2022 Spring Preview: Carl Junction Baseball

By Brennan Stebbins (For OzarksSportsZone.com)

fter a year off due to the pandemic, the Carl Junction baseball team showed a marked improvement last spring. The Bulldogs got off to a 9-2 start and finished 18-10 for the program’s first winning season since 2016.

Head coach Jake Stevenson said the success was a result of an experienced senior class that was ready for its opportunity.

“Our pitching depth was something that really carried us,” he said. “We had some bats at the top of the lineup that came up big in some clutch situations. All those things added up to a perfect storm for us to be primed to compete at a high level. It was a fun year, I enjoyed the heck out of it.”

The inevitable roster churn hit Carl Junction in a big way, though, with the program needing to replace 11 seniors. That group included five All-Conference players like Alex Baker (.350 average, 32 RBI’s), who was honored as a utility player; Noah Southern (.455 hitter, 5 home runs, 27 RBI’s, 22 stolen bases), a unanimous pick at catcher; Carson Johnson (.363 hitter, nine doubles, four home runs, 25 RBI’s), a unanimous All-COC infielder; Drew Beyer (.357 hitter, 29 stolen bases), a second team pitcher and Dylan Eck (.350 hitter, 21 stolen bases), a second team outfielder.

Baker was also a second team All-State pick as a pitcher after going 6-2 with a 1.95 ERA and Southern was a first team All-State catcher.

That’s a lot of production to replace. Stevenson said this year’s senior class is ready for its opportunity, though.

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“We know that maybe actual inning and game experience might be something we lack but we had a good summer,” he said. “These guys competed at a high level this summer against some good competition. We got some guys competing at multiple positions so I’m excited to see some guys step into some roles.”

The Bulldogs return about seven players with varsity experience and six of those are seniors. Kyler Perry figures to pitch in a lot of big games this spring after earning a 2.14 ERA as a junior. He also stole 15 bases, and should play at shortstop when he’s not on the mound. Dalton Mills started almost every game at third last season and Stevenson expects him to take on a larger role offensively after a good offseason. Jordan Woodruff filled in as an outfielder and should earn more time out there in addition to pitching and hitting in the middle or towards the top of the lineup. Shane Diskin will step in as the team’s catcher, replacing Southern. Cole Wilson had an “outstanding” summer at the plate and will compete for a spot at the top of the order. And Hunter Cantrell plays some outfield but should have a bigger role as a pitcher.

“When you graduate 11 seniors it’s like, who’s left? We’ve got six seniors and eight juniors and we’ve had 30 to 35 kids at offseason,” Stevenson said. “We feel like numbers are in a good spot, it’s just a matter of figuring out where guys need to be and putting them in the right spots – letting competition happen and see if guys take an opportunity if they get it.”

Arlen Wakefield is one of those juniors and he’s got varsity experience after stealing five bases last year. There’s also Drew Massey, who stole eight bases in JV action; Logan Eck, a .340 JV hitter with 11 stolen bases; Mekhi McGarry, Lucas Vanlanduit (.375 JV hitter, 10 RBI’s), Jacob Ford, Gage Carson and Braxton Smotherman.

“I think one of the areas we’ll be strongest is defensively,” Stevenson said. “Defensively we’ll be competitive. I think this team has good chemistry and good leadership. It’s a team that’s willing to put in some work, grind some practices out to succeed in games. Those are some strengths I’m seeing right now.”

The team’s pitching will be a question mark heading into the season, though. Of last year’s 11 seniors, at least five of them pitched and they combined to go 16-8 with ERA’s of 1.95, 1.75, 2.87, 1.66 and 5.83. Questions remain for the offense, too, after graduating 143 RBI’s and 113 stolen bases.

“We’ve got a lot of innings to make up but we’ve got guys doing a nice job trying to fill that void,” Stevenson said. “We also graduated a lot of RBI’s, a lot of stolen bases and high averages. We’ve got some guys who got stronger with their hitting speed but those are question marks, things that until you start playing and see a product against another team, we don’t know where we’re at in those areas.”

The Bulldogs have added Camdenton, Glendale and Parkview to their regular season schedule, which begins March 19 at Neosho. Carl Junction will take part in the Bill O’Dell Tournament in Carthage in April.

Carl Junction will participate in a jamboree at Webb City on Friday, March 11 along with Republic.

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