When the Boonville Pirates baseball team takes the field for the first time Monday in the season opener against the Hallsville Indians, the 2012 season will be a thing of the past.
And for good reason. Although the conference season was slightly better than the team record, as the Pirates slipped to 11-16 overall and 4-8 in the NCMC, they both were the first losing seasons in the history of the program.
But that’s all gone. This season with 28 players suited out for the 2013 campaign, the Pirates will have no excuses with eight returning starters and nine returning letterwinners under sixth-year head coach Tim Edwards.
Beginning his 21st season overall, Edwards said there are a lot of young guys on the team who have put in a lot of work since last year.
“Obviously last year was a disappointment,” stated Edwards. “We had some injuries coming into the year that forced a lot of young guys into the lineup that probably were in a little bit over their head last year but I think that’s really going to help us this year because we have good experience with some guys even some freshmen and now they are sophomores back as varsity players.”
Edwards should know after coaching in over 400 games in 21 years. With a overall record of 298-11, Edwards has proven that he also knows what it takes to win at Boonville while sporting a record of 92-35 in five years.
He said Wednesday that hopefully the 2012 season was just an aberration.
“I felt going into the season that if we would had had all of our guys, we would have been right in the mix where we typically are in the conference race,” Edwards said. “We still finished runner-ups in the district and had a good chance to win that game against Marshall, but overall last year the season was disappointing. We lost some close ballgames, made some young mistakes as the season went on but I think we learned from those things, and we hope this year, I feel pretty confident that coming into this year, that we have some young guys who have put in the work and that’s going to get us right back to where we have been in the past.”
But even then it won’t be easy, especially in the NCMC against the likes of Kirksville, Fulton, Mexico and Moberly, who Edwards considers tough teams year in and year out.
He said he sees the conference as being wide open this spring. Edwards also praised Kirksville coach Andy Jackson for the job he does year after year at Kirksville and said Fulton scares him a little bit because they have probably the best player in the conference and some other players to go with him.
Page 2 of 5 - “Mexico has an outstanding sophomore class,” Edwards said. “The next few years they will be a force to be reckoned with. Marshall just came off a Final Four appearance. They lost most of their pitching but coach Ian Verts does a good job up there. Hannibal has a new coach this year and so does Moberly so both of those programs are going through a change. It’s going to be wide-open and very balanced I think.”
But even with Kirksville and Fulton possibly at the top, Edwards said he would like to think that Boonville is right in the mix.
“We have not even seen a ball come off our bat and know where it lands yet because we haven’t hit at all except in a cage,” said Edwards. “We feel like we are swinging the bats very well, we feel like we can pitch and we feel like we can play defense, but for the most part we are clueless just like everybody else. We are clueless at what we have at this point because we haven’t been on the field yet.”
With so many variables that go into the game of baseball, Edwards said pitching will be the key. He said senior Caleb Hein returns after having a great year last year on the mound and will be the senior leader on the hill. And then if you want to go deep into the lineup, Edwards said the Pirates will also have a couple of young throwers in lefties Chase Snapp and Jordan Copeland, who are both doing a great job.
“We have to keep some guys healthy like Ethan Sander, Dallas Franklin, Keaton Barnes and Alec Viertel,” Edwards said. “They have all battled some arm issues in the past but they can be very effective on the mound, too. We just need to keep them healthy.”
While hitting .250 as a team last year with 171 hits in 684 at-bats, Edwards said it’s too early to tell but the players swinging in the cage look really, really good. He said hitting should be a strength along with the defense, which starts up the middle.
“I think we are pretty much set there with Zach Nixon, a good senior leader who swings it well and plays a good second base, and Austin Hulbert, although he is just a sophomore, returning at shortstop. He nailed down the shortstop position last year as a freshman and is a slick little fielder and has really come along with the bat, too. As far as the outfield, Jacob Francis is returning in center. He may be there again this year. Ethan Sander did a good job as an outfielder as well.
Page 3 of 5 - “We also have John Reese, who has come a long, long way, especially in his swing. He looks outstanding in the cage. We also have Keaton Barnes, who is swinging it very well, and Kelsey Callaway. We have 5-6 outfielders there and there are a couple of more that we could consider out there as well. A lot of those bats are going to have to be in the lineup. Some of them may have to work on the infield a little bit. We can also run. We have good team speed overall and that will help us as well.”
Of course like any team the Pirates will also have several areas that they may need to work on during the course of the season. Edwards said the one thing that concerns him about this year’s team is where they are mentally after coming off a disappointing season last year.
“If we get off to a good start and we gain some confidence early, that is going to be huge,” Edwards said. “If we struggle early and guys start to question themselves again like I think we did a little bit last year, we will have to battle through that. That’s one of my things just trying to get the kids to believe in themselves again after coming off a losing season and if we can have some faith in ourselves and keep working hard I think we will be fine.”
The goals, no matter what the team has coming back year to year, will also remain the same, Edwards said. He said the team wants to compete for a conference and district championship and then progress from there.
