SouthArk set to open baseball season
Today begins a new era for South Arkansas Community College athletics.
This afternoon, the Stars will play their first baseball games in a doubleheader against North Arkansas at Arkansas Tech.
Game time is set at noon.
For Stars coach Cannon Lester, the battles for playing time were eye-opening, and the roster got an extra boost with a few players transferred over the holidays.
“We brought in a couple new guys in the semester, and they added some extra momentum to that,” Lester said. “We really got to see what they have. For the most part, we knew what we got in return, we had to fill a few spots.
“I would say first base and left field is kind of an open season. We try to consolidate things there and we have a lot of guys who can play. It will probably be who plays the best defense and who hits the most will play in those spots. We have a little battle at second base who are both very good players. I think we’re getting really good depth.
The Stars will compete at the Division II level and compete in Region 2 with Carl Albert State, Murray State, National Park, Northern Oklahoma-Enid, Northern Oklahoma-Tonkawa, Redlands, Arkansas-Rich Mountain and Western Oklahoma State.
“I think in college it’s hard to tell from year to year because the turnover can be so high, but I think all the JUCOs recovered their year last year, there will be a lot teams in our area that are going to be very seasoned,” Lester said. “They’re old. They’re 20, 21. They’ve played two years of junior varsity baseball and for a lot of them this will be their third I looked at a team and they had six third-year starters. That being said, I think the competition will be high.
“Western Oklahoma is still at the top of our conference. It will be a good program. I think we open at home with Enid at the start of the conference slate. There are always a few more schools in our conference. Murray State won a national championship, Rich Mountain was one game away from reaching the World Series last year, National Park will be strong. There will be a few more that are very good ball clubs. I think it all comes down to pitch, and if you can get a few hits in a timely manner as well. Baseball is a fairly simple game for the most part.
As for expectations, Lester said he is focused on developing his players.
“That’s a great question,” Lester said. “When we sat down when we came back in January, we didn’t sit down and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. We are aiming for as many victories. I think it’s hard to say. I’ll be honest, I have no idea, but I know our #1 goal is to grow. This is what we talk about day after day.
“That’s how we approach everything with our training and practice plans for what we do is development. How will we develop you for the next level. Sometimes I think especially early on we’re going to take losses in places where I think we probably could have gotten wins because I need this guy to go there and develop.
“I need Tex Cook to come in and finish a game, and maybe he’s not ready. I’ve got someone else out there who might be ready, but Tex’s ceiling is there and it might set him up for the next level. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with taking an ‘L’ right there because I think he’s going to grow from that.
“That being said, we’re going out there to win, but we’re going to get as many reps as we can for the next level to call us, we can say, ‘Hey this guy did this for us and he’s pretty good at this area, not just locker guys in one thing or another.
Asked about the keys to the season, Lester said it would come down to the performance of the pitching staff and the ability of their receivers to stay healthy.
“I think our pitching team will be as good as most teams we face, is it just that we can attack the area?” said Lester. “If we attack the area, I like our chances because I think we’re going to be really dynamic on the attacking side of the ball. We will be able to run and run.
“I think we’ll probably be the fastest team we’ll face all year in the roster. It’s always good when your two slowest guys in your starting lineup are your middle players. We can really run. We will be athletic. I think we really have to beat the zone and trust our stuff because we’re going to be able to play good defense. Receivers that stay healthy and pitchers that attack the zone are going to be big keys for us.