McAuley Catholic focused on growth, development with low numbers

Apr. 5—Third-year head coach Beez Jones is dealing with something unprecedented for him at the helm of the McAuley Catholic baseball program.

That is the limited number of players he has on the diamond this spring. The Warriors have 13 who came out for the team — enough to fill the field and have four on the bench.

But one of those players is senior Chase Gardner, who tore his ACL during basketball season. He had surgery for it two months ago now, and the coach is optimistic he can return before the season ends.

With only 12 players available now, that leaves opportunities for everyone to get experience. During Thursday's game at Purdy, Jones was able to get experience for freshman Nolan Minor as well as sophomore Guillermo Lechuga. Lechuga is in his first season of playing baseball at the high school level.

The first-year sophomore delivered a hit Thursday that drove in two runs in the 18-8 loss.

"We are developing some guys, and they've come through," Jones said. "Yesterday (Wednesday) against College Heights, the lower half of our lineup, each guy had one or two hits."

That was an 11-3 win over rival College Heights, and Jones said it was "huge" to have that production from the bottom part of his batting order. College Heights only lost to Purdy by a score of 3-0.

If anything, that win over the Cougars should serve as a reminder to the Warriors that they can compete with those teams on a good day.

The small number of available players may add experience for underclassmen but it also throws a wrench into practice plans sometimes, especially when there's a track meet for those who compete in both sports.

Jones said he has five or six who compete in track and field.

"If they're gone at track, we have to figure out how we're going to make our practices efficient," he said.

Now, they just have to find out how to get those good days more consistently. Jones talked about that growth and development of his guys and what they're working on right now in practices.

"We're working on the little things like bunting, getting the ball in play and where to go with the bases (on defense). ... It's a new start for some of these guys," Jones said.

McAuley is currently 3-4 and 2-0 in the Ozark 7 conference with wins over College Heights and Verona — the Warriors beat Verona 9-3. Even with the small roster size and having to work inexperienced players into the lineup, Jones said the team isn't changing its goals.

"We're still battling to win district and conference. It doesn't change," Jones said. "Last year, we were co-champs (conference), and we expect to do the same this year."

McAuley plays in Class 1 District 5 and started the year with a Class 4 opponent in Cassville. The Warriors lost that game 27-0. Another loss is a forfeited loss to Miller due to not having enough players available for the game. The other is a 10-4 defeat to Diamond, a Class 3 school.

Last year, the team went to the district championship and lost to Billings. It finished with an 11-13 record.

"I've told them, we're not going to win championships in March and early April," Jones said. "That's why we're developing our guys to get better and better."

McAuley graduated six players from last year's team and also lost standout player Michael Parrigon, who decided to only compete in track and field this year.

"Michael is a great track star, and he wanted to focus on track. That was his decision, and we have to support that. Do we miss him? Absolutely. But we want the best for him and will continue to cheer him on in track," Jones said.