The Parkview pipeline served the then-Southwest Missouri State baseball program well in the early 1980s.
Now, three decades after landing two Vikings who helped lift the MSU program to new heights, the baseball Bears are again consistently tapping the Springfield school for more talent.
The same program that gave new coach Keith Guttin future Mid-Continent Conference Player of the Year Howard Bell and, previously, future major leaguer Scott Bailes, is again helping stock the Bears roster.
Next year, outfielder Landan Ruff will join promising freshman slugger Spencer Johnson with the Bears, both as products of coach John Thompson’s program.
Ruff’s recent verbal commitment means a Parkview player will head to MSU’s baseball team for the third consecutive year, as Darin Francis joined Guttin’s team in 2011 before transferring to Evangel for this season.
“Hopefully the underclassmen can keep it going,” Ruff said. “It’s such a great program and everything.”
“It’s a testament to the hard work our guys put in, but really a testament to Missouri State looking for local talent,” Thompson added.
Judging by the production so far by the Vikings in the young spring, perhaps MSU is on to something. The Vikings combined for 31 runs in blowout victories to open the spring against Marshfield and Ozark as the curtain has risen on the high school baseball season.
Storylines are everywhere this spring, and the one at Parkview captures a lot of attention.
Thompson, a 2000 Ozark High School graduate, said the Vikings had not beaten his alma mater in at least 14 straight games. The Vikings hit three home runs in a 15-3 victory this week, though.
“We can hit the ball,” Ruff said. “We have a great lineup and we can hit the ball up and down, probably the deepest in the conference. If someone goes down, somebody else can pick them up.”
The 6-foot-2 Ruff has moved from center field to right field this year because that’s where projected collegiate position. He’s also moved from the fifth spot in the batting order to the three hole, vacated by Johnson, who was one of the most feared hitters in the state last season.
The early season returns have been strong: Ruff is 4-for-6 this year with a home run on his first swing of the season for the second consecutive year.
The team’s closer, he’s also thrown two scoreless innings in relief. He said his velocity has improved in the offseason, and he is topping the 80-mph mark on the mound.
Ruff chose Missouri State over Southern Illinois-Carbondale and Lindenwood, but said he always wanted to be a Bear.
Ruff worked in the offseason with hitting coach Jason Hart, the former MSU standout who played for the Texas Rangers and now works as an instructor with the organization. His play with the Midwest Nationals also helped his development.
Thompson said the progress in Ruff’s swing has been obvious, as well as his developed strength from working in the weight room.
“He’s been doing a better job repeating his swing,” Thompson said. “When he stays back and level through, he’s a pretty consistent hitter to all fields. He’s shown that pretty consistently so far this year.”
Ruff, one of the top students in Parkview’s senior class, is not the only college-bound player on Thompson’s squad.
Tyler Nimmers will play at William Woods, Wayne Manier and Brandon Beavers plan on attending Highland (Kan.) Community College, and Andrew Kendrick will have his choice of a few schools.
Parkview won its first conference championship since 1969 last season, as the athletic renaissance at the school continues.
The football team, quarterbacked by Ruff, won the first six games for the first time in school history, and senior Erik Durham just finished a basketball career with the most wins in program history.
“I think that’s a huge part of it,” Thompson said. “And once your student body gets behind you, it’s confidence in the hallways, it’s confidence in each other, it’s just a different perception as a whole school. And that’s something they can take pride in. Not only in one sport, but everything.”
Added Ruff: “It’s been a great year for boys sports at Parkview, and hopefully we can keep it going.”