by Michael Smith
Fans of the Grain Valley varsity baseball team had an exciting season to watch in 2021 after it went to the Class 5 state championship game and finished in second place.
With some seniors graduating, there will be some new faces entering the fold in 2022. One of those could be Bryce Smith, who will be entering his senior year this fall at Grain Valley High School.
Smith played for the junior varsity squad last spring and was exclusively a pitcher. During that season, he only had one at bat. This summer, with the Oak Grove Post 379 American Legion team, he’s having a breakout season as a hitter.
Smith has a .375 batting average, a .979 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 16 runs and 15 RBIs in 16 games played. On the mound, Smith has a 4.61 earned-run average, 1.97 walks and hits per inning pitched, 22 walks and 22 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings pitched.
He’s shown his versatility by playing second base and pitching. He could be a valuable asset for the Eagles next season as he aims to make the varsity squad.
“I definitely want to make that team and help them as much as I can at any position and pitching especially,” Smith said.
Post 379 manager Jeff Wright said he thinks Smith has what it takes to make the Grain Valley varsity squad.
“I will be happy if the Grain Valley coaches give him a chance to play,” Wright said. “I know Grain Valley has a lot of talent and opportunities are few and far between with the numbers they have. He has the ability to warrant a spot on the roster.”
While he’s been primarily a pitcher for Grain Valley, Smith said he could see himself getting more at bats for them in 2022.
“Not hitting this past year really motivated me to go out and really hit the ball this summer,” Smith said. “Last year I really struggled, so this year I worked on a lot of things. I changed a lot.”
And his bat has been a big reason Post 379 is one of the top teams in the American Legion Zone 2 division and has a winning record at 17-8-1.
“He’s definitely provided a solid bat and has been a consistent run producer for us,” Wright said. “It’s pretty impressive considering he only had one at bat in high school.”
His pitching will be key for the rest of Post 379’s season, as well. A lot of his success depends on how well he locates and throws his off-speed pitches.
“If I am not feeling my changeup or curveball really well, then I have to use my fastball a lot,” Smith said. “That’s when people start to make contact because they can read that. Sometimes when all my pitches are on fire, that’s when I can strike out a lot of people.”
However, Wright and the rest of the Oak Grove squad hope Smith can get healthy in time for the Zone 2 Tournament next week. During last week’s annual Wood Bat Invitational, Smith suffered a hip injury.
“It’s been going on for a month and it was so minor that I didn’t really think about it,” Smith said. “I just injured it in the Wood Bat Tournament really badly. I just hope I can play in the Zone 2 Tournament.”
Added Wright: “If everything works out right, I am hoping to get him back next week. It makes it hurt that he’s not playing right now. He’s an important part of this team.”