By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Like most teams, Republic’s baseball program emerged from the cancelled 2020 season motivated and eager to play.
“The cancellation of the 2020 season was really hard for us,” head coach Curt Plotner said “We had a great group of seniors, and we were going to be really talented. The one thing that it did do was make this year’s seniors extremely hungry. They are ready to get started and have done a terrific job of leading our younger players.”
Six graduates have departed the team including Josh Calhoon, Jordan Carter, Luke Long, Easton Prevo, Nicholas Rose and Evan Smith.
Calhoon is currently playing at Northark Community College, Carter is playing at Kansas Wesleyan University and Smith is playing at State Fair Community College.
“Each of these guys will be missed for the leadership that they brought to our team,” Plotner said.
Heading into the 2021 campaign, the Tigers will turn to a talented group of seniors to lead the team including outfielder/pitcher Ryker Harrington (.241 BA, 13 RBI), catcher/third baseman Kyle Hill (.276 BA, 9 RBI), pitcher/first baseman Jared Hughes (2-3, 1.53 ERA, 53 K, 46 IP) and shortstop/pitcher Vincent Pyeatt (3-1-1, 1.62 ERA).
With a host of open roster spots, Republic will also welcome a significant group of varsity newcomers this season including a quartet of seniors in outfielder Gavin Walker, utility Richard Potter, pitcher/second baseman Brady Usgaar and first baseman/outfielder Bryce Messier.
They will be joined by juniors Makhai Blansit, Mason Brewer, Adam Brown, Tyler Burks, Ryan Epperson, Cole Iles, and Ace McWatters.
Sophomore Gavyn Beckner is also expected to compete for varsity playing time.
While Republic will have a host of new faces on the roster this season, Plotner expects the team to be competitive early on, due to a commitment to defense.
“I think that we focus so much on our defense and run prevention that it should be a strength for us again,” Plotner said. “We have always taken that approach because you don’t have to score as much if you can keep your opponent from scoring. With that being said, I do expect our offense to be a strength of ours this spring compared to years past. We have worked really hard this offseason, and we think the guys are going to see the benefits of that hard work this spring.”
On the mound, the Tigers will feature a deep pitching staff full of talented arms.
“Our pitching staff is extremely deep this spring,” Plotner said. “We have as many as ten different guys that could see some time on the mound. I really like the mix of guys that we have because they are all a little bit different. I believe that we have guys that will keep us in games and give us a chance to win each and every night that we play.”
As is the case with all teams, staying healthy amidst the Covid-19 outbreak remains a top priority.
“I think we are facing a lot of the same challenges that everyone is with the pandemic,” Plotner said. “I am sure that we are going to have guys quarantined at some point this season, and we will need other guys to step up and fill that spot for a couple of weeks. I am confident that we have enough guys to fill in when needed, but it is something that everybody is going to be dealing with.”
Republic is scheduled to jamboree with Webb City and Carl Junction March 12 at Webb City.
The Tigers open the regular season March 20 at Nixa.