By Chris Parker
There is a lot going on in the world today and almost all of it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is changing the way we do everything.
As of now, MSHSAA is still hoping to contest the spring sports championships. That could change any day based on decisions from the government and school districts.
With all of that in mind, below are the Preseason Baseball Power rankings for the area as we all hope that these teams will get a chance to prove me wrong (or right) on the field.
Before we get going PLEASE READ THESE NOTES:
1. These are rankings based on dominance by class and not a strictly head-to-head comparison. Every Class 4 or 5 school on this list would be a favorite to win Class 1. I get that. That is not what these rankings are. If you want those rankings, the coaches have a class-by-class ranking available by clicking here.
2. Baseball is the most difficult sport to do power rankings for because baseball is a sport where anything can happen in a single-game setting, which is why the MLB wildcard playoff is so exciting. Anything can happen and it is impossible to predict. To illustrate, in the modern era of MLB (since 1900), just two teams have failed to win 25% of their games in a season. Since 2014, the NFL’s Cleveland Browns have failed to win 25% of their games in a season three times by themselves. The worst team in major league baseball can beat the best one on any given night given a one-game shot. At the high school level, with pitch-count limits, anything can happen in a given game especially once you reach the playoffs and have games two days in a row or three out of four days.
3. The other reason these power rankings are so difficult is that there isn’t a sport in southwest Missouri with a deeper talent pool than baseball. The area has a solid group of high-major college signees every year with countless others signing to play at all levels. All of these teams mentioned below (and some not) have a lot of talent making them capable of making a run in the postseason.
Without further delay, here are my Top 20 teams for the 2020 season.
1. Willard (C5) – As difficult as the rest of these rankings are, this is about as easy of a decision as there is. Willard is probably the best team in the state of Missouri regardless of class, so the Tigers’ inclusion at the top of these rankings was easy. Eight starters including the top four pitchers from last season’s team that finished 30-7 overall and reached the Class 4 Final Four. Four all-state seniors return to lead the team in Garrett Rice, Cole Biellier, Ethan Thompson and Grant Harris. The deep senior class includes five other players with starting experience including: Reece Dawson (1B), Rhett Anderson (3B/IF), Tyler Harre (DH), Garrett Hunter (P) and Eli Stoops (P).
2. Skyline (C2) – Skyline must replace two graduated all-state selections, but the Tigers have been proven they can overcome graduation losses. The Tigers are ranked No. 1 in Class 2 according to the coaches after going 21-8 and falling to eventual state champion Ellington in the state semifinals. Dax Beem, Ty Pinon and Nick Williams all return after earning all-state selections last season. Gage Gunter is also back after missing last season due to injury. Many of the players that helped Skyline to a state runner-up finish on the basketball court and district runner-up finish on the football field will look to lift the baseball team to a third straight final four.
3. Dora (C1) – Dora baseball has remained consistent with streaks of nine consecutive conference titles and five consecutive district titles going right now. The Falcons, who won the school’s first boys state basketball title a couple weeks ago, will look to claim the second state title for the baseball program. Just one player graduated from last season’s team that went 23-3. Triplets Bryson, Auston and Mason Luna return after each earned all-state honors last season. Tyler Luna, Colby Collins, Landon Luna and Dylan Martin round out Dora’s returning starter. Missouri State basketball commit Isaac Haney will also return to the fold this year. Dora is ranked No. 3 in Class 1 in the state preseason rankings.
4. Hartville (C3) – Hartville moved up to Class 3 last year. The Eagles lost to state quarterfinalist Ava in the Class 3 District 11 tournament. Hartville remains in Class 3 this year with a deep group of players returning from last season’s 18-7 squad. That group includes three senior college signees in Holton Simmons, Caleb Moore and Tucker Dedmon. In sum, four all-conference players return for Hartville including three other junior starters. This group went 16-2 in the fall season, and is ranked No. 3 in the preseason state baseball coaches poll.
5. Purdy (C2) – Purdy finished 24-2 last year with both losses, one in the first game of the year and one in the final game of the year, coming by one run each. The Eagles lost three all-state selections to graduation, but three more all-state honorees in Zane Brown, Andrew Martinez and Osiel Aldava. Jake Brown, Andrews Aldaba and Clay Henderson round out the returning starters for Purdy and all three earned all-conference honors. This group went 19-5 in the fall, and is ranked No. 6 in the preseason state baseball coaches poll.
6. Crane (C2) – Crane finished one game below .500 last season, but eight returning starters and 10 returning lettermen coupled with a 23-4 finish in the fall has the Pirates ranked all the way up at No. 3 in the Class 2 state rankings. The Pirates will be led by two seniors and a deep group of eight juniors.
7. Ava (C3) – Ava boys sports have had a banner athletic year. Ava football advanced to the Class 2 state title game in the fall while the basketball team earned a trip to the state quarterfinals. Many of those same players return to the baseball field. Last year, the Bears won a district title and advanced to the Class 3 state quarterfinals. The Bears must replace two all-conference players that signed to play college baseball in Thomas Emerich and Caleb Johnson. Johnson was also an all-state selection. Five total all-conference selections return. The Bears are ranked No. 8 in Class 3 in the preseason state rankings.
