Baseball season is right around the corner, and while the weather is warming, the game is changing. Bigger bases, ghost runners, pitch clocks, shift limitations, you name it. Thankfully in the world of High School sports, this season will be just like the last, except for the crop of new talent ready to take center stage in 2023. Practices are getting underway and teams are champing at the bit to show off their diving catches, filthy curves, frozen ropes, barreled-up sweet spots and blinding flashes of leather.
Ameritime Sports is back in the trenches, eye-blacked up and excited to bring you the breakdowns of this year’s teams. Next up are the Hillsboro Hawks.
The Hawks had a tough regular season last year, going just 8-15 with seven cancelled games, but they did show some resolve in the District Tournament. They walloped Farmington 12-0 before falling to their rivals, the Festus Tigers, who went all the way to the State Championship game.
It certainly wasn’t the season Hillsboro drew up, but there were some sparks to go along with the pitfalls. The team lost superstar Austin Romaine, who graduated early after committing to play football for Kansas State, plus five critical Seniors to graduation, including Cruz Valencia, Andrew Chavez and Andrew Brody. But the Hawks boast 10 Seniors this season, and they have completely retooled the coaching staff. Jaxin Patterson, Gavin Hite, Zach Reynolds and Kyle Turman return as well, and should help establish a core.
As for the coaches, the changes started at the top, with Hillsboro bringing in a new Head Coach in Matt Thompson. He will be joined by Assistant Coach Chris Grewe, who will be managing the pitching staff, De Soto Legion Baseball Head Coach Zach Lynn and former Mizzou player Luke Boyster.
When asked about his staff, the Head Coach said, “All three of these guys bring a ton of knowledge and experience to the table, and can help our practices be much more efficient in the time we have.”
That’s a good start to turning things around. To expand on that, Ameritime Sports caught up with Coach Thompson and picked his brain about this year’s team. We asked what he need to do to get the team ready for this year to try and reverse last season’s record, and his focus was on offense. He explained by saying, “The number one thing is we have to hit. If you look back at the scores of all of those games last year you see a big difference in scoring. One game you see 10+ runs and then most of them you see 0-1-2 runs… that usually tells you that a team beats up bad pitching and struggles against anything that is average or above average, so we have to get better in the box in the off season.”
In addition to bolstering the offense, Coach Thompson feels that trimming the roster will be beneficial as well.
“This year, to start off, is going to be tough roster-wise, simply because of the amount of kids we have. Last year I know there were games with 24-26 kids dressed out and many of those kids returned. In my philosophy that’s just a very large number and we’ve got to cut that down to 18 or so, which in doing so, is going to unfortunately draw the line where some kids who have played for the past few years may not make the cut.”
That being said, there are some fixtures that will remain in place. The aforementioned names above will return, but there will be some new blood as well. Thomson expanded on that with, “our Junior class is really a focal point of where the future of our program is going to go. Yet, at the same time we have 10 Seniors on the team, but the benefit of that is most of those Seniors spend the majority of their time on the bump rather than in the box. We do have three Sophomores who have put in a lot of offseason work that will look to really push the Juniors and Seniors in Aiden Roland, Gunner Sutton and a Varsity returner in Keynan Drury.
So the old guard will be around mostly in a pitching capacity, which leaves a lot of vacancies for some of these younger guys to step up on offense and improve the program. Which leads us to the rotation.
When asked about what this year’s crop of starters will look like, Coach Thompson described it as a strength, and has high expectations. “The rotation looks extremely deep, which sounds like a really nice problem to have, but we’ve gotta have a few guys really step up and fill our top two spots especially. But with 32-34 games on our schedule there are weeks where we will have to go with four starting arms for sure. Returning Gavin Hite, who carried quite a load last year at this level will be big for us. As well as Seniors Kyle Turman and Zach Reynolds, who all have flashed some great numbers at showcases over the winter. Some other pieces are guys who had great summers like Dom Sutton and Keynan Drury, with some hard working offseason arms behind them in Dane Dickmann and Elliot Puhse. Throw all that together with our returning catcher Tommy Foerster, who has caught the bulk of all of these guys’ innings and hopefully we can flip that record from last year around.”
The last bit of business is the team’s schedule, which is always tough in Class 5, District 1. Knowing that every opponent is always a challenge, Thompson had this to say about what he’s most concerned with, “the biggest thing about our schedule is the tough Conference/District games that all land on Thursday and Friday nights. You have to really have all your arms available essentially two nights in a row to try and sweep a series each weekend.”
No one is saying it will be easy, but this revamped Hillsboro squad seems to have a plan in place, and the pieces to make it work. The team and fans alike are hoping that the rebuild/turnaround comes to fruition in 2023.
Good luck Hawks!