BY JASON LAWRENCE
Special to The Citizen
Park Hill will not be short on weirdness, personality or guys with great hair, according to first-year coach Blaine Lewis.
The Trojans won’t be short on expectations, either, with several returning upperclassmen that contributed at the varsity level last year.
In Greg Reynolds’ final year at the helm, Park Hill finished 14-16 and bowed out to Park Hill South 2-1 in the first round of the Class 5 District 16 Tournament.
Lewis, who was the head coach at Raytown for five years and went 7-19 there in 2017, inherits a squad that loses shortstop Tyler Watson, second baseman Chase McCollom and utility man Trevor Guzzo, who all garnered All-Suburban Conference Gold Division recognition in the Trojans’ first year playing in the conference’s largest division.
Led by senior Liam Henry, an Arkansas signee, Lewis and his assistants —Jon Davis, Stuart Sullinger, Jackie Qualls, Chase Kuehl and Zach Anderson — are looking forward to getting the season underway.
“I’m excited to get into our smooth giddy-up and see where it takes us,” Lewis said. “We’ve been working hard in conditioning and in our preparation. I am really enjoying my first year at Park Hill. The guys are diligent and receptive, and the parents, administration and staff have been very positive and supportive. As a team, we will be aggressive, motivated and loud in pursuit of our goals.”
The left-handed Henry, a first-team all-conference pick each of the last two years, will slot into the top of the rotation and in center field after hitting .361 and going 3-3 on the mound with a 2.02 ERA as a junior. Also returning to help lead both the pitching staff and the lineup are seniors Grant Mertz and Ryan Lack and junior Zayne Morrow. Mertz, a first baseman and right-handed pitcher, hit .314 a season ago while Morrow went 3-0 with a 3.64 ERA in 18 varsity innings and manned third base when not on the mound. Lack, who hit .333 in limited at-bats last year, will be counted on more heavily this spring and gives Lewis another left-handed pitching option.
Junior right-hander Will Stevens is also penciled into the rotation and expected to “eat a lot of innings,” while junior utility man Joe Daneff and sophomore Ayden Mertz will also be competing for playing time this season, as the Trojans look to compete for a conference title.
“This conference is tough and whoever wins it will compete for a state title,” Lewis said. “There is phenomenal competition in our conference, so each conference game will be big. Our district is no different. We want to focus on our preparation today. If today’s work is the only thing we will be looking forward to, we will win a lot of tough ball games.”
Park Hill opens the 2018 season at the Metro Leadoff Classic, hosted by Liberty and Liberty North, and will take on Kearney at 5:15 p.m. March 16 at Liberty North in its first of five games in five days before returning back to Liberty North for a regular season contest.