8. Weaubleau (C1) – Weaubleau finished 19-11 last season on the way to a fourth place finish in Class 1. The Tigers lost two all-state selections to graduation, but return seven other starters and three other letterwinners from that team. Three of those returning players (Cadan Kauffman, Briar Tucker and Tate Burkhart) earned all-state honors last season. Weaubleau is ranked fifth in Class 1 by the coaches.
9. Marshfield (C4) – Marshfield baseball won the Big 8 championship last year and claimed a district title before falling to Helias Catholic in the sectional round. The Blue Jays graduated a pair of key seniors in Truett Gardner and Parker Dinwiddie from that team, but they return a wealth of talent otherwise. A quartet of seniors lead that talent with Brooks Espy, Brennan Espy, Austin Dobrick and Thomas McIllwain. Brooks Espy earned all-state honors at catcher. Juniors Jackson Vestal, Ben Casterlin and Ethan Grace round out the returning core. Marshfield is outside the top 10 in the state rankings, but this group is capable of competing with any team.
10. Catholic (C4) – Catholic is also on the outside looking in with Class 4 state baseball rankings. The losses from last year’s 18-9 district championship team are obvious with Will Duff, Zach Cole and Zach Shelangoski. Duff and Cole are on rosters at Vanderbilt and Ball State, respectively. The cupboard is far from bare for a team that has a large group of college commits on the roster. Seniors Gage Goss (Maryville), Carter Bither (Lindenwood) and Ben Galligos (McKendree) are all signed with college programs. Junior all-state selection Jeremy Rader will be a key pitcher. Classmate Colin Davis is committed to Butler University. In addition, the Irish have two incoming freshmen in Ben Smith and Coleman Morrison who have committed to play at the University of Missouri. The tradition of the Irish program combined with the depth of talent make this team extremely dangerous.
11. Aurora (C4) – Aurora is not getting any mention in the state rankings, which is a little baffling to me. This is a program that has won 28, 27, 31 and 21 games over the past four years including two state titles and three final four appearances. Yes, they lose Gatorade Player of the Year Gage Singer to graduation along with two-year starter Austin Hartwigsen, but everybody else returns. That is seven starters from a team that spent the entire season last year ranked No. 1 in Class 4 before dropping out of the rankings for postseason. This program has earned the benefit of the doubt to start the season.
12. Monett (C4) – Monett is the area’s highest ranked Class 4 team in the state coaches poll at No. 5. The Cubs finished 19-7 last year falling to Helias Catholic in the state quarterfinal round. Monett graduated five players from that roster with all five players signing with college baseball programs. The head of that group were all-state selection Corey Spain (Arkansas) and Dale Slater (North Arkansas College). The Cubs will have good depth on the pitching staff, but must replace the production of that deep group of graduated players.
13. Lebanon (C5) – Lebanon has won at least 15 games in four of the past five seasons. This team year’s team is poised to push for district and conference titles with nine starters and 12 lettermen returning from last year’s team that finished 15-9 overall.
14. Morrisville (C2) – Morrisville has won three consecutive district titles with a fourth looking like a real possibility behind eight returning starters from last year’s team that finished 19-5 overall. The one player lost was a big one in all-state selection Hadden Grant.
15. Rogersville (C4) – The Wildcats return five starters and seven seniors from last season’s squad that finishing 18-9. Three of those returning starters are college signees in Reed Metz (University of Tennessee), Thomas Kane (Saint Louis University) and A.J. Craft (Pittsburg State University).
16. Seymour (C2) – Last year was historic for the Seymour Tigers. They claimed the program’s first district title and marched all the way to the state title game where they finished runner-up to Ellington. Three all-state selections graduated from that team, but two all-staters in Carson Sturdefant and Nathaniel Hosiner return. Seymour is ranked No. 10 in the state baseball coaches rankings.
17. Nixa (C5) – Nixa is an interesting team to watch. The Eagles finished 23-3 last year, but they graduated seven starters. They also lost two of their top returning pitchers to injury. What they do have are three of the area’s most talented players in Ace Akers, Joe Reid and Evann Long. Akers is the reigning COC Pitcher of the Year and signed with Missouri State. Reid is signed with the University of Indiana. Long, a Pittsburg State signee, was an All O-Zone selection as a junior. There is a wide range of outcomes available to the Eagles, but the stability at the top should help with the turnover throughout the rest of the lineup.
18. Lamar (C3) – Lamar won a district title for the first time in 17 years. The Tigers are poised to make it two in a row with eight starters returning from that district title winning team. The head of that group is senior all-state selection Case Tucker.
19. Kickapoo (C5) – Kickapoo lost a lot to graduation with six starters including its top two pitchers in Mason Auer and David Senn. For many teams, that kind of turnover would trigger a rebuild, but Kickapoo has shown almost unmatched consistency with at least 20 wins in every season since 2014. Will Bailey, Chase Kruse and Joey Morris are the three returning starters. All are seniors.
20. Clever (C3) – Clever finished 15-12 last year and won a district championship. The Blue Jays graduated its two all-state selections from last year’s team, but it is the junior class that has me slotting the Blue Jays into this final spot. Quinn Gundelfinger, Jake Twigg, Tanner Bradshaw and Zack Garcia have all started since their freshmen seasons. Their growth alone should help offset some of the loss to graduation.
Others (alphabetical): Billings (C1), Carl Junction (C4), Conway (C3), Houston (C3), Macks Creek (C1), Marionville (C2), Stockton (C3), Walnut Grove (C1)