Opening baseball coaches poll released, five local squads ranked highly

Chaffee's Leyton Hanback prepares to pitch against Delta on Monday, March 18, in Delta, Mo. Chaffee defeated Delta, 16-1.
Tony Capobianco ~

Local baseball squads got a hot start to the 2024 season, and coaches statewide took notice as the Missouri High School Baseball Coaches Association, or MHSBCA, released its first state top-10 rankings on Tuesday.

Five Southeast Missourian newspaper teams made appearances in those rankings, with four ranking among the top four teams in their respective classes.

Chaffee, Jackson, Kelly, Oran and Scott City all got nods, with Oran sitting pretty at second, Chaffee slotting in at third, Jackson and Scott City both ranked fourth and Kelly receiving votes in Tuesday’s first release of the year.

The Red Devils are hot off their first final-four run since 1992, placing third in Class 2 last season and carrying much of that momentum into the new year.

After a strong opening weekend, Chaffee (4-0) slammed Delta Monday in a 16-1 victory on the road and got a lot of love from the state pollers for its undefeated record.

Those Devils returned much of their talent from last season, and it's safe to say that sights are set a lot higher than No. 3 in Class 2 this season as they look to double down on last year’s successes.

Chaffee has a lot of small-school talent on its schedule this year, including a Mar. 25 matchup with Kelly, a vote-receiver in Class 3.

Jackson, like Chaffee, is also fresh off a spot in the final four. Likewise, the Indians also placed third in Class 6 last spring and ranked No. 4 in Class 6 in Tuesday’s rankings.

Unlike those Devils, however, Jackson (4-1) graduated more college athletes than you can count on one hand, including multiple Division-I sluggers, one doubling as an all-state pitcher.

In the face of that adversity, however, the Indians have thrived early this season en route to a strong start against some top St. Louis competition over the weekend.

Jackson’s only loss came to No. 3 Fort Zumwalt West on Monday afternoon, and with Jackson battling maintenance when playing five games in five days, a lone loss against a top team shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The Indians bounced back from that loss on Tuesday with a dominant defensive effort against Christian Brothers, winning 2-0 behind some phenomenal pitching.

Kelly (1-1) enters the 2024 polling cycle as a vote-getter in Class 3, opening the season with a 2-run defeat to SEMO Conference powerhouse Kennett over the weekend.

In that game, senior thrower Dalton Forck threw a masterpiece, recording 15 strikeouts, but the Hawks just couldn't get it done against a well-respected foe.

They righted the ship on Monday, however, with a 16-1 victory over another SEMO Conference opponent at Sikeston.

Coach Josh Hopkins' squad is preparing for a long year, and with any luck, this Kelly squad could make some moves in May.

Oran, ranked second in Class 1, is no stranger to the limelight in state recognition, and it's shown with three appearances in the title game since 2018.

With two of those culminating in championships, Joe Bickings' Eagles appear hot on the trail for another deep run in the state playoff, and their start to 2024 has shown it.

They kicked off their season on Tuesday with a throttling 15-0 defeat of Bloomfield at home, beginning what could be another historic year for Oran.

Last, but certainly not least, is Scott City, placing No. 4 in Class 3 following a dominant start to the season, including two run-rule wins and a road victory against a ranked Portageville squad.

The Rams (3-0) have stormed out to their undefeated record on the backs of great pitching and some hot hitting, particularly from junior Kobe Watson.

Watson, in his second year with the Rams following his transfer from the Bluegrass State, is batting a ridiculous .750 through three games, including a homer in Monday’s win at Portageville.

The Rams have a couple of big matchups over the upcoming week, facing Saxony Lutheran, Farmington and Sikeston, with the Knights of Farmington knocking off Notre Dame over the weekend.

They’ll have plenty of chances to prove themselves this year, but that Farmington matchup at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Farmington will be an exemplary showcase of what this Scott City squad is all about.

The coaches poll is voted on by coaches across the state of Missouri, representing teams from all over the Show Me State.

The next release of the poll is slated for Tuesday, Apr. 2, two weeks from the date of press.

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