The last time the Seymour High School varsity baseball team played a spring game, it was for the Class 2 state championship against Ellington.
The Tigers dropped that contest after winning 10 straight before it and finished the 2019 spring season with 20 wins and the program’s first-ever trip to the elite “Final Four.”
Two years later, Seymour remains the defending district champion as the 2020 spring season was lost to the national COVID-19 pandemic.
However, hopes are high for head coach Jason Duey’s Tigers this spring after a solid 7-7 campaign last fall led by a pair of four-year senior starters, Nathaniel Hosiner and Brock Pearce.
Both hit above a .350 clip in the 14-game fall season and recorded six of Seymour’s seven pitching victories.
Duey said this spring’s ballclub will rely on its two very experienced veterans.
“Brock and Nathaniel were members of the starting lineup on our second-place state team, and both were key contributors on that squad,” he noted. “Both also were members of our team the previous season that won 20 spring games and the Summit Conference championship as freshmen.
“The point is, they’ve each experienced a lot of success within this program. Above that, they’re both great kids who I feel are excellent role models for everyone else within the program.”
The two senior standouts will be expected to carry a heavy load this spring if the Tigers are to make another run in the state playoffs.
Hosiner, a Class 2 All-State second-team selection in 2019 when Seymour was second statewide, led the Tigers last fall with a .368 batting average. In 38 plate appearances, he had three doubles and three triples, leading the squad with a .605 slugging percentage. He also paced the Tigers in on-base percentage at .547, drawing 10 walks.
He added 10 runs batted in (RBIs) and scored a team-high 13 runs. Hosiner was second on the team with seven stolen bases and wasn’t caught stealing.
On the mound, Hosiner posted a 3-2 fall record with a solid 2.88 earned-run average (ERA).
In 28 innings, he struck out 45.
Pearce wasn’t far behind his classmate at the plate.
Recovered from shoulder surgery of a year ago, Pearce’s batting average was .350 (14-for-40), and he added two doubles, one triple, one game-winning home run (against Gainesville) and a team-best 13 RBIs.
He was second on the team with a .525 slugging percentage and had an on-base percentage of .426.
Pearce also scored nine runs.
As a Tiger hurler, Pearce led the Tigers with a 3-1 record in a team-high 36-1/3 innings pitched.
His stellar 2.33 ERA led the squad.
He had a team-best 52 strikeouts.
“On the mound, I’ve essentially got two No. 1 pitchers,” Duey said.
“Both of them have been regular varsity pitchers for me since their sophomore year, and Brock even got some varsity time on the mound as a freshman.”
In the Tigers’ batting lineup, Hosiner and Pearce provide the team’s offensive thump.
“They’re just good ballplayers, it’s as simple as that,” Duey said. “Brock and Nathaniel can play multiple positions on the field for us and do well. At the plate, they are a tough out for our opponent, regardless of who we play.”
Hosiner primarily will pitch and play catcher.
Pearce primarily pitches and plays third base. A third Tiger senior also provides valuable experience.
That person is outfielder Scott Helms, who like Hosiner and Pearce was a key member of the 2019 Seymour state runner-up team.
“Scott had several key hits for us in the state’s semifinal game against Silex that we won by a single run,” Duey said.
“Without those hits, we don’t advance to the championship game the next day.”
Last fall, Helms had a .273 batting average (9-for-33) with
a pair of doubles and 10 RBIs.
He also was the Tigers’ most-reliable outfielder.
The only other member of Seymour’s senior class is Scotty Jay Williams, who is returning to the team this spring.
Supporting cast is deep
Duey has 22 players on this year’s roster, including four seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores and four freshmen.
The junior class gained a lot of experience last fall.
Leading the way is catcher, infielder and pitcher Payton Bryant, who had a .250 (10-for-40) batting average in the fall campaign with 12 runs and eight stolen bases.
Last spring, when the all-Summit Conference squad for 2020 was announced based upon statistics from the 2019 fall season, Bryant earned honorable-mention accolades for hitting above .300.
“Payton’s a kid we can plug in about anywhere on the field,” Duey said. “He’s very versatile and plays a lot of positions, if needed.”
Bryant was the Tigers’ top pitching reliever last fall as he was third on the team with 9-2/3 innings of work, where he had an 0-2 record with a 4.35 ERA.
Other juniors on the squad include Bryson Benson, Felix Cantrell, Caleb Cook, Brycen Owens and Canaan Park. Owens, an outfielder, had a .250 batting average in the fall season (6-for-24), while Park batted at a .130 clip with five runs.
“Canaan became a very reliable outfielder for us by the end of the fall season,” Duey noted.
Benson and Cook also saw regular varsity duty as spot starters, combining for 39 plate appearance.
