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SouthArk set to open baseball season

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

Today starts a new era for South Arkansas Community College athletics.

This afternoon, the Stars will play their first baseball games as part of a doubleheader against North Arkansas at Arkansas Tech.

Game time is set for noon.

For Stars coach Cannon Lester, the battles for playing time have been eye openers, and the roster got an added boost with a few players transferring in over the holidays.

“We brought in a couple of new guys at semester, and they’ve added an extra dynamic to it,” Lester said. “We’ve really gotten to see what they’ve got. For the most part, we knew what we had coming back, we needed to fill in a few spots.

“I would say first base and left field are kind of open season. We’re trying to shore things up there and we’ve got plenty of guys that can play. It’s probably going to be who is playing the best defense and who is hitting the most is going to be playing at those spots. We’ve got a little battle at second base that are both really good players. I think we’re getting some really good depth.”

The Stars compete at the Division II level and will 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 junior college it’s hard to tell year to year because the turnover can be so high, but I think with all of the JUCO’s getting their year back last year, there’s going to be a lot of teams in our region that are going to be very seasoned,” Lester said. “They’re old. They’re 20-, 21-years-old. They’ve played two years of junior college baseball and for a lot of them, it’s going to be their third year. I looked at one team and they had six third-year starters. With that being said, I think the competition will be high.

“Western Oklahoma is always at the top of our conference. They’re going to be a good program. I think we open up at home with Enid at the beginning of the conference slate. There’s always a few more schools in there in our conference. Murray State has won a national championship, Rich Mountain was a game away from reaching the World Series last year, National Park will be solid. There will be a few more in there that are really good ballclubs. I think it all comes down to pitching, and if you can get a couple of timely hits in there as well. Baseball is a pretty simple game for the most part.”

As far as expectations go, Lester said he is focused on the development of 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 for. We’re going for this many wins.’ I think it’s hard to tell. I’ll be honest, I have no idea, but I know our No.1 goal is develop. That’s what we talk about day in and day out.

“That’s how we approach everything with our training and our practice plans to what we do is development. How are we going to develop you for the next level. Sometimes, I think especially early on, we’re going to take losses in places that I think we probably could’ve gotten wins because I need that guy to go in there and develop.

“I need Tex Cook to go in and close out a game, and maybe he’s not ready. I’ve got someone else down there that might be ready, but Tex’s ceiling is there and it could get him ready for the next level. I’m OK with that. I’m OK with taking an ‘L’ right there because I think he’s going to grow from that.

“With that being said, we’re going out there to win, but we’re going to get guys as many reps as we can just so when that next level comes calling, we can say, ‘Hey, this guy has done this for us and he’s pretty good at it,’ not just pigeon-hole guys in one thing or another.”

When asked about keys to the season, Lester said it will come down to how the pitching staff performs and if their catchers can stay healthy.

“I think our pitching staff stuff-wise is going to be as good as most of the teams we play, it’s just can we attack the zone?” Lester said. “If we attack the zone, I like our chances because I think we’re really going to be dynamic on the offensive side of the ball. We’re going to be able to run and bunt.

“I think we’ll be probably be the fastest team we play all year up and down the lineup. It’s always good when your two slowest guys in your starting lineup are your middle infielders. We can really run. We’ll be athletic. I think we really just need to pound the zone and trust our stuff because we’re going to be able to play good defense. Catchers staying healthy and pitchers attacking the zone are going to be big keys for us.” 

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