By Pat Dailey (For OzarkSportsZone.com)
Chris Funk’s legacy as Reeds Spring’s head baseball coach to this point doesn’t include a conference championship or post-season title. But he’s content with what the Wolves have accomplished on his watch as he enters his 18th and final season leading their program.
“You’d love to have won conference and district championships,” Funk said. “But we have instilled core values of what we want our kids to be like and in 18 years I feel we’ve made our players become better men, husbands and fathers. That’s very important to me.”
Under Funk, Reeds Spring has traditionally been a tough out. The Wolves were twice runner-up to Rogersville in the COC Small Schools Division and put together a memorable post-season run in 2012. Within a week’s time in May of 2012, Reeds Spring had one of its players, Mason Weitzel, killed in a car wreck, yet in Class 3 District 12 the Wolves upset top-seeded Cassville 2-1 in a semifinal and fell to Mt. Vernon 6-5 in 12 innings in the final.
“That team will never be forgotten,” Funk said.
Reeds Spring’s ace in 2012 was Johnathan Locke. His younger brother, Justin Locke, is expected to be the Wolves’ No. 1 pitcher this year. Locke put together a 5-3 W-L record, 1.66 ERA and had 48 strikeouts in 46 innings two years ago as a sophomore. He received All-Big Eight honorable mention recognition.
Funk said he can count on Locke to be a leader on the mound and in the dugout.
“He’s a program kid and fits the mold of what we want a player to be,” Funk said. “He’s a good, selfless kid. He cares about other players’ success more than his own.”
Locke is the lone holdover from what figured to be a strong Reeds Spring pitching rotation last year prior to the spring sports season being canceled due to COVID-19.
“We lost four of our top five pitchers (to graduation),” Funk said. “We had a surplus of arms. Our pitching was going to be really good.”
In addition to Locke, the Wolves will look for pitching help from Nick Brianczyk, Blayne Blevins, Ryan Thomas, Justin Talley, Tyler Carmody and Brandt Miller.
Miller, a left-handed pitcher, is intriguing as a transfer from Nixa.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know Brandt more,” Funk said. “He will help us a lot on the mound and has a chance to compete for an everyday outfield job. He’s fit in very well with our guys.”
Funk likes that Thomas consistently throws strikes.
“On the mound, Ryan is still raw,” Funk said. “But he’ll do some good things in terms of strike percentage and first-pitch strike percentage. He will attack hitters with his fast ball.”
Blevins will be at third base when not pitching. Funk feels he can have a breakout season after gaining experience as a freshman two years ago.
“Blayne started halfway through his freshman season and hit .250,” Funk said. “With the teams we play in the Big Eight Conference, hitting .250 as a freshman is not bad at all. He will hit in the four-hole this year and I expect him to do a lot of damage.”
Brianczyk, a senior outfielder when not on the hill, is also a returning starter from two years ago.
“Nick started about 60 percent of our games as a sophomore and will play center field for us this year,” Funk said. “Defensively, he takes good routes to the ball. He got DH’d for a lot his sophomore year. He’s continually working to be a varsity hitter. He will pitch a little, but has had an impingement in a shoulder.”
Thomas will also be in the outfield when not pitching.
“Ryan has been on our jayvee the last two years and has worked hard to get the opportunity to play every day in our outfield,” Funk said. “He’s got sneaky pop in his bat and has very good speed and a good arm.”
Funk values Carmody’s athleticism and versatility.
“Tyler is the hardest-working kid we have and is 190 pounds of straight muscle and very athletic,” Funk said. “He could play all three outfield spots, along with shortstop, second base, third base and pitcher. He’s a perfect piece to have. By him being able to play multiple positions, it will allow us the flexibility for substitutions.”
The right side of the infield appears set with Talley at second base and Luke McFerron at first base.
“Justin is going to be our starter at second and has been working tirelessly to become a varsity hitter,” Funk said. “Luke is one of the best defensive first basemen we’ve had in our program. He’s very good around the bag and has a high baseball IQ.”
Others who will likely make regular contributions are Dayne Smith, Johnathan Foster, Kellen Campbell and Hunter Langston.
Campbell is a transfer from Galena who played at Reeds Spring while in middle school.
The hope is Foster can fill a void behind the plate.
“He did not play last year, but played as a freshman,” Funk said. “He’s athletic with a good arm. He’s learning the catcher position. He has caught before, but not as an everyday player.”
Citing his players’ character, Funk is confident he will enjoy this season whether the outcomes on the scoreboard are wins or losses.
“It’s a very good character-laden group,” he said. “Accountability will not be an issue. We’re focused on a level of improvement. We want to be better than the day before and stay ultra-competitive with an energy and passion we will bring to our practices and games.”
Funk, who came to Reeds Spring in 2003 after his playing career at College of the Ozarks, is resigning from his post to spend more time with his family and to pursue career goals. He will remain at Reeds Spring as a physical-education teacher.
“Both of my kids (a first-grader and fifth-grader) play sports and I’m not willing to miss their games,” Funk said. “My kids are not going to be number two behind something else. Plus, I’ve got some career goals in administration I’ve been working toward.
“Coaching here has been amazing,” he added. “I’ve had very good support from our administration. I think we have made baseball a priority. We’ve done a good job in terms of getting kids to the next level and we’ve consistently been a team that a lot of teams in southwest Missouri don’t want to play because they know we’re going to play hard. We keep fighting.”