For the Pirates to have any kind of success this season, it comes as no secret that the pitching staff will have to improve on it’s win-loss record for starters and 3.83 ERA.
Although Hein won’t make his first start until Tuesday in the conference opener against Fulton, the senior hurler will be looked upon to improve on last year’s record after posting a mark of 4-2 with an ERA of 2.02. In 34 2/3 innings last year, Hein gave up 15 runs, 10 earned, on 19 hits while walking 15 and striking out 25.
“We are looking at Caleb to be our No. 1 starter for the most part,” Edwards said. “He is throwing great in the bullpen.”
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Other players that Edwards will look to on the mound this season are Chase Snapp, Dallas Franklin, Jordan Copeland, Ethan Sander, Alec Viertel, Josh Judd, John Reese and Jalen Poindexter. Poindexter, who will be used primarily behind the plate, had the fourth highest number of innings last year with 19 behind Wes Davis (47 1/3), Keith Poindexter (41 2/3) and Hein (34 2/3). Franklin pitched 11 2/3 innings, followed by Barnes with 7 1/3 innings, Snapp at 6 1/3 innings, Viertel at 2 2/3 innings, Sander 1.0 inning and Copeland with 1/3 inning.
Page 4 of 5 - Edwards said Snapp has done an outstanding job. “His change-up has really improved,” Edwards said. “He keeps the ball down in the zone and his velocity has come up a little bit. We do have some depth at pitching as long as we can keep the guys healthy. I think we can be pretty solid on the mound and that’s one thing we will need because there are some weeks we play a lot of ballgames.”
Other than Hein as a lock on the mound this season, Edwards seemed to be a little more certain about the status at the catcher position. He said when Hein is on the mound Poindexter will likely do most of the catching this season for Boonville. And why not? After all, Poindexter returns as an all-conference and all-district selection after leading the team in hitting with a .377 clip with 28 hits in 74 at-bats with 15 singles, nine doubles, two triples, two home runs and 22 RBIs.
“Both Jalen and Caleb do a great job catching,” Edwards said. “A lot of it boils down to who is going to hit. When Jalen is on the mound Caleb will probably be catching. If Jalen is not pitching he will probably be catching for the most part. We might use him out at the corners at third base possibly on occasion. We feel catcher is his best position and that’s what is best for Jalen, too, because he is going to be a college baseball player and I think his best option in college is to be a catcher. We feel confident about our catching. We have some other guys in the mix if those guys can’t get it done.”
As for the infield, senior Jay Barnhart will return at first base for the Pirates. However, Edwards said other players who could see some playing time at first are Barnes, Viertel, Snapp, Judd, Reese and Copeland.
“Jay worked very, very hard last year during the season and really came out and did a good job,” Edwards said. “However, we have a lot of guys that have put in a lot of time since last season that are swinging it very well and they may be the ones that end up at first. It’s kind of wide open at this point going in. Again, we have to get the best nine bats in the lineup and if one of those bats has to move to first base than that is what we will do. First base and third base are kind of in the same boat. Barnes and Viertel could be at third base along with Franklin and Poindexter.”
As for the middle of the infield, Nixon will return at second base after hitting .273 with 21 hits in 77 at-bats with 15 singles, five doubles, one home run and 13 RBIs. Hulbert, meanwhile, will return at shortstop after hitting .288 with 17 hits in 59 at-bats with 15 singles, two doubles and two RBIs.
Page 5 of 5 - Other players who could figure into the mix in the middle of the infield are Franklin, Barnes and Judd at short and Quincy Banuet at second.
Edwards said he feels uncertain about the infield because he doesn’t know who is going to end up on the corners.
“I feel certain about the middle but the corners are pretty wide open,” Edwards said. “Regardless of who ends up there I am confident that we will be pretty solid defensively. We have to put guys on the corners who can also hit.”
As for the outfield, junior Jacob Francis will be back for another year in center after hitting .282 with 22 hits in 78 at-bats with 21 singles, one double and seven RBIs. Senior Kelsey Callaway, meanwhile, will get the starting nod in left after coming out of nowhere last year to hit .308 with 16 hits in 52 at-bats with 11 singles, four doubles, one home run and 10 RBIs. In right, Edwards will look to sophomore Ethan Sander.
Barnes, Reese and Copeland could also see some playing time in the outfield, according to Edwards.
“Out of those six guys we have to find three outfielders and probably a designated hitter, so there is some good competition out there for spots,” Edwards said. “I like our depth in the outfield. We have some speed there. We have some guys who can track down a fly ball. Obviously some guys are better offensively and some guys are better defensively, but I like our mix there.”
For the first week of the season, Edwards said obviously conference is important and that you want to win all your home games and steal some games on the road.
“The game at Hallsville is good for us to get off to a good start but it’s not the most important game of the week,” Edwards said. “Every game is important because we want to get that confidence going. Coach Koeneke does an outstanding job at Hallsville and he is going to have his kids ready. It would be good to get a win there but we really want to make sure we get the win against Fulton on Tuesday and then go steal a road win Friday at Hannibal. It would be great to get off to a 2-0 start in conference.”