Jays hope to build on lessons learned last year

Travis Hennessy returns this season for the Jefferson City Jays.

Travis Hennessy returns this season for the Jefferson City Jays. Photo by News Tribune.

The fate of Jefferson City’s baseball season a year ago was pretty well determined after just nine games.

An early eight-game losing streak was tough for the Jays to overcome during an 11-15 season. So it’s no surprise this year the Jays are focusing on their first set of games as a way to build up some confidence.

“I think the key for us is to get off to a quicker start,” Jefferson City head coach Brian Ash said. “I think if you get off to a quicker start, the confidence level gets there.”

The Jays, who open the season today with a doubleheader against Springfield Glendale and Helias at Vivion Field, started to play more consistent baseball at the end of last season, but it was too late to erase a slow start.

But a silver lining to the season was the younger Jays got valuable experience.

“Some of those younger kids stepped in, filled in a role,” Ash said. “Once they stepped in, they never relinquished it. Fortunately for us all those kids are back. I hope those kids can kind of take it into this year.”

The Jays took their lumps on the mound at times last year, as they allowed nearly seven runs per game, including 13 games where they allowed eight runs or more.

The Jays lacked experience on the mound last season, but they come in with more experience this year, led by senior Corey Beard.

“Corey right now, we’re expecting him to do a lot of things, not just pitch, but he’s going to have to hit in the lineup,” Ash said. “Obviously defensively he’s an athletic kid. He’s long, he rangy, he’s gotten a lot stronger this year.”

Also in the mix on the mound will be sophomore Travis Hennessy, seniors Steven Coots and Cameron Carroll and sophomore Bret Jaegers.

“A lot of those kids who threw those innings last year, we’re hoping they learn from those experiences, those failures, those successes, and now they are able to transfer them over and have their best year to date,” Ash said.

Ash said the Jays are pretty set when it comes to the field. He expects the outfield to consist of senior and all-district performer Dylan Brauner in left field, junior Alex Johnson will be in center field and junior Brenden Ogletree and sophomore Jake Pridgin will split time in right field.

Junior Hayden Strobel will be at first base, Beard and senior Trevor Rucker will play second base, junior Gabe Marcantonio will start at shortstop and junior Rylie Klosterman is back at third base. Senior Sam Atkinson and sophomore Travis Burris will step in behind the plate.

“We’re pretty set on where kids are going to play, but we’ve got a little bit of depth at each spot because we do have a lot of guys who can play positions and pitch, and guys we can plug in and not miss a beat,” Ash said.

Although the recent snow made it difficult for the Jays to get in a lot of swings, Ash said he’s confident this will be a productive lineup, adding it’s much more equipped 1-9 than it was last season.

Jefferson City averaged 5.3 runs per game last year.

“For us last year, that seven through nine it was just like, ‘Where are you at?’” Ash said. “Sometimes it felt like we were just one through six. Whatever we got out of the seven, eight, nine was just a bonus. It’s something we’ve talked about. We need to have all nine guys contributing in some way or phase. That’s something I think this year we’re going to get there.”

Jefferson City has four games this week before heading to Florida, where it will play five games against teams from Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Florida.

“For me, I like it because you know when you show up, there are no preconceived notions that this team may be weak, or this team may be at a different level, so you go in and see what you can do,” Ash said.

And while Ash said the trip is not a make-or-break one, he hopes it can be an early springboard for the Jays.

“Hopefully this will be a good stepping stone for us to play good baseball when we get back,” Ash said.

Jefferson City will play Glendale at 11 a.m. and Helias at 4 p.m. The JV games will take place at the American Legion Sports Complex.

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