Trojans to defend conference hardware
Team turns to youth as season gets underway
The stars aligned just right for the Southwest baseball team and Coach Kenny Ferguson last season as the Trojans claimed the Ozark 7 Conference title.
Southwest, however, lost the first game of the district title to Diamond.
This year, the Trojans return just four starters from last year's team. Gone due to graduation are Chad Oxford, Jamason Hartin, Nathan Young, Wyatt Varner, John Com and T.J. Hill who combined for seven pitching wins, 64 RBI, 81 hits, 18 doubles, three triples and three home runs.
"We graduated a lot of very talented seniors who will be very hard to replace," Ferguson said. "We must find pitching depth, patch a couple of holes on defense, and make more consistent contact at the plate."
With a young team returning, Southwest brought back fall baseball in an attempt to help the squad prepare for the rigors of the spring season.
"This was the perfect year to add fall baseball back," Ferguson said. "We started six guys this fall who had no legitimate varsity experience."
Ferguson said he is gauging how quickly his guys get acclimated to the varsity game.
"This is a very humbling game in which you must learn from your mistakes but forget about them at the same time," he said. "We will need to improve in all phases of the game while learning under fire. Experience and confidence will be keys to our season."
Leading the Southwest charge this season will be seniors Lane England, John Mulkey, Tyler Bemard and Garrett Hobbs; and sophomore Paton Clay.
England was 1-2 last season with two saves and a 1.98 ERA. He hit .317 with nine RBI and a home run.
"Lane is a solid player who will pitch play center field and some short stop," Ferguson said. "As our lead-off hitter, he will set the stage for us. We need Lane to use all parts of the field as a hitter and hit more line drives."
Mulkey played in left field and hit .314 with 12 RBI.
"John is a good outfielder who had an excellent year defensively last year with some great catches," Ferguson said. "He is a contact hitter who gets out of the box faster than any player I have had. He showed a little pop at the end of the year last year which he will need to do more of."
Bemard anchored second base and hit .220 with five RBI and three doubles.
"Tyler could be the key for our season this year," Ferguson said. "He plays second for us and may see some time on the mound. He has good power and has had some big hits. We need more contact from him."
Hobbs will again return to third base. He hit .426 last season with 12 RBI.
"Garrett had a solid season at the plate last year and this fall batting over .400 both seasons," Ferguson said. "We need Garrett to step up this year on the mound and eat up some innings. When not on the mound he will play third base."
Clay will get the starting nod at short stop. He hit .167 last year with three RBI.
"Paton played a lot as a freshman last year and was solid defensively as our short stop," Ferguson said. "We need Paton to up his batting average this year and also pitch some big innings for us."
Ferguson will also mix in a host of newcomers, including: River Fields, Jacob Wolf, Brent Anderson, Bob Randall, Landon Wright, Levi Moore and J.R. Vinson.
"We have dropped back to Class 2 and into a very tough but wide open district," Ferguson said. "We are in with Pierce City, Purdy, Sarcoxie, College Heights, and McAuley, and all are very solid teams."
As for the conference race, Ferguson believes it is wide open as well, with four or five teams capable of taking the championship.
"As always, Purdy will be a big rival and we split in the fall," he said. "One of us has won the league for at least the last 10 years. McAuley and Wheaton are solid, and Exeter was the most improved team I seen in the fall. Verona, now in its second season of baseball, will be improved and have some good athletes."
Southwest opens the home portion of their schedule on Tuesday against Hurley.