The Boonville Pirates baseball team came ever so close to reaching the state championship in Class 4 in 2013.
While dropping one-run decisions against Oak Grove and Logan-Rogersville in the Final Four last year, the Pirates also closed out the 2013 campaign at 17-10 overall and 8-4 in the North Central Missouri Conference, which was good enough for second place behind Kirksville.
Fast forward to 2014. With the season set to begin on Friday, March 21st at home against the Hallsville Indians starting at 5 p.m., Boonville Pirates baseball coach Tim Edwards said he thinks the team can be successful again this year.
“We need to make sure that we do all phases of the game well,” Edwards said. “We’ve got guys that can pitch and then we have to hit. In our Jamboree last weekend I thought we were a little bit anxious and kind of overswinging at pitches and trying to pull everything. Defensively I think we will be pretty solid. We have a lot of different options this year. The biggest thing is trying to figure out where the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit because we have different guys that could possibly end up at different positions.”
While it’s no secret that Boonville had some luck along the way to the Final Four last year, Edwards said it’s not a rebuilding year but you have to keep in mind that they were 17-10 in 2013.
He said while the Pirates struggled earlier in the season last year, things came together toward the end of the season.
“We started to play some really good baseball toward the end of the season last year,” Edwards said. “We were really pleased the way things turned out. I just think last year the youth that we started with early in the season took us a while for those guys to kind of get going. That’s going to pay off more for us this year. We are really heavy with our junior class as far as number of players this year. We should start a little quicker than we did last year and hopefully that will translate into more wins.”
The Pirates definitely have the numbers with 41 suited out in grades 9-12. Of those 41, six will return as starters from last year with eight coming back as letterwinners.
Boonville will also have history on its side going into the 2014 season. Entering his seventh year as head coach at Boonville, Edwards is 315-143 overall and 126-55 as the Pirates skipper.
Of course during his tenure at Boonville, the Pirates have been to two Final Fours and have won four conference and district titles in six years.
“We are not starting over,” Edwards said. “We have a lot of guys back from last year.”
But even then, Edwards said it’s going to be tough in the NCMC this spring. He said while the Kirksville Tigers have won the conference the last-two years, Fulton may very well have the best player in the conference and a few players to go around him.
“They beat us in the Jamboree the other day so they are going to be solid,” Edwards said. “Hannibal has two of the top pitchers in the conference who can actually throw it. Mexico is going to be even better than they were last year and they were good last year. Their junior class is loaded with a lot of kids. Kirksville is always there. Marshall was in the Final Four two years ago and they are reloading. Moberly’s coach is doing an outstanding job with their kids. They are excited and learning and they have a good nucleus of kids, too, so it’s going to be wide open in the conference.
“I feel like every year our team out to compete for a conference and district championship just because this is a baseball town. We have kids that love to play year in and year out and do the work in the off-season that play a lot in the summer.”
With so many numbers this spring, Edwards said the strength of the team has to be depth and not just in one position. He said defensively he feels the team will have a lot of depth.
“I also feel like we have a lot of different bats, we can use at times, and I think we have depth on the pitching mound,” Edwards said. “We just have to stay away from injuries. I think we will do a lot of things pretty well but there is also room for improvement on all those things, too.”
Of course you wouldn’t think a team with six starters back would have a weakness. However, Edwards said the big thing is trying to keep guys on the field and keep everybody motivated when they are not on the field.
“Because we have so many guys that can all play you are going to end up with kids that are sitting and playing JV that could probably go play for some other teams in our area,” Edwards said, “and that’s tough but that same type of thing happens at Rock Bridge, Hickman and Helias.”
Edwards said he hasn’t set the goals for the team this year but he said the kids did and they want to win state. He said they were there last year and they got a taste of it and they feel confident that if they do things the right way and go about business, they can achieve those goals.
“When we played Kirksville earlier in the season last year they were a better team than us but when we played them later in the season we were the better team and we had momentum on our side,” Edwards said. “In baseball it’s so much about that day to day matchup against the pitcher, too, and that can make a huge difference. That kid that pitched against us from St. Mary’s the last-two innings if he throws the whole ballgame we have  a hard time hitting him. But he threw the game before so we caught them on their No. 2 and we were able to get a win. You get an error or two here or there or a bad hop and it can cost you a game and you are done for the year. That can happen in the first round of districts, sectionals or quarterfinals. Baseball is a game that you have to get the breaks.”
