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Plenty of position battles for Stars

by Jason Avery | January 28, 2022 at 12:00 a.m.

January has seen some oddities with the weather ranging from 70 degrees to having snow in the forecast.

By despite the wide variances, South Arkansas Community College has been able to ramp up for the upcoming season by getting outside for practices.

“They’ve gone good,” SouthArk first-year coach Cannon Lester said. “For the most part, we’ve had some really good weather for January, so we’ve been able to get out on the field quite a bit. I think we’ve scrimmaged four times, and we’ll scrimmage two or three times before the start just trying to shore some things up and trying to make sure everybody’s healthy and we’re all on the same page.”

For Lester, the last few weeks have not only been about watching battles for playing time, but also getting acquainted with a few players who transferred in prior to the start of the semester to finalize the roster.

“I think right around Christmas, it finalized for the most part,” Lester said. “With those three new guys coming in at semester, they’ve come in and the guys have welcomed them with open arms. I appreciate that. It’s not easy when somebody comes in and they could take your spot.

“Our biggest thing is we want to make our team as good as we can. We’re not going to add just anybody, but we’re going to have the right guys, and I think we do with those three guys. They help solidify our team, make it a little bit deeper. We’re set now. We’re just hoping to stay healthy and ready to get this thing kicked off.”

Early on, there could be platoons at several spots as the Stars try to get things solidified.

The Stars have a trio of players working at first base with two having ties to Union County.

Brennan Jones, a freshman from El Dorado, is in the mix along with former Parkers Chapel standout Trace Shoup, who transferred from LSU-Eunice, as well as Nick Ward, a former standout at Woodlawn.

“He’s probably our best offensive guy,” Lester said of Ward. “He’ll either DH or play first and hit in the four hole. He’s got big-time pop and a couple of offers already. He’s going to be a really big hitter in the middle of our lineup.”

Should they not see playing time at first base, Lester said both Shoup and Jones can shift to left field.

“I think Trace and Brennan will switch out some time in left field,” Lester said. “I think it will be one or the other with those guys.”

Lester said he has been pleased with Jones’ growth.

“Since we came back from Christmas, we put him over there,” Lester said. “He’s put on about 20 pounds and he’s probably our best defensive first baseman. He’ll have a good shot. He’s turned into a really good left fielder. He’s gotten a lot faster.”

Shoup earned praise for the offense he can provide.

“He’s got a big bat, got some pop in there,” Lester said. “Those three guys are really going to do some damage.”

At second base, freshman Eli Lasyone from Champion Christian in Winnfield, La., and fellow freshman Elijah Nichols from Rivercrest are working.

“They’ll split time at second base, especially early on,” Lester said. “I think one will eventually pull away, but early on, we’re going to play both them and let them go a little bit and the rest will take care of itself.”

Lasyone stands to be a key fit at the top of the lineup.

“He hit in the two hole for us during the fall. He was one of better hitters,” Lester said. “Just a tough, scrappy kid. He makes some really flashy plays. He’ll be a college shortstop.”

Nichols could also see time at shortstop, and Lester likes his potential with the bat.

“He came back and put on a little bit of weight. He’s just hammering baseballs right now,” Lester said. “He’s exciting to watch at the dish.”

One spot that has been cemented is at shortstop with Jacksonville’s Clay Burrows set to get the starting nod.

“He’s a really sure-handed shortstop,” Lester said. “He has a very sure bat. It stays in the zone for a long time. He really knows the game. He’s our field general out there. He understands everything. He can bunt. He can run and hit some doubles every once in a while.”

The Stars already have one player set to move on to a four-year school with third baseman Fox Locke set to head to Arkansas Tech.

“He’ll hit in the middle of our lineup, and he had a big fall for us,” Lester said. “He’s a good athlete at third base. He throws well, moves well. He’s got some double and home run potential.”

Freshman Jaron Townsend from Caldwell, La., could see playing time at first and third base for the Stars.

“He’s a solid baseball player,” Lester said. “He found a lot of barrels in the fall and put on about 25 pounds, so his bat is really starting to come around as well.”

If there is one area of concern Lester has, it’s the depth at catcher.

Freshman Ryan Riggs from Bryant is set to be the starter with fellow freshman Luis Cruz from Little Elm High School in Texas set to be the backup.

“That’s where we lack depth the most,” Lester said. “They’ll split some time back there. If there is one key for us, it’s we need to stay healthy there.”

Lester praised Riggs for his toughness.

“He’s been coached well and he’s a tough kid,” Lester said. “He’s an average thrower, but he’s a good receiver and is just tough as nails. He’s locked in every pitch. He’s not a big guy, but he does have a little bit of pop and be a high on-base guy.”

Lester said Cruz seems to be settling in behind the plate.

“His swing has really taken off,” Lester said. “He’s starting to get more comfortable behind the plate.”

In addition to Shoup and Jones, Hunter Royal, a freshman from Rogers Heritage, could see playing time in left field.

“He had a home run and three doubles off the fence the other day,” Lester said. “He’s got big-time power.”

Like Shoup, Gabe Spedale started at LSU-Eunice, but transferred at the semester break.

A freshman from Denham Springs, La., Spedale is slated to get the nod in center field.

“He’s a really good athlete,” Lester said. “He’s probably the fastest guy on the team. He can pitch as well. He’s just starting to get comfortable out there, but when came and worked out for us in the fall, it was for real. He had some D1 offers out of high school. He’s a really good ball player, works really hard. I think once he gets comfortable, he’s really going to take off for us.”

Freshman Roc Hawthorne from Springhill, La., is set to play in right field.

“He was probably our best player all fall,” Lester said. “He’ll hit leadoff for us. He’s got some pop and he can steal some bases. He’s probably the best athlete on the team. He’ll be a staple for us at the top of the lineup.”

Former Junction City standout Tanner McLelland can play in several spots, and Lester likes his defense.

“I would say he is our best outfielder defensively that’s going to travel with us,” Lester said. “He gets really good jumps. He can track down balls in the outfield. He’s become a utility guy for us. He can really field on the infield, so we can throw him in there if need be.”

The Stars have several players who will take redshirts, including outfielder Kyle Tolley from Nettleton High School.

“He played really good, but Kyle has told me since Day One he wants to be a Division 1 center fielder,” Lester said.

“We told him that if that’s going to happen, then he has got to put on some weight. He’s only 160 pounds right now. He’s a good hitter and a good outfielder, but he’s got to get bigger and stronger if he wants to play at that level. He was very open to redshirting because I think he saw the benefits of it. He’s really going to pack on some weight this spring, and we look forward to seeing him next year.”

A few players will take medical redshirts, including former Parkers Chapel standout Austin Looney, who had shoulder surgery last summer.

“He’s slowly coming back from that,” Lester said. “He’s going full bore with hitting, but the throwing side is going to take him awhile.”

As far as what the future holds for some of the Stars possibly joining Locke as players who could move  on, Lester said it could come later this season.

“It will be later on,” Lester said. “Fox and Kyle Williams are true sophomores, so they are the only ones that have to leave. We’ve got a few more that I think are ready to go. Their games are ready to go on to the four-year level and a good four-year level.

“We’re starting to get their names out there a lot as people are starting to call about them. There are some D1 schools that are calling and some really good D2’s. We’ll get them to the right place. Sometimes it might be next week, sometimes it may be in May. We’ll keep working the phones for those guys and get them where they need to be.”


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