The University of the Ozarks baseball team made significant strides in 2018 qualifying for the post-season for the first time in nearly a decade and now the rising club aims for even bigger things in 2019.
Head Coach Aaron Gentry has built momentum within the program heading into his fourth season as the skipper. Not only did the Eagles qualify for the American Southwest Conference Tournament, the squad won a tournament game against East Texas Baptist, something that hadn't been done in the program since 2008. The Eagles were later knocked out of the tournament by eventual 2018 NCAA III National Champion UT-Tyler. The Eagles return five starters from 2018 as well as Chase Edwards, who will return from an injury.
"We certainly want to make the conference playoffs again," said Gentry. "It is not enough for us to just make the conference tournament. Our goal is to win the conference championship. I think we are as close as we have ever been. I think we have gotten better in every aspect of the team."
The Eagles pitching staff returns two weekend starters – Dalton Spurgeon and Brady Taylor - and ace late-inning right-hander Corey Steward. Spurgeon, a senior right-hander, tossed 53.2 innings and fanned 38 in 2018. Taylor, a senior right-hander, logged 40.0 innings in 12 appearances. Steward posted an impressive 5-1 record in 14 appearances.
"We have a lot of new faces on the pitching staff," said Gentry. "I am excited about the returning pitchers and the new ones."
The Eagles were one of the top home run hitting teams in all of NCAA III, ranking 15thoverall and leading the conference with 40. The Eagles did lose some of their power at the plate, but should return enough firepower to produce runs. Returning starters Breyden Varner, Fielder Dufrene, Dakota Ebarb and Sam Swartz all received All-Conference last season. Varner, an infielder, led the team in RBI (35), hits (51) and doubles (11). He posted a .323 batting average, second-highest on the team, and recorded a .525 slugging percentage. He homered seven times. Dufrene, a shortstop, produced 14 RBI, 30 hits and 16 runs. He also had two doubles, one triple and one home run. Ebarb, an infielder, drove in 16 runs while producing 23 hits and six doubles. He scored 19 times and had three home runs. Swartz, an infielder, hit .296 with seven doubles, four home runs and 20 RBI. Edwards played first base and produced an All-Conference season as a freshman (2017) batting .390 with 57 hits, 32 RBI and six home runs.
"We bring back a strong offensive unit," said Gentry. "I think we will make more contact at the plate. I think we are faster on the bases and that should add an element to our offense."
Defensively, Gentry believes his team should be better.
"We didn't have a bad season defensively, but I think we will be better," he said. "I think we will have guys that make the plays and play a cleaner game."
2018 Record (ASC): 20-20 (14-10)
2018 Conference Finish: 5th
2018 Post-Season ASC Tournament: First Round (1-2 record)
Returning Starters: Dakota Ebarb (3B/Senior/Lavon, Texas); Chase Edwards (1B/Junior/Chandler, Ariz.); Fielder Dufrene (SS/Senior/Clinton, Ark.); Breyden Varner (INF/Senior/Skiatook, Okla.); Sam Swartz (INF/Senior/Granby, Mo.); Rocky Liveoak (OF/Senior/Neosho, Mo.); Dalton Spurgeon (RHP/Senior/Lee's Summit, Mo.); and Brady Taylor (RHP/Senior/Plano, Texas)
Newcomers: Jordan Semple (INF/Sophomore/Camden, Ark.); Josh Stephens (INF/Junior/Springdale, Ark.); Gabriel Helsley (OF/Freshman/Jacksonville, Ark.); Josh Craven (LHP/Junior/Round O, South Carolina); Luke Morrison (INF/Freshman/Tuscon, Ariz.); Renner Smith (RHP/INF/Junior/Mabelvale, Ark.); Blake Hornsby (C/Freshman/Flower Mound, Texas); Brandon Hall (INF/Junior/Royal, Ark.); Jacob Tamayo (LHP/Freshman/Arlington, Texas); Zach Stanley (OF/Senior/Fayetteville, Ark.); Jesse Norwood (OF/Junior/Little Rock, Ark.); Erick Aguirre (C/Junior/Hot Springs, Ark.); Zachary Brizendine (RHP/Freshman/Roanoke, Texas); Brooks Boshers (INF/Freshman/Muldrow, Okla.); Ryder Caddell (C/Freshman/Sulphur Springs, Texas); Jared Hallier (LHP/Freshman/Kingsville, Mo.); Blake Benson (LHP/Freshman/Springdale, Ark.); Rey Lozano (OF/Freshman/Lavaca, Ark.); and Nick Hagerty (INF/Freshman/Atkins, Ark.)
2018 Top Batting Average: Breyden Varner (.323)
2018 Top RBI Producer: Breyden Varner (35)
2018 Most HR: Breyden Varner (7)
2018 Most Runs: Breyden Varner (30)
2018 Lowest ERA: Tyler Vernon (3.24)
2018 Most IP: Dalton Spurgeon (53.2)
Program Playoff Appearances: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2018
Coach Gentry Quotes:
"We certainly want to make the conference playoffs again. It is not enough for us to just make the conference tournament. Our goal is to win the conference championship. I think we are as close as we have ever been. I think we have gotten better in every aspect of the team."
9 vs University of Dallas (DH)
10 vs University of Dallas
12 at Ouachita Baptist
16 vs Westminster College (Mo.) (DH)
17 vs Westminster College (Mo.)
19 vs Hendrix College
22 vs *East Texas Baptist *
23 vs *East Texas Baptist * (DH)
26 at Harding
1 vs *Concordia University Texas
2 vs *Concordia University Texas (DH)
5 at Hendrix College
8 vs Spalding University (DH)
9 vs Spalding University
12 at Henderson State
15 at *Mary Hardin-Baylor (DH)
16 at *Mary Hardin-Baylor
22 vs *Howard Payne (DH)
23 vs *Howard Payne
2 at Hendrix College
5 at *Texas-Dallas
6 at *Texas-Dallas (DH)
12 at Texas-Tyler
13 at Texas-Tyler (DH)
16 vs Ouachita Baptist
18 vs *Louisiana College (DH)
19 vs *Louisiana College
26 at *McMurry University (DH)
27 at *McMurry University
3-5 at ASC Championship Tournament - First Round
9-11 at ASC Championship Tournament - Second Round
*American Southwest Conference Game
Home Games in BOLD