By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Following a winning campaign last season, Bolivar baseball will look to continue making improvements in 2022 under longtime head coach Brad Roweton.
“We started off hot last year, starting 9-3 with some quality wins,” Roweton said. “A couple of key injuries slowed us down and we finished the year at 12-9. We were not overpowering but with nine seniors – and some talented grinders fitting in around them – we won several close games in the first half of the season.”
Roweton’s first task will be finding replacements for those nine seniors, six of whom were everyday starters.
Graduates Ryan Hadank, Parker Erickson, Bo Banner, Dylan Hall, Luke Meents, Jacob Anderson, Landon Rauch, Heath Robertson and Isaac Jenkins all depart the program.
Hadank and Erickson garnered all-conference and all-district honors.
While filling a host of empty roster spots is never easy, the Liberators do return a solid core of upperclassmen with valuable experience at the varsity level.
A quintet of seniors are set to lead the team in Cooper Cribbs, Kaden DGraffenreid, Luke Goforth, Justice Hinsley and Deacon Sharp.
Cribbs, a middle infielder, earned all-district honors last season and also posted a 4-1 record as a pitcher for the Liberators.
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“Cooper has a strong arm and good baseball knowledge which helps him to excel at both positions,” Roweton said. “Offensively, Cooper hits for average and has the ability to move runners when needed.”
DeGraffenreid also garnered all-district honors as an infielder last season.
“Kaden is a corner guy with good range and a strong arm,” Roweton said. “He has worked to get some time on the mound as a reliever, and his arm strength would be an asset there. Offensively, Kaden has shown the ability to be a solid hitter with some power.”
Goforth, a pitcher and outfielder, earned all-district honors for his work on the mound and 7-2 record in 2021.
“Luke is an athletic guy which helps him on the mound but will also help him earn playing time in the outfield this year,” Roweton said.
Hinsley, a catcher and infielder, assumed a starting role behind the plate mid-season last year.
“Justice is an athletic guy that also might see time on the infield,” Roweton said. “He has a quick release that helps him at both positions and a good understanding of baseball. Offensively, he is a guy that can hit for average and move runners.”
Sharp, a versatile infielder, will be looked to step into more prominent role in 2022.
“Deacon is an athletic guy that played several quality innings for us on the infield last season,” Roweton said. “He has a strong arm and a quick release which allows him to play any of the infield positions. Offensively, Deacon has the ability to be an effective hitter and use his speed on the base paths.”
A trio of juniors also return for Bolivar in outfielder Jake Banner, infielder/pitcher Ryder Hall and outfielder/pitcher Ethan Welch.
“Jake had a good summer in the outfield and at the plate,” Roweton said. “Ryder will be competing on the infield for varsity playing time, and Ethan is an athletic guy with a strong arm that will see plenty of time in the outfield.”
Roweton also expects a trio of varsity newcomers to make an impact on the roster this season.
Senior EJ Ingram (IF/C), junior Ricky Gooding (OF/P) and sophomore Jaydn Mayfield (OF/P) will all compete for varsity playing time.
With plenty of talent on the roster, there is reason for optimism as the season approaches, according to Roweton.
“We only return three everyday starters from last year’s squad, but feel we have some talent coming that could help fill those gaps,” Roweton said “The one upside to the experience we return is that most of it is with our returning pitchers. We return most of our varsity innings pitched from last year and will need that experience to help us get through the season.”
On the mound, the Liberators will look to Goforth and Cribbs to anchor the staff.
“We return two of our top three pitchers from last season, Luke Goforth and Cooper Cribbs,” Roweton said. “Both had nice years last year and we expect more of the same this year. Depth-wise, we feel we have five to six guys that can compete at the varsity level.”
At the plate, Bolivar’s lineup will be a work in progress, as Roweton looks to find the right offensive mix.
“We return two players that were in the offensive part of the lineup on a regular basis last season (Cribbs, DeGraffenreid),” Roweton said. “That fact could be a concern but we have several we feel are capable of competing at the varsity level. We got to see several new faces this summer and they did well. As our lineup takes shape how quickly players adjust to varsity pitching will determine how potent we will be.”
Following a March 15 jamboree at Rolla, the Liberators will open the regular season March 18 in the Bolivar Tournament.