While losing three all-state players to graduation last year, the Pirates will simply reload with another arsenal of pitchers to step in this season.
Gone from last year are first-team catcher Jalen Poindexter, first-team infielder Zach Nixon and honorable-mention pitcher Caleb Hein.
This year, Edwards said the pitching staff starts with senior Chase Snapp. While earning all-district selections in 2013, Snapp closed out the season at 4-2 overall with one save for a ERA of 2.58. Snapp also logged 43 1/3 innings and gave up 25 runs, 16 earned, on 45 hits and 14 walks while striking out 33 batters.
Edwards said Snapp has worked extremely hard during the off-season. “Chase has worked on his velocity and his off-speed stuff,” Edwards said. “He is going to be our No. 1 going in and of course you are going to have Jordan Copeland. He is another lefty that did a great job for us last year. He got the win against St. Mary’s last year as a sophomore and did an outstanding job. He is a junior that will pitch for us.”
Copeland was perfect for the Pirates last year while posting a record of 3-0 with a ERA of 0.86. In 24 1/3 innings, Copeland gave up 11 runs, three earned, on 21 hits and seven walks while striking out 14 batters.
Edwards said after Snapp and Copeland you have several guys like Josh Judd, who was 1-1 last year, Dallas Franklin, who was 3-1 with a ERA of 1.75 in 28 innings pitched, Alec Viertel, who pitched 12 2/3 innings with a ERA of 2.21, Ethan Sander, who was 1-2 with three saves as the closer with a ERA of 3.65, and Ryan Brown, who is playing for the first time this year.
“We will have good depth at pitching,” Edwards said. “We have a lot of guys that I think can throw pretty well. We don’t have anybody I think we can point out and say man that guy is at the top of his game. All these guys can get better and I think they will.”
The infield will also have depth, starting with the catcher position. Edwards said replacing an all-state player at catcher is a tough gig. He said going into the season that is one of their concerns whether they can do the job Jalen did. “They probably won’t do it quite like Jalen offensively, but hopefully defensively they are comparable to what Jalen did,” Edwards said.
Players that Edwards will look to this season at catcher are sophomores Jady Reese and Dalton Bealmer.
He said while there is no frontrunner at this time a lot of it depends on who is hitting.
“We may be a couple of weeks into the season,” Edwards said of naming a starter. “We feel like both of them can hit, we feel both of them can throw and block the ball, it’s just who is going to do the better job.”
On the infield, Edwards said senior Dallas Franklin was probably penciled in as the first baseman. But until he gets cleared by the doctor, Edwards said Chase Snapp has worked over there along with Alec Viertel and Ryan Brown.
At second, Edwards will look to a pair of juniors in Josh Judd and Quincy Banuet to fill the void left by Nixon.
Meanwhile, on the left side of the infield, Edwards will start the season with two-year starter Austin Hulbert at shortstop. While earning all-conference, all-district and all-state in 2013, Hulbert also excelled at the plate while hitting .308 with 28 hits in 91 at-bats with 20 singles, seven doubles and 11 RBIs. Hulbert also led the team with 25 runs scored.
“Austin just keeps getting better and better,” Edwards said. “He can hit and he is a slick fielder. I think he is going to hit even better this year. Defensively, he is so solid. He is one of those kids that when a ball is hit to short in your mind you are automatically thinking an out.”
Edwards is also hoping that whoever plays third, whether its Viertel or Brown, they will also make the plays. He said right now it depends on who is playing first and who is slinging it better.
“I think we are going to be very solid on the infield,” Edwards said. “It will take some time to figure out who is going to be where, but I think they can get the job done.”
The outfield also remains intact from last year, with senior Keaton Barnes in left, senior Jacob Francis in center and junior Ethan Sander in right.
Barnes and Sander, who were both selected to the all-district team last year, return after hitting .325 and .324, respectively. Sander also led the team in triples last year with three. As for Francis, he hit .257 with 18 hits in 70 at-bats.
Edwards said Copeland is another one that comes to mind in the outfield. “If Jordan is right-handed he would be a perfect second baseman,” Edwards said. “He is a kid that can slide in the outfield in spots. I am sure everytime Ethan pitches Jordan will probably be in right field. Austin Andrews could also play in the outfield if he is hitting. I think we are going to get to a lot of fly balls and we have some strong arms out there. We have some guys that can throw, we have guys who can run and chase the ball down and they have good jumps off the bat.”