Neosho head baseball coach Danny Powers enters his fourth season this spring as head coach of the Wildcats program and that means he’s seeing his first class go through the program.
Senior pitcher Jared Stephens joined fellow senior Brett Cook in signing a national letter of intent to continue his academic and athletic career.
On Wednesday, Stephens inked with NJCAA Division I State Fair Community College in Sedalia; Cook signed in November with NCAA Division II Northwest Missouri in Maryville.
“This is the first class that I’ll have from freshman year to senior year,” Powers said. “It’s always nice to watch how these kids grow and develop. I can remember when our staff and I were looking at Jared Stephens, a pretty tall, lanky freshman that had a pretty good arm. We kinda knew that we were going to have somebody in the future that’s going to be pretty good for us. As the offseason went on, Jared worked hard every day in practice and started having success at the freshman level. We debated on moving him up. We try and keep every class together and move them up together.
“Jared’s turning point, when we realized his hard work was kicking off was his sophomore year. At a Class 5 school in our league (Central Ozark Conference) and in just our area, it’s very tough to get a sophomore to be able to pitch everyday, let alone succeed. We’re playing a very tough Pittsburg (Kansas) team who just came off a great year and they actually finished that year with a great year. Jared throws a complete game, seven innings, he had nine strikeouts, gives up one run but I’m not even sure it was earned. That just kinda set the tone for the career he’s going to have.”
Stephens chose State Fair — its baseball program, coached by former Crowder player Jud Kindle, enters its third season — over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, among others interested in the future services of the 6-foot-4 strong-armed right-hander.
“Just really happy that I get to move on and I get to go play at college,” Stephens said. “I feel like all the (Neosho) coaches have developed me and I’ve gotten better over the three years. It just felt like home around there (State Fair) and I had a lot of options, but I like the feel around the coaching staff. They’ll do a lot for me. I’ve always wanted to play baseball in college and now, I finally get to do it.”
The Roadrunners are coming off a 33-24 season overall in which they won one game in the Region 16 Tournament against Crowder (7-6 on a late home run at Joe Becker Stadium) before consecutive losses to stalwarts Jefferson and Crowder ended their season.
“Jared has an opportunity to be a really good pitcher for us in more of a starting role,” Kindle said in a media release. “He is tall and athletic with a loose arm and a good fastball. We will continue to develop his off-speed pitches as well as his curveball when he arrives on campus. Jared also excels in the classroom. He is the type of kid that we look for in our program.”
Stephens will finish his prep career as being the Wildcats’ No. 1 starter three seasons, a rare accomplishment for any high school pitcher.
“Jared led our team in starts last year,” Powers said. “Started every tough conference game for us. As far as wins and losses, they weren’t great but a lot of that’s on us. We lost a lot of 2-1, 3-2 ballgames with him. He ended up the season with a 2.70 ERA, which is pretty darn good. Obviously, the work that he puts in during the summer and for us in the fall, winter, and spring has paid off because he had several options to go different places. I know State Fair is going to be lucky to have him.”
Stephens earned all-COC second team honors in the outfield, as he batted a team-high .317 (13 for 41) in 18 games his junior season with six doubles, three runs scored, and five RBI.
Before his senior season, Stephens named a moment from earlier in his career at Neosho as his most memorable.
“Winning the Mickey Mantle Tournament (as a sophomore),” Stephens said. “I pitched in the last game and we won that tournament.”
Stephens and the Wildcats (11-14 last season) begin their season — with a chance to make some more memories — on March 16 against Lebanon and Carl Junction.