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Clarke baseball diving head first into 2020

Matthew Stickels slides into home against Centerville last summer.
Matthew Stickels slides into home against Centerville last summer.

It’ll be another year of building in 2020 for Clarke baseball.

After a 9-24 record last summer with a team lined with crucial seniors, head coach Lonnie Smith said there’s no replacing those types of players – especially Conner Deutsch.

“You don’t replace Conner with one guy,” said Lonnie Smith. Deutsch, a now-Iowa Central baseball player, ended his final season with a .447 average and 16 doubles. He also had a 4.57 ERA in 33 2/3 innings pitched, finishing with a 2-3 record. “That’s what I’ve stressed to these guys. ... Those guys have to do their part and work together and make up for say, Conner’s offensive production. Honestly, that’s really what we’re looking at.”

Lonnie Smith estimated Deutsch produced 30-40 percent of the offense produced by the Indians last season. Payton Winship (.305 average, nine RBI and seven doubles) and Evan Hagen (.313 average, three home runs and 13 RBI) were also big on offense for the Tribe.

Now holding the reigns of the program is a handful of talented juniors – Zethann May, Will Smith, Taylor Henry, Matthew Stickels, Casey Kindred and Dalton Stubbe. Lonnie Smith has high expectations from them as they fill big shoes.

“We’ve got a really good group of juniors,” said Lonnie Smith. “... We just kind of expect this group of juniors to step up and be our leaders. They’ve played together pretty much their whole life. They’re talented, and I personally expect big things from that whole group.”

Each playing a pivotal role, May and Kindred return as two of the most experienced pitchers from last season while Will Smith (along with May and Kindred) also brings a high school-ready bat to the team. In 32 games (31 for Will Smith) May hit .226 with 11 runs batted in. Kindred had a .291 average with 13 RBI, one homer, and was second on the team in singles with 21.

Will Smith had a season where he posted a .264 clip with a homer and 11 runs batted in.

“We’ve talked with that group, those three guys, and we’ve got talented sophomores,” said Lonnie Smith. “Matthew Stickels had a rough year, ... we’re hoping he comes back around. That whole group of guys, they’ve got to work together as a team and not expect one guy to make up for what we lose.”

Lonnie Smith also added May and Kindred will head the pitching staff, being the most experienced returning underclassmen from a year prior, leading into the season.

For 2020, the opponents will not let up. Centerville, who bounced Clarke in the postseason, is poised as defending South Central Conference champs to make a solid run in the postseason.

Lonnie Smith feels the conference will be tough again, and won’t be easy for the Indians, but is one where they have opportunities to stick it to the conference foes in a shortened, conference game-heavy season.

“The conference, it’s always tough,” said Lonnie Smith. “Davis County always comes out, they just seem to reload every year. Centerville has just been crazy good. Eddyville they’re always fast and are good at the small ball game. The conference is going to be good, we just have to play up to it and do our best to take out the ones we can take out.”

Due to COVID-19, the season has been shortened (schedules will be released before June 15’s Opening Day). Lonnie Smith applauded Randy Bolton, Clarke’s athletic director, and others involved in making the season possible.

“They’re making things as easy as possible,” said Lonnie Smith. “It’s not easy. We learned a lot (Monday) at our first practice. ... There’s going to be situations that come up that we have to work on, and they’re doing their best to make things as easy as possible to let these guys play and do it in the safest way they can.”

What they did in last season

Last season the group had a .211 average at the plate with 441 plate appearances. As a team, the Indians hit .265, fourth in the conference.

Clarke’s discipline at the plate was productive, earning 90 bases on balls. With runners on base, Clarke totaled 100 runs batted in. Kindred is the returning run producer for Clarke, driving in 13 RBI. May and Smith followed closely behind as leading run producers with 11 RBIs each last season.

On the mound, the Indians lost four arms that produced over 136 innings. Winship, Deutsch, Hagen and Marshall Morrison all threw over 30 innings each but graduated after the 2019 season.

Winship led the staff with a 1.93 earned run average while the other three accumulated a 5.10 ERA. Kindred and May are the two leading pitchers for Clarke, tallying 20 innings each.

Henry and Josue Torres were two other underclassmen contributing to a staff that averaged a 4.92 ERA, fourth in the conference.

Editors note: Osceola Sentinel-Tribune editor Tyler Hetu contributed to this story.

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