Eagles testing new skies
Purdy sets sail in new baseball conference
In his 14 years at the helm of Purdy, Joshua Hughes has led the Eagles to 10 district titles.
Last year, they won a share of the Ozark 7 crown with Southwest, but a conference change to the SouthWest Central League (SWCL) will make that repetitive task more difficult.
Hughes has said numerous times that the baseball conference is much deeper now, and his team will be battle-tested.
“I feel we have a shot to be successful this year if we work hard and prepare for every possible scenario,” Hughes said. “We will try to outwork our opponents at practice. Joining the storied history of the SWCL will add a dimension we are not used to, but we will welcome every opportunity to play quality programs that the SWCL is made up of.
“The SWCL fall and spring record counts toward conference champions and we did our job in the fall going undefeated, but that doesn’t mean we are expecting to win it based on the fall. We will go out and prepare to win it through hard work and playing good fundamental baseball.”
The Eagles lost three standouts to graduation in Hunter Cook, Adam Humphrey and Jose Sanchez.
Cook was a Second Team All-State infielder at shortstop, and Humphrey started at third base. Sanchez served as a utility player.
The trio batted leadoff, third and fifth in the lineup last season, and Cook and Humphrey were two of the team’s top three starting pitchers.
The cupboard certainly isn’t bare, however, as Purdy returns three players who received All-State recognition last season in Carl Hughlett, Andrew Martinez and Mason Schallert.
Hughlett, a senior and Martinez, a junior were both Second Team picks. Schallert, a senior, was named to the Honorable Mention team.
The trio accounted for 157 RBI in 18 games.
Hughlett was a .380 hitter last spring with three homeruns.
“With the juniors and seniors returning, and a really good underclassmen group, we look forward to the season,” Hughlett said. “We have worked hard this fall and offseason to hopefully prepare us for the spring. Martinez has been explosive since he burst onto the diamond as a freshman.”
Opposing pitchers worked around Martinez as a sophomore, batting in the three or four hole. He had four homeruns and 24 RBI in the fall, and batted .463 last spring with 39 RBI.
“He’s a very quiet kid,” Hughes said. “I try to get him to be a little more vocal, and that’s just not his personality.”
Schallert is the only returning starter. He started last spring as the team’s third or fourth starter but was a solid number two by the end of the season. He finished with a 4-1 record with a 1.11 ERA.
“Our team goals are the same this year as years past — we want to compete for a conference and district title,” Schallert said. “If we work hard, we could achieve the biggest goal we have and make it to the final four.”
“He pitched the semifinals in districts and he was going to pitch the quarterfinal if we won the sectional,” Hughes said.
“I’m glad to have him back on the mound. We expect him to take a big step.”
Schallert hit .361 at the plate. He drove in 27 runs in the fall.
Other returning starters include senior Kyler Propps and junior Zane Brown. Propps started at second and short last season but he’s moved to the outfield this year, a more natural position for him. Hughes said he was exceptional in right field during the fall season. He’ll also bat in the leadoff position.
“The seniors have had great success over the past three years and we look forward to the challenge of continuing that success,” Propps said. “We had a really good fall season, and hope to build on that and turn it into a deep postseason run.”
Brown appeared in nine games last spring with four starts. He struck out 42 and had an ERA of 1.18.
Purdy will also start four sophomores this season. The group is led by Jake Brown, the only freshman to start for the Eagles last season. He started every game in center field and will probably bat ninth this year but is good enough to be the leadoff. The others are Andy Aldaba, Osiel Aldava and Clay Henderson.
Andy Aldaba was recovering from a torn ACL and didn’t resume baseball activity until last April. He’ll play shortstop and likely pitch as the team’s third starter.
Purdy opens the season on Saturday with a doubleheader in Clever against the Blue Jays and Monett.
Purdy hosts Diamond on Friday at 4:30 p.m.