EAST PRAIRIE - Expectations are high at East Prairie after a successful season last year in baseball.
Coming off a 20-3 season and a district title, the Eagles return six starters from a team that lost to Clearwater in the quarterfinals.
"We have been 35-9 the last two years and the guys are used to winning," said first year East Prairie head coach Gary Scott, "We have set some goals this season, which I feel are obtainable. We want to win our conference, win district and have a shot at going to state. The guys have the mindset to end up in Columbia. With six starters back, I feel good heading into the season."
Leading the way for the Eagles is second team all-state selection last year, senior Hunter Jones. An excellent fielder with a great arm, Jones brings leadership to the club and hit over .400 last season from the plate.
"Hunter controls the outfield and is a tremendous leader," said Scott. "Hunter is good on the bases and is just a complete player. He knows what it takes to win."
William O'Guin will move from second base last season, to shortstop this year.
"We lost Ben Walters and Preston Shoemaker from last year," said Scott, "and we have to fill some holes left by the two all-staters. William has plenty of experience and has played some short in the past."
Returning to man third base is Taylor White for East Prairie. White brings a solid bat and glove to the lineup for the Eagles.
"Taylor has a good stick and will bat fourth in our lineup," said Scott. "We expect Taylor to drive in a lot of runs this season and to play a very solid third base."
Another Eagle making a switch this season is Tyler Branam. Moving from right field to catcher seems like a big transition, but Scott has faith in the junior.
"Tyler has a strong arm and will be a big kid behind the plate," said Scott. "He has a lot to work on but is getting there. Tyler is working hard and we expect him to get the job done.'
Junior Perry Lucas will start his first year at second base for East Prairie. Lucas has good range and is extremely quick to the ball. Lucas has been working on improving his swing and can cause some damage in the lineup.
Zach Secoy will play first base and will be counted on to be a main pitcher for the Eagles. A strong left hand thrower, Secoy brings back experience and a hard nosed attitude to the field.
Like Secoy, junior Caleb Hatton throws from the left side and will be a main pitcher for the Eagles.
When not on the mound, Hatton will roam in left field. Hatton is a returning starter and will be counted for leadership and a strong bat.
Junior Corey Borders and freshman Jordan Mansfield are battling for the last outfield positions for the Eagles, as both have been strong in practice.
At designated hitter, East Prairie will employ Mitchell Aters, who will be expected to add some pop to the Eagles lineup.
"Mitchell is a strong kid who we expect some big things from," said Scott. "Mitchell adds power to our lineup. He can hit the long ball and will drive in some runs for us."
Scott added that besides Secoy and Hatton on the mound for the Eagles, Branam, Jones, O'Guin and Mansfield will be expected to log some innings for the Eagles.
Branam will be the No. 3 pitcher for East Prairie. When Secoy is on the hill, sophomore Cameron Woodward will be at first base.
East Prairie has a tough regular season schedule with the likes of NMCC, South Pemiscot, Scott City, Kelly, Portageville, Caruthersville, Chaffee and Oran.
"Every game is going to be a challenging one," said Scott. "We can't look past anybody. It is going to be a tough road. Just take our last game against Oran, the last two years we have played them for the conference championship. No reason to believe this year will not be any different."
South Pemiscot looks to be the early favorite to win the Class 2, District 2 title. The Bulldogs have a No. 5 ranking in a preseason baseball poll and will return eight starters from last year's squad.
Scott mentioned that Portageville and Caruthersville will be a handful in district play.
"Heading into the season," said Scott, "the kids have a great attitude. We have been successful the last couple of years and the kids want to keep that going. With six returning starters, expectations are high and we are going to do our best to represent the town of East Prairie in a positive way. We all are anxious to get going and hopefully it is going to be an entertaining season."