By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
ANDERSON — The McDonald County Mustangs will get back on the saddle or, more precisely, back on the diamond again for the first time since May 2019 when they host a jamboree on Mar. 13.
The Mustangs officially open their 2021 season by playing in the Harrison (Ark.) Tournament the next week, and this season poses more unanswered questions than any other.
“The biggest thing is we have a lot of unanswered questions from a lineup perspective,” McDonald County head coach Kevin Burgi said. “That being said, we do have a very good group of seniors and young players that I’m very confident in stepping in and doing a good job. We were able to play a full summer schedule. During that time, a lot of our less experienced players were able to gain experience and put themselves in a position to take an active role in the spring.
“It was tough last year, but everyone in the state dealt with it. I’m excited to see the hard work by these young men be put into action.”
McDonald County will build around returning starters Cole Martin (catcher) and Levi Helm (pitcher and third baseman), as well as returning player Rylee Boyd (pitcher).
Martin and Helm were both starters as freshmen — Martin collected 18 hits, five RBI and five stolen bases and Helm went 2-1 with a 4.02 ERA and he added 13 hits, four doubles, one home run, and seven RBI at the plate.
Ethan Lett, Weston Gordon, Cross and Destyn Dowd, Jackson Parnell, Levi Malone, Wade Rickman, Ethan Francisco, Isaac Behm, Coty Dumond, Colton Ruddick, and Wyatt Jordan are expected to be in the mix for playing time.
“Our goal will always be to play our best baseball at the end of the season,” Burgi said. “We will do our best to put young men in a position to be successful by the end of the year.
“We will be strong defensively. We have a lot of athletes on the field that have dedicated themselves in our weight room, and put themselves in a position to make plays. We will always worry about scoring runs. We have a lot of inexperience in the batter’s box. We will have to find ways to score runs.
“To be successful we will need to throw strikes and find ways to put the baseball in play. I believe we have the pieces to have nine guys that will be hard to get out.”
The Mustangs step outside the Big 8 for games against rival Neosho, Bentonville (Ark.) West, Har-Ber (Ark.), Springfield Central, Carl Junction, Shiloh Christian (Ark.), Carthage, Joplin, West Plains, Webb City, Farmington (Ark.), Summit Christian, Forsyth, and Republic. McDonald County picked up additional non-conference games in exchange for not playing in the Mickey Mantle Classic in Commerce (Okla).
“The biggest thing is our work ethic,” Burgi said. “I have seen guys buy in to spending time to get better. We have worked hard with our seniors to be vocal and hold other people accountable.”