The Boonville Pirates baseball team couldn’t be more ready to start the 2020 season.
With the season still up in the air due to Covid-19, Boonville head coach Adam Arnette said the team is preparing like they will have a full season and take it day by day.
As it turns out, Boonville will open the 2020 season this coming Friday on the road against the Fulton Hornets. Then, on Saturday, the Pirates will play both Capital City and Fatima at Twillman field in Harley park.
After finishing the 2019 season at 17-9 overall and 7-0 in the Tri-County Conference, Boonville will return the bulk of its lineup with five starters and one designated hitter.
Nonetheless, it all comes down to whether MSHSAA pulls the plug on the season or decides to let teams play in the spring.
“MSHSAA just made a statement that the spring season hasn’t changed, but the situation is fluid,” Arnette said. “We really haven’t changed too much in practice but it could alter the way we do some things. I’m going to talk to the players today about taking precautions.”
While falling one game short last year, losing to Helias in the district championship, Arnette said the outlook for the season is really positive.
“We have a great group of guys that play well together as a team with really positive attitudes and have gone about business the right way so far,” Arnette said. “We’re trying to change the mentality of our guys and just go about things the right like hustle all the time and just take care of business and so far this is the most productive beginning of the season we’ve ever had.”
If the Pirates do get to play this season, they will be looking to defend their title in the Tri-County Conference after a perfect mark in 2019.
Arnette said he sees the conference being competitive again this season with Southern Boone, Blair Oaks and Hallsville at the top.
“Southern Boone is going to be really good again,” Arnette said. “I really think it’s going to fall out about the same way it did last year. Hallsville is always solid. Blair Oaks returns as the defending state champion in Class 3, but I saw where they bumped up to Class 4 this spring. I think it will be the same teams at the top and then a couple falling in at the bottom. I’m hoping we can defend our title. I’m confident that we are going to have a solid team and we’re going to hit the ball well, play great defense and let the pitchers fill up the zone.”
With three starters returning on the infield for the Pirates, Arnette said he feels like the defense will be solid all the way around. He said since March 2, the Pirates have gotten a top of reps in this spring. “We also have a lot of good bats that are returning, so I really don’t feel there are many holes in the lineup,” Arnette said. “At the same time, I would say that youth is probably going to be our weakness. We don’t have a lot of seniors. We have a lot of freshmen and a lot of juniors. We’re also going to have some young kids that are going to come in and fill in and they are going to have to do jobs for us on the mound and in positions such as running and hitting. They’re fighting for jobs. We have a lot of young guys that are hungry and they’re fighting for spots.”
As the defending TCC champions, Arnette said obviously the team would like to defend their conference championship this season and then take that next step and play for another district title and move on to the next round.
“Obviously, we would like to have a winning season and be in every game,” Arnette said. “It’s going to depend on the weather, too, in some of these games. It’s like our motto, which changes day to day. We have a lot of things that we are working on that you want to see day in and day out at practice and in games. We change our words every day we come out to practice. We always have a statement of the day at practice and kids carry it around with them every day. They also see our goals every day on their sheet they carry around in practice.”
Like every team that loses players to graduation, the Pirates were no different in 2019 with key losses to the pitching staff in Conner Barnes and Reece Lang. While both are pitching at the junior college level, Arnette said the starting rotation isn’t quite set yet.
“We have a couple of young guys that will compete for spots,” Arnette said. “Jamesian McKee will be up there. Cade Schupp will be competing for a spot along with Lane West, Charlie Bronakowski and Kayle Rice-who can throw a little bit. We also have a lot of guys that can come in and eat some innings for us as well.”
Barnes and Lang combined for 98 1/3 of the team’s 163 innings last year. They also figured in 11 of the team’s 17 wins. Throw in Trae Williams, who pitched 32 1/3 innings with a record of 4-2, and it’s not surprising that Boonville could be a pitcher by committee this season.
As for the pitchers that Arnette will count on this season, Rice logged only 9 innings-most in relief. McKee pitched five innings but threw a no-hitter against Eldon in the Boonville Wood Bat Tournament. Other pitchers who saw time on the mound were Bryce Harris for 3 1/3 innings, Lane West 3 innings and Axton Nease 2 1/3 innings.
Arnette said McKee will probably be the starter on Friday against Fulton.
“Again, I don’t know if we will have a set rotation,” Arnette said. “It’s also going to depend on the health of our defense because some of those guys are going to play positions for us as well. It’s going to depend on the teams we’re playing and the health of our guys. However, the guys I have seen I think we look really good so far.”
As for the infield, where Boonville will have most of it’s experience back from last year, junior Kayle Rice will get the starting nod at catcher. As the full-time designated last year, Rice returns after hitting .342 with 13 hits in 38 at-bats.
Arnette said Rice will do a great job behind the plate. “I’m confident that he would have started for most teams that we played,” Arnette said. “Kayle is a great catcher and a great hitter. He’s going to be a leader for us and we look for him to do a great job for us and not skip a beat back there. He will also be in the middle of the lineup along with Saylor Marquez.”
Marquez also returns at first base for Boonville after hitting .339 with 21 hits in 62 at-bats with a team-leading 21 RBIs and 15 runs scored. Marquez also tied with four other players on the team with one home run.
Arnette said Marquez is going to be a solid hitter for the Pirates. “He’s look great at first,” Arnette said. “He’s going to be steady for us.”
As for the rest of the infield, Arnette said he doesn’t know if they are set in the middle at second base and shortstop. He said junior Peyton Taylor has looked really good at second and will be solid defensively. “Peyton will play wherever we put him,” Arnette said. “After that, I really don’t know. There are a bunch of young guys behind him.”
As for the left side of the infield, junior Lane West will return at third base but that’s the only thing certain at this time. Arnette said McKee has looked good at short but also mentioned Colby as a possibility along with Bronakowski and Taylor.
“Colby has looked good at both short and in the outfield,” Arnette said. However, I’m super confident with the infield we have. They’ve gotten more reps and get better every day.”
Boonville will also return several experienced players in the outfield, with senior Josh Polk back in left and senior Peyton Keeran in center.
Polk returns after hitting .282 last spring with 11 hits in 39 at-bats. Keeran, meanwhile, hit .333 last year with 27 hits in 81 at-bats with a team-leading 19 singles, six doubles and two triples. Keeran also finished the season with 17 RBIs and scored 14 runs.
In right, Arnette said senior Cale Fox will get the starting nod but noted that Caton and Hunter Pethan are also in the mix.
“I think the outfield is going to be pretty solid,” Arnette said. “I think we’re faster than we have been in the past. We have pretty good arms out there and they are going to take care of business. Again, I think we’re going to be pretty solid overall. I think we’re going to surprise some people. Like I said, we have some young guys out there but they are hungry and want to win spots.”