In the sophomore class, the eight members are Derek Akers, Matthew Benson, Couper Carter, John Faivre, Cohen Koop, Bradley Matney, J.J. Valbuena and Lawson Wright.
Koop saw extensive action at the end of last fall, posting a .182 batting average, while Akers was a regular starting infielder who batted .158 (3-for-19).
As a freshman in the fall of 2019, Benson was the starter at first base and hit above .200 with good power. He was injured last fall.
The four-member freshman class of Brayden Baker, Praxton Lunn, Luke Rasmussen and Mason Skiles has a pair of standouts — Baker and Rasmussen.
Both were full-time regulars last fall.
Rasmussen, the Tigers’ starter at second base, was third on the team with a .313 batting average (10-for-32) in his varsity debut. He was second to Hosiner in on-base percentage at .476 and led the team with nine stolen bases.
“Ideally, I’d like to see Luke as our leadoff hitter,” Duey said. “When he simply puts the ball into play, he’s dangerous with his speed.”
Baker batted .167 (5-for-30) but had an on-base percentage of .444 with a team-high 13 walks. He also had six steals and scored six runs.
“Brayden was our starting shortstop and did a really good job in that role,” Duey said.
“He’s also versatile and can play multiple positions. He’s also in the mix to be in our pitching rotation.”
Six in the mix to pitch
Hosiner and Pearce will be the Tigers’ top-two starting pitchers.
After that, Duey said the team’s pitching mix includes a quartet, including Baker, Bryson Benson, Bryant and likely Koop.
Bryant is the most-experience of the group of four.
Baker and Benson have seen limited duty.
And Koop is the wild card.
“Cohen has grown six inches since the fall, and he’s been a pleasant surprise for us on the mound,” Duey said.
“Because of the many games we play in the spring, we’re going to need two additional kids other than Nathaniel and Brock who are able to start a game and go several innings.”
Because of the overall inexperience, Duey said that entering the fall, pitching is a concern.
Another concern is hitting, as the Tigers’ team batting average in the fall was only .238.
“We didn’t do a good job of driving home baserunners in the fall, and that has to improve,” he explained. “Hitting has been a focus early this spring.
“Just hitting and playing catch have been a focus, to be honest. Being better at handling a baseball defensively may have more of an immediate impact than what we’ll see at the plate.”
Duey said the spring lineup will look at lot like the fall version, with a few variations.
“We still have some spots that are open,” he noted.
“And we’ve got enough kids with 22 on the roster to create competition. The fall was a good start to try and figure some things out for the spring season.”
He noted that his team still in very inexperienced.
“Overall, we’re young ... very young in terms of varsity experience,” Duey said. “This may sound like a cliche, but we’ll be a different and better team in May than we are in March.”
In terms of state classification, it’s uncertain if Seymour will be in Class 2 or Class 3.
“We’re going to be right on the border of being one of the larger Class 2 teams or one of the smallest Class 3 teams,” Duey said. “And that will make a big difference for us. There’s a big jump from Class 2 to Class 3 in terms of depth and talent.”
Season starts on Monday
Seymour’s spring season starts next Monday with a four-team jamboree at Strafford that includes the host team and Skyline, both traditionally strong programs.
Then on Saturday, March 20, action starts at the Pleasant Hope Invitational, an eight-team tourney featuring two pools of four school.
In Seymour’s pool are Fordland, Marionville and Strafford, with the three pool games all played at Strafford.
The Tigers open at 4 p.m. on March 20 against Summit Conference rival Fordland.
Games with Marionville and Strafford follow.
The final round of the tournament arrives on Friday, March 26, with an opponent from the Pleasant Hope pool.
Seymour’s first regular-season game is set for Monday, March 29, at Houston.
The Tigers’ first home game arrives Tuesday, March 30, when Marion C. Early of Morrisville visits.
Duey admitted his ballclub faces a challenging schedule this spring.
“I feel like the Summit (Conference) is such a good league that just playing those games prepares you very well for the postseason,” he said.
“There aren’t a lot of weak opponents on our schedule. We have a tough tourney to open the season, when at the end of April we travel to Neelyville (just south of Poplar Bluff) to play in that tourney, which also typically has a very solid group of teams.”
Regardless, he’s excited about the upcoming campaign.
“We’ve not played spring baseball in two years, so there’s a bit of excitement about this season because of that alone,” Duey said, smiling. “And with this team, my kids really seem to enjoy playing baseball with each other.
“That helps a lot ... just having good kids who want to learn and get better. Because of just that, I’m excited about getting the season started.”
Duey is in his fifth year as Seymour’s head coach and is joined in the dugout by assistant coaches Josh Cook and Scott Nicholson.