For the first time in a decade, the Rolla baseball team has an All-State player.
Blayne Yarger put a cherry on top of an exceptional senior season by earning second team All-State honors this week. This was a goal Yarger set for himself coming into the season and he was glad to reach that goal.
"That was my goal to make All-State and do as well as I could," said Yarger. "I was super surprised that I got it and super happy about it."
Yarger came into the season with a lot of pressure on himself. He was one of two players with varsity experience after last year's huge senior class graduated. The team from 2018 won a District Championship and Yarger was determined to get back there with a new cast of characters. As the only returning everyday player, every opposing pitcher was focused on Yarger in the lineup. Yarger thrived with that target on his back, hitting .443 on the season with four home runs, four triples, 18 RBI and 26 runs scored.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself. I expected myself to come up big and perform in every situation possible," said the Rolla outfielder. "Sometimes I failed, but it happens to everyone. I was just happy to do what I could do and help the team out in every way shape or form."
That pressure Yarger put on himself also drove him to improve. Rolla head coach Kenny Hohe praised Yarger's work ethic and how much his hard work rubbed off on his teammates.
"Sometimes its the things that aren't seen," said coach Hohe. "He had one of the highest participation rates for our offseason stuff. When we had weekend stuff, he was always one of the first guys to show up. He has a lot of natural ability - speed, size, velocity with the arm - but he shows up and he works. He puts the time in and this success isn't from a lack of effort. He puts in a lot of time and a lot of effort into his craft and honing his craft to become a better ballplayer. He's a multi-sport athlete and he made stellar grades. He's what you want in a leader and I think his career was an excellent standout."
While Yarger always wanted to be the one with a bat in his hand in big situations, opposing pitchers weren't to keen on that idea. As the Rolla centerfielder kept racking up big numbers, pitchers started to avoid him with the game on the line. He walked 15 times this season, including three times in the District Championship game. He only had one official at bat in that game and he launched the ball deep over the fence in right field for Rolla's only base hit.
"That was very frustrating," said Yarger on being pitched around in big moments. "It annoyed me to no end. I treated every at bat like this might be the only one that I get this game. I have to perform in this AB, because who knows if I'll get another if we get people in scoring position or the game is on the line."
While Yarger was big with his bat, he was a true five tool player for the Bulldogs. He came in to close out several games for Rolla and was on the mound to finish off the Bulldogs' District Semifinal win over Lebanon Yarger finished the season with a 2-1 record on the mound and was 5-5 in save situations with an ERA of 3.71. He was also a defensive wiz in center. Coach Hohe points out that Yarger won nearly as many games with his defense as he did with a bat in his hand.
"There are so many great examples that explain his talent and what he meant to our team and to our program," said Hohe. "I think a couple of games that really stand out are the West Plains game and the Parkview game, games where he used all of his talents to win us ball games.
"You look at West Plains, he started the game and threw a scoreless inning. He has a couple of hits, a stolen base, a walk and a three run home run on the offensive side and people forget the defense, but he makes a couple of great plays in the outfield. Then of course he throws the runner out in the bottom of the seventh to give us a chance to win it in extra innings," continued the Rolla head coach. "The same scenario with the Parkview game. He and Brady team up to throw the guy out at the plate in the bottom of the sixth, he pitches the seventh and eighth and then he gets the leadoff double in the top of the eighth to get on base and eventually score the game-winning run."
That West Plains game is one that will stick with Yarger forever. While he individually had a huge impact on the game, it was also a great moment he got to share with his brother Brady. Both the Yarger boys went deep in that game and it's a memory he'll get to cherish for the rest of his life.
"It was amazing, I enjoyed every second of it," said Blayne on playing with his brother this year. "Not many people can say they started varsity with their brother. I got to help him play and play alongside him. I enjoyed every second of it. It's not every day you get to do that.
"It's just as satisfying (as being named All-State)," continued the Rolla outfielder. "That game where we hit home runs together, that was one of the coolest things that I've ever done. I doubt anyone else in Rolla history can say that they hit a home run with their brother in the same game."
While Yarger wishes he and his teammates could've made that final push to take down Camdenton in the District Championship game, he knows his senior year was filled with so many great moments. Capping off the year with All-State recognition was another example of that. Now that high school is in his rearview mirror, his sights are set on college baseball at Jefferson College and hopefully a career in baseball after that.
"I'm super excited. I'm stepping right into it. I'm excited to play ball with people who care about the game just as much as I do...playing on a college team, people want to play baseball and they're there to play baseball," said Yarger. "I'm hoping that after my two years I'll bulk up, get a lot stronger and then maybe after my two years I'll enter the draft. If not, I'll transfer somewhere else and see how that goes. I'd really like to enter the draft at some point. That would be really awesome."