GROVE - The Ridgerunners baseball team is ready to get back on the field for the 2020 season which kicked off on Monday, March 2, at home against district opponent Oologah.
The Ridgerunners will have a new look this year after graduating nine players and bringing in a new head coach. Last year’s Ridgerunners went 32-8, 14-0 in district play, hosted and won a Bi-District and Regional, and made it to the State tournament before being eliminated by Harrah 2-1.
This year's edition of Ridgerunners will feature five seniors, eight juniors, six sophomores, and sixteen freshman.
“After graduating seven starters, we had a lot of work to do,” said Grove Head Coach Drew Osborne. “We have a completely re-tooled lineup and pitching staff. I still expect these guys to compete, especially after the amount of work they put in during the off season. These guys have done a great job transitioning and continuing to work hard on their game.”
Senior Colin Craig signed with North Central Missouri College to pitch and compete for an infield spot following graduation. Craig will be relied on heavily by his Ridgerunner teammates both on the mound and in the middle of the order. Craig is expected to play first base and be an anchor in the rotation.
“Colin has done a really good job preparing for this season,” Osborne said. “I think he will do really well for us in a leadership position on and off the field.”
Senior Hayes Pavatt is no stranger to Ridgerunner fans either. Pavatt will start behind the plate for the third year in a row.
“We need Hayes to be a leader for our guys on the field,” Osborne said. “He is the guy who sees everything and communicates it to everyone else. He is a very strong defensive catcher who will do a great job for us.”
Senior Logan Engles is expected to play center field and pitch in relief for the Ridgerunners.
“The amount of work Logan has put in is incredible,” Osborne said. “We were literally talking about cutting him after his freshman year. We decided to give him the opportunity to keep working that summer and we are glad we did. He spent that entire summer working to get better and we realized we had a kid who was going to be a starter and play at a high level.”
Senior Cole Diesing is also expected to contribute to the Ridgerunners inning total on the mound.
“Diesing has worked to earn a spot in relief with the chance to start some games for us this year,” Osborne said. “He will give us quality innings and compete while he is out there.”
Senior Bryce Davis is expected to start in right field for the Ridgerunners to begin the year.
“Bryce is a great kid,” assistant coach Eric Hunsperger said. “He is a kid that works really hard and never complains. We really enjoy having him on this team.” Davis will play a strong outfield for the Ridgerunners.
The junior class will have a strong presence in the Ridgerunners lineup as well. Layne Rutherford will be the top option at shortstop and will see a lot of time on the mound. Isaac Lopez will be the super utility man being expected to play multiple positions on the infield as well as pitch in relief. Cooper Smith will also start on the mound and in the infield as he is expected to start at third base. Ayden Hunsperger will get the starting nod in left field. Hank Hacker is expected to give the Ridgerunners a large quantity of innings on the mound as well as competing for a starting spot either at first base or in the outfield. Wyatt Wall will get some starts at second base and may see some time on the mound in relief as well. Chase Coughran will serve primarily as the Ridgerunners designated hitter and will be a staple in the top third of the Ridgerunner lineup.
“Our juniors will be a big part of this team,” Osborne said. “They will fill out the rest of the lineup around the seniors and be an integral part of our success or failure. We are relying on them for a big portion of our innings on the mound and about half of our at bats this year. I expect them to do a great job.”
The sophomore class is expected to make a contribution to this year's team as well. Corbin Beal is expected to compete for innings on the mound and possible time at first base or at bats. Jace McPhetridge is expected to be the primary courtesy runner used this season by the Ridgerunners. Duncan Highley and Alex Oliver are also competing for some backup time in the outfield and possibly some at bats. Oliver could also get some innings on the mound. Alec Davis and Garett Jensen are also competing for a bigger role.
“Our sophomores are a big part of this team,” Osborne said. “Those guys are always one play away from getting a chance. Most of the time they will be developing for next year, but we have almost the same number of sophomores as graduates this year. Their time will be coming soon and they need to be ready.”
New for the Ridgerunners this year will be the addition of a freshman schedule.
“With 16 freshman we have to find a way to get them on the field. We want them in game situations to get a chance to develop and get better. We don’t want them just standing around waiting for someone to spend time with them,” Osborne said. “We want them playing as much as possible so we went out and made a schedule for them and brought Coach Cowen in to run practice time for them.”
The Ridgerunners hired assistant Osborne to fill the role of head coach after Donny Pennington resigned following the season. Osborne is not new to the district serving four years as an assistant in both baseball and softball. Osborne is a former pitching coach at the college level who spent time coaching in the Great Lakes Collegiate Summer League last year and has head coach experience in Missouri. Osborne will be assisted by long time Ridgerunners Eric Hunsperger and Justin Teel. Paul Cowen and Stephen Palesano will help as well.
One big highlight for the Ridgerunners this year is a spring break trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Members of the team will get a chance to travel south to enjoy warmer weather, show their skills to colleges who may not otherwise see them play, learn the history of Fort Morgan and the USS Alabama warship, and develop team camaraderie. The parents will also get to enjoy a short vacation watching baseball for spring break. The Ridgerunners will also compete in the 21st Annual Mickey Mantle Classic in Commerce. This year’s featured guest will be Royals great Frank White. The Ridgerunners will also travel to Harrison, Arkansas to compete in the Ozark’s Classic. The team will also get to play at Arvest Park in Springdale, Arkansas where the Northwest Arkansas Naturals play. Senior night is scheduled when the Ridgerunners host the Jay Bulldogs on April 24. The alumni of both towns will also get a chance to relive their glory days when they face off against each other that night under the lights.
The Ridgerunners opened the season on Monday, March 2, at 5 p.m. at the Jim Beauchamp Field. The team will be on the road on Tuesday, March 3, playing Oologah for a second time.