Return six starters from last year's 26-6 team

The Boonville Pirates baseball team knows that last year’s second place finish at the state tournament in O’Fallon wasn’t the piece of hardware they were looking for.
While making their fourth appearance in the Final Four last year, the Pirates are looking at the 2017 season as unfinished business under head coach Fred Smith.
And why not. After all, the Pirates return six out of nine starters back from last year’s team, which finished 26-6 overall and 12-0 in the NCMC.
Of course being a baseball town, the Pirates also have plenty of numbers with 41 suited out for the 2017 season.
Smith stopped nothing short of saying he thinks the Pirates can get back to the Final Four.
“That’s our goal obviously every year,” Smith said. “We want to win the conference, then win the district and then ultimately get to the Final Four. I think we have the ability. I also think the talent is there, but we are still looking for a couple of guys to lead; kind of get them on their back and carry the team and show them the right places to be and things to do off the field.”
Although the Pirates will open the conference season next Tuesday at home against the Fulton Hornets, they will have already played three games  at Cocoa Beach, Florida on March 17-19.
Boonville will open in Cocoa Beach on Friday against the Class 5 defending state champions (Melbourne Central Catholic) from Florida and then play one game on Saturday and one game on Sunday.
With more than two thirds of the team back from last year’s trip to the state tournament, Smith said he feels like this year’s team has more ability and understands the game well. But last year, he said, the Pirates had more accountability.
“Defensively, we are going to be fine and offensively I don’t think we will lose anything with the exception of Dalton’s bat. No matter how you slice it, Bealmer had one of the best high school seasons in history offensively at Boonville. His bat is going to be hard to replace but if those guys will contribute like they did last year and Ficken has a stellar year, you put all the pieces together, your combine numbers will end up being as good or better.”
Just for the record, Bealmer led the Pirates in almost every category last year while hitting .488 with 41 hits, 22 singles, two triples, seven home runs and 34 RBIs.
Junior Kole Ficken led the team in at-bats with 97 while Jady Reese had a team-high 13 doubles and Bryce Fuemmeler with 27 runs scored.
Smith said it will be tough replacing the players from last year but the talent is there. He said Jake Esser helped the team on the mound all season long last year and was a quality starter while catcher Jady Reese was the team leader behind the plate. Also helping out  last year was starting center fielder Bryce Fuemmeler, who hit .333 with a fielding percentage of .976 and 20 stolen bases.
The Pirates will also return seven pitchers from last year’s team, which includes two pitchers (Nick Zeitlow and Jared Viertel) who were both 7-1 with ERAs less than 2.00.
Smith said he thinks Boonville will have more pitching than anybody else.
“If it was the old days I wouldn’t worry about it too much because we could patch it up and make it work easy enough, but with these new pitching rules you have to decide whether to sit him three days or whether you sit him four days. If I need a pitcher for the fourth game down the road I am going to patch it together with these other guys to get six outs and let’s get out of town. I think I have five guys that can give us innings. Obviously we know Zeitlow is our No. 1 and Viertel is our No. 2. I honestly think Trae Williams, whether he goes 3-4-5, right now I consider him our No. 3 guy because he mixes things up.”
Behind Esser last year, Viertel had the second highest number of innings with 45 2/3. Zeitlow, meanwhile, was fourth at 39 innings. However of all the pitchers, Zeitlow had the most strikeouts with 59 and best ERA at 1.256.
Other pitchers who will see the mound this season behind Zeitlow, Viertel and Williams are seniors Weston Fahrenbrink and Zach Weber, juniors Mason Hage and Kellen Barnes, sophomores Connor Barnes, Reece Lang and possibly freshman Nathan Platt.
Smith said Hage will do what he does and that is throw strikes. “I also think Connor Barnes and Kellen Barnes will do well,” Smith said. “Connor has looked really good in the indoor bullpens. He just needs a little more maturation. And then on the left-handed side, Lang will come in and give us a couple of innings. He is tall and lanky. As for Platt, another lefty, I think he can come in and possibly throw some for us late in the year. Fahrenbrink, meanwhile, will be the closer. He doesn’t mix things up but he is the type of kid that says here it is, now hit it.”
The Pirates will also return plenty of pop on the infield, with Ficken back at third after hitting .289 with 28 hits in 97 at-bats with 29 RBIs and 26 runs scored.
Senior Riley Lang also returns on the left side of the infield at shortstop. A two-year starter at that position for Boonville, Lang hit .299 with 23 hits in 77 at-bats with 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored.
As for the right side of the infield, senior Blake Barnes returns at second after hitting .215 with 17 hits in 79 at-bats. Meanwhile, at first base, Smith will look to possibly three players platooning in juniors Ben Horst, Avery Reardon and Sam Wiser.
Horst played in a total of 12 games last year and had 27 at-bats. Reardon, meanwhile, played in 22 games and hit .288 with 17 hits in 59 at-bats. Reardon also had the big hit in the semifinal game last year against Fulton to bring in the winning run.
At catcher, sophomore Dylan Watson will get the starting nod after playing behind Jady Reese last year. While appearing in 11 games, Watson hit .304 with seven hits in 23 at-bats.
Smith said Horst will be the backup catcher.
“We will use Ben to rest Dylan,” Smith said. “Between Ben, Avery and Dylan we are going to have one guy catching, one guy playing first and one guy as the designated hitter. I think the infield as a whole will be stronger because not only do we have Riley at short, we have Trae Williams who moves well. You have Blake at second and then Ethan Waibel can play either shortstop or second.”
As for the outfield, senior Makiah Waibel will move over from right to center with junior Ethan Waibel in left and  seniors Zach Weber, Weston Fahrenbrink, Ryan Witting and Nick Zeitlow battling it out in right.
Makiah Waibel hit .300  in 16 games but only had 20 at-bats last year. Zeitlow had 39 at-bats and hit .231 while Weber had 15 at-bats and batted .400 with six hits.
“Ethan has the nod in left,” Smith said. “Weber is coming back from an injury so we will get him a couple of at-bats in Florida. He was hoping he could win the job in right. As for Makiah in center, he will do great. He flies all over the place. He made the catch in right in the rain last year to get us to the Final Four. Again, the pieces are there. We have to stay healthy and a couple of kids have to step up, especially in the pitcher’s role.”
As for the conference this year, Smith said he doesn’t know if it will be like last year where two teams stood out and it was kind of broken into three sections.
“I think it is going to be pretty evenly matched,” Smith said. “I think 1-2 teams will separate themselves fairly early and then I think the rest of it is going to be a dogfight. I don’t think anybody is going to be terrible. I think it’s ours if we come to play. Fulton probably has the best team nucleus returning but we have the most pitching and pretty good balance with 5-6 starters coming back so it just depends how it unfolds or who gets hot at the right time.”