By Anvil Welch
Globe Sports Writer
Purdy needs no introduction to its Monday opponent in the first round of the MSHSAA Class 2 baseball playoffs.
“They (the Billings Wildcats) beat the snot out of us in the fall,” Purdy coach Joshua Hughes said on Saturday.
Countered Billings coach Allen Stolte: “We’ve blocked out that game. Purdy basically has a different team. Obviously, they’re playing well.”
Agreed Hughes: “We are a different team. We have four new players from our team in the fall. We were 5-11 in the fall.”
Purdy (12-10) visits Billings (12-8) for the 5 p.m. contest on Monday.
“We aren’t saying that Billings won’t be a tough opponent,” Hughes said. “They play a very tough schedule. They’re in a strong conference — the Southwest Central League. We have a lot of respect for coach Stolte and the Billings players.”
Stolte, who’s in his fourth year as the Billings head coach, has an all-stater in senior shortstop Austin Essick.
“He’s been hot in recent games,” Stolte said. “His totals for 20 games: .475 average, 10 home runs and 32 RBI.”
The right-handed swinging Essick is backed by junior first baseman Sawyer Hawkins (.354, 15 RBI) and senior left fielder Nathan Smith (20 RBI).
Right-handers Dawson Meyer, a junior, and sophomore Gage Harter are the leading candidates to open on the mound for Billings.
Stolte also threw in a third candidate — freshman left-hander Nolan McCain. He was a top hurler in the fall and recently was medically cleared, Stolte said.
Likely starting pitcher Cameron Terry, a senior lefty; junior second baseman Alex Mareth and sophomore right fielder Robby Moody are the leading Purdy hitters with respective averages of .468, .368 and .360.
Terry leads Mareth 19-17 in RBI. Senior center fielder Austin Hancock is 22-for-22 in stolen bases.
Terry, who’s approaching 100 strikeouts for the season, is 7-0 with a 2.36 ERA.
Purdy, seeded third in the District 12 Tournament at Crane, defeated second-seeded Pierce City 15-8 and No. 4 Crane 8-2 in winning its fifth district title in eight seasons under Hughes.
“This is a sweet district championship because we were underdogs,” Hughes, who’s assisted by Chris Branstetter, said. The Eagles won the Ozark 7 Conference title at 4-0.
The probable Purdy batting order consists of Hancock, junior catcher Tyler Scott, Terry, Mareth, Moody, senior third baseman Heath Burnside, senior shortstop Keevin Walker, freshman first baseman Dusty Videmsheck and junior left fielder Brent Cornman.
Stolte said Billings probably will counter with senior right fielder Lane Truman, Meyer (second base or pitcher), Essick, Smith, Hawkins, Harter (second base or pitcher), freshman third sacker Kyle Kimberling, junior center fielder Dakoda Baxter and senior DH Nick Gardner for sophomore receiver Brant Truman.
Belle or Hartville will meet the Purdy-Billings survivor in the quarterfinals.