised to make a run at the program’s first Summit Conference and District championships since 2016.
“Our ’16 team had a ton of pitching, led by Hunter Dame and Andrew Huckaby,” Tigers coach Clay Bilyeu said. “They were big arms for us. That’s where I feel like we are now, with our top two pitchers and couple others who will help us. If we can figure it out offensively, we can compete, no matter who we are playing.
“We have high expectations. We had a couple rebuilding years right at or around .500. We’re ready to turn things around and get back to where we’ve been.”
Conway’s aces are Colby Vavruska and Dakotah Evans. Vavruska was 3-2 with one save and a 1.26 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 38 innings last fall, while Evans was 4-1 with a 0.97 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 36 innings.
Evans is a transfer from Lebanon.
“He was a nice addition,” Bilyeu said. “He had a big fall. He’s our 1A or 1B pitcher. With those two pitching, we have a chance to be competitive every night.”
Trey Earls would likely be an ace on many teams. He’s due to be Conway’s No. 3 pitcher, after he was 3-1 with a 0.56 ERA and 41 strikeouts over 25 innings in the fall. He was 2-3 with a 4.00 ERA last spring.
“He’s somebody we will rely on as well,” Bilyeu said.
Evans and Vavruska also play big roles with their bats. Evans hit .419 in the fall and Vavruska batted .306 with 13 stolen bases last spring. Vavruska is at shortstop when not pitching.
Hayden Wright, a catcher and pitcher, finished the fall with a .429 batting mark and 17 RBIs.
“As a sophomore, he led us in about every offensive category,” Bilyeu said.
Outfielder Chase Coffey is coming off a .342 spring and first baseman Jake Vestal is fresh from a .314 fall.
“Chase was an all-conference player as a sophomore,” Bilyeu said. “He’s a utility guy for us. Wherever the starting pitcher normally plays is where he is. We move him all over the place. Jake will hit in the three or four hole. He had a good spring as a sophomore and was an all-district kid. That continued into the fall. He’s a solid player all the way around.”
Outfielder James Shockley returns after hitting .305 last year and earning all-conference and all-district recognition.
Outfielder Kason McBride and utility men Andrew Dame and Grant Cornelison will also be in the mix.
Conway is hoping to receive contributions from Tanner Simpson midway through the season.
“He had surgery to clean up his elbow and will be out for a while,” Bilyeu said. “We hope to get him back sometime in April.”
Conway will be looking forward to renewing its Summit Conference rivalry with Hartville. The Eagles edged the Bears twice last fall by a 2-1 count in both contests.
“It’s going to be a tough one every time we play,” Bilyeu said. “Our conference is tough year in and year out. It’s one of the better small-school conferences around. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”