By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
A year ago, Hollister was in an ideal spot to continue building on its past success.
After posting 20 and 17 wins in the previous years, the Tigers were in position to keep the talent pipeline rolling along.
The 2019 cancellation changed everything.
While the Tigers only lost graduated senior Coltin Baur, the cancelation had a domino effect on the upcoming classes, according to head coach Trent Oxenreider.
“The cancellation was tough for us,” Oxenreider said. “With the bulk of our lineup being seniors now, we needed a year of development for our younger kids. Many of our sophomores now will have to fill positions next year on varsity.”
With Baur now playing at North Arkansas College, the Tigers turn a new crop of returning seniors for leadership.
Outfielder/pitcher Konner Hatfield (.361 BA, 1 HR, 15 RBI, 12 SB), utility/pitcher Layton Morgan (2-0, 2.66 ERA, .404 BA, 4 HR, 44 RBI, 6 SB), outfielder/pitcher Landon Richards (.340 BA, 24 RBI, 7 SB), catcher Cole Jones (.250 BA, 9 RBI), infielder Colby Teaster (.333 BA, 11 RBI) infielder/outfielder Rylan Newell (.238 BA, 6 RBI, 1 SB), junior infielder/pitcher Clay Kemp (3-3, 5.54 ERA, .273 BA, 1 RBI) and junior infielder Isaac Qualls will all play pivotal roles for Hollister this season.
Hatfield and Morgan each received all-state honors in 2019.
Morgan and Richards have already signed letters of intent to play college ball next season with Drury University and Johnson County Community College
“We have experience on our side,” Oxenreider said. “Most of the starters had started as sophomores on a district runner-up team. Each one of them has improved their game. They have physically matured.”
In addition to its returning depth, Hollister has a host of varsity newcomers that will battle for playing time and a chance to make an impact on the roster including Jacob Jones (SR), Malachi Henry (SO), Blake Russell (SO), Luke Calovich (SO), Ronny Daniels (SO), Sam Teaster (SO), Ethan Wright (SO) and Ayden Kimmel (SO).
“We have depth with our sophomore class,” Oxenreider said. “They will transition into varsity starters next year so they have roles to fill this year. There will be competition at positions, which hopefully pushes players each day to get better and perform.”
At the plate, Hollister could present problems for opposing pitchers with several players hitting from the left side of the plate.
“We will display a lineup with four lefties in it,” Oxenreider said. “I believe Layton Morgan is one of the best lefties in the area. We have a lineup mixed with speed, power and ability to move guys around the bases. All nine hitters will know their role offensively and have bought into what we try to do.”
On the mound, Richards and Kemp will feature heavily in the Tigers’ rotation.
“We can have upwards of ten guys pitch this spring,” Oxenreider said. “Our top two guys will have a chance to go out and win any game they throw if we can stay in the zone enough and give ourselves a chance.”
For Hollister to succeed this season and challenge for a district title, overall health and positioning will play pivotal roles.
“Our schedule is very tough and being able to perform at a high level each night will be necessary,” Oxenreider said. “Staying healthy is key to our success. With having depth, it will be key for me and our staff to put the puzzle pieces in the correct spot each day.”
Following a March 12 jamboree with Reeds Spring and Forsyth, Hollister opens its season March 20 in Joplin with a double-header matchup against Joplin and Parkview.