For the Bunceton Dragons baseball team, the goal is simple for the 2019 season.
With only 11 players suited out for the season under head coach Dustin Ray, nine of which are returning starters, the Dragons goal is only to improve on this past fall and last spring.
While finishing 8-8 in the fall and 8-6 overall in the spring, Ray said the Dragons had a decent fall but they are better than what they have shown. “A one run loss in the conference championship is something that has kept us up at night,” Ray said. “We can hit with just about any team that we play, but defensively we seem to struggle in close games. I am extremely excited to see what a little more maturity has done for us.”
With the conference champion decided in the fall, Ray said the next thing the Dragons want to accomplish this spring is to win more games than they did in the fall, finish with a fielding percentage about .930, a ERA below 4.00 and score six runs per game.
That’s several of the goals. However with a opportunistic offense, Ray said he feels like the Dragons will be a solid hitting team with a decent mix of power and speed. In other words, Ray feels like Bunceton will be tough outs throughout the lineup.
“Pitching is also another strength that I believe we will have,” Ray said. “We are going to throw strikes and limit free passes. You all know as well as I do that filling up the zone is the most important thing, we can’t defend the free pass.”
Of course Ray also knows that the team’s biggest weakness is making all of the defensive plays they are supposed to. He said as a whole, the fielding percentage was extremely below his liking. “The error bug seems to bite us when the pressure is on, and good teams can’t let that happen,” Ray said.
As for the pitching staff this season for Bunceton, Ray said seniors Layne Maddex and Brayden Doyle and juniors Dillon Alpers and Hunter Shuffield will all split time on the bump this fall. Ray said Alpers will give the team the chance to beat just about anybody. “Dillon has a very solid arm,” Ray said. “As for Layne, he is a competitor. He is going to throw strikes and throws a hammer. Brayden is a lefty that is going to compete against the teams  we need him to, while Hunter will be our closer. He has a tough arm to face late in the game.”
Ray will also have a familiar face behind the plate in sophomore Jason Burnett. While hitting .313 last fall with 15 hits in 48 at bats.
Ray said Burnett is also the team captain, lead off hitter and just the outright general on the field. “This guy is a special one to have behind the dish, shutting down the run game and taking care of our pitchers,” Ray said.
On the infield, Ray said Alpers Shuffield and senior Dylan Flatt will play the middle and all are interchangeable at both middle spots. “They worked super well together this fall and they are only going to be better this spring,” Ray said. As for the corners, Shuffield Maddex and Doyle will be the stoppers for us. They also have solid gloves that are going to make very few mistakes for us.”
The infield also returns everybody from the fall and spring. Doyle led the team in hitting with a .528 clip with 19 hits in 36 at bats with 13 singles and five doubles. Alpers hit .238 with 13 hits in 46 at bats with a team-leading 19 runs scored. Flatt batted .444 with 16 hits in 35 at bats with 13 singles and a team-leading 16 RBIs. Shuffield finished the ball hitting .300 with 12 hits in 40 at bats with five doubles. Maddex, meanwhile, hit .275 with 11 hits in 40 at bats while tying with three other players for the lead in home runs with one.
As for the outfield, Ray will look to Bryce McFarland, Hunter Riechers, Trevor Anderson, Dakota Rose and Austin Alpers to see playing time this spring. Ray said the outfield has kind of been a weak spot but these five have been working very hard to improve on what they needed to to become a better team. “They are hungry for the ball now, where they were timid before,” Ray said.