There was plenty for South Arkansas Community College baseball coach Cannon Lester to be happy about in the Stars’ first two games of the season.
The offense scored 18 runs and banged out 26 hits while the Stars’ bullpen turned in a superb effort in SouthArk’s 11-6 win over SAU Tech in their opener.
The Stars couldn’t finish off the sweep, falling to North Arkansas 9-7 after the Pioneers scored three runs in the ninth to break a 6-6 tie.
“I thought it was a good start,” Lester said. “Obviously, we would’ve liked to have gone 2-0, but we lost to a good NorthArk team. They just executed better than we did down the stretch. We got to see some guys on the mound and we got to see some guys at the plate do some good things, so I think it was a good start overall.”
Kade Lively and Christian Clayson, who started the two games, had their struggles.
Lively allowed three hits and five runs in two innings of work, walking two with one strikeout against SAU Tech.
Clayson, the starter against North Arkansas, allowed two unearned runs in three innings on one hit with one walk and one strikeout, but he hit four batters.
Lester said the hit batsmen by Clayson should be considered an anomaly.
“I think so,” Lester said. “They’re a tough team. That first inning, I think he hit three in a row, and then we made an error at first on a weird ball on a tapper that hit the turf and shot back. It was one of those crazy plays and they scored two runs. There was a fly ball later in the game where they scored two runs that we should’ve caught. There was a double-play ball that we should’ve turned, so we gave them quite a few in that game, but credit them, they played tough and they pulled it out. If we clean up those things in the second game, I think we win pretty easily.”
The Stars trailed 5-1 in the opener, but Hunter Royal, Trey Miller and Aaron Warriner combined for 13 strikeouts over the final seven innings with Royal picking up the win after giving up one run and four hits in four innings in relief. He walked two and had seven strikeouts.
Lester added that the experience of his team played a role in their comeback.
“In both games, Kade and Christian didn’t have the games they wanted out of the gate, and we don’t expect them to have those games much,” Lester said. “We go down 5-1 in the second, and that was the good thing about having an older team. We didn’t panic. We knew with our offense we could go a little bit. We just stayed in the game.
“Hunter came in and did a great job. He dominated them for four. He could’ve kept going. He would’ve been fine, but we didn’t want to run his pitch count up. Trey came in and ever since we came back from (Christmas) break, Trey’s been really good, and he kept that going.
“We scored a few runs in the eighth, but Aaron was already hot, so we went ahead and brought him in. It wasn’t really a high-leverage spot, but we went ahead and brought him in because we didn’t want to sit him down too many times.”
Steffan Fak, Jackson Regan and Gage Bellati all made their first appearances with the Stars against North Arkansas, and while Regan took the loss, his scoreless frames in the seventh and eighth allowed the Stars to fight back and tie the game. Bellati also impressed in his first outing that came in a very unenviable position.
“Jackson threw really well in some pivotal spots,” Lester said. “I really didn’t want to put a first-year freshman in a 6-6 game in the ninth, but hindsight is 20/20. They hit a bloop to begin it and Jackson probably got a little tired.
“I was really proud of Jackson. He didn’t deserve the loss. Bellati came in in a tough situation with the bases loaded and goes after the guy and gets two quick outs. That was good to see from those two guys.”
The Stars got out of the gates quickly and Elijah Nichols hit a home run that helped propel the Stars’ comeback in the opener against SAU Tech.
“I’ll never forget how we started the first game on Friday,” Lester said. “The first pitch of the game, Roc Hawthorne hits a triple off the wall, the second pitch of the game, Trace (Shoup) short-hops the wall in left for a double that scored a run. I think our offense is really going to go at times. The first three guys in our lineup were unbelievable. Elijah got a big swing off in a big part of the game to really get us rolling, so offensively, I think we’re pretty deep and we’re going to go, it’s just keep trusting it and keep the game close.”
Former El Dorado standout Leighton Turbeville had a memorable debut with the Stars.
He delivered a pinch-hit run-scoring single in the opener before going 2-for-5 with a double and a triple against North Arkansas.
“I think we’re down one late, I brought Leighton Turbeville off the bench to pinch hit, first and third, and he smoked one past the first baseman to tie it up, so big knock right there,” Lester said. “In the second game, his first two at-bats were a triple and a double, so he had a really good day.”
Freshman Jacob Ambriz had four RBIs in the two games, and Lester was pleased with his performance.
“We’re excited about it on both sides,” Lester said. “I think Jacob can hit with the best of them on our team. When you talk about facing good arms in the conference he played in Texas, whenever we face a good arm, Jacob usually has a really good at-bat.
“If we’re playing on our field, the very first ball he hit in his college career is probably a home run. He bombed it, but they caught it at the wall. He had some good swings. I thought he did a really good job behind the plate. I thought he handled the staff very well. I think he’s going to keep getting more comfortable back there and keep growing. We’re excited.”
Roc Hawthorne was very productive out of the leadoff spot, finishing with three hits, four walks, four runs scored and two RBIs in the two games.
Trace Shoup had three hits, two RBIs and two walks against SAU Tech.
Ryan Riggs went 2-for-4 with three RBIs and Nichols also walked twice in addition to his home run in the opener.
Nichols and Clay Burrows joined Turbeville and Ambriz with two hits against North Arkansas.
After playing their two games on Friday, the Stars scrimmaged Saturday, and Lester said there are two freshmen that stood out.
“Two guys really impressed on Saturday,” Lester said. “John Demcher from Texas, he got up to 89 (miles an hour). It was cold and raining, and he was 87, 88 and filled it up. Jack Moody from Louisiana got in there and he made some of our best hitters look silly. They’ve been getting better every time out, so I’m really looking forward to getting them on the mound soon.”
The Stars will be back in action on Saturday and Sunday at Louisiana-Monroe for single games against Bossier Parish (La.).
Saturday’s game will start at 6 p.m. with Sunday’s game being an 11 a.m. start.
Bossier Parish swept two games from Arkansas-Rich Mountain by scores of 17-11 and 16-3 last weekend.
Brando Leroux had a monster weekend by going 4-for-6 with three of his hits being home runs. He finished with 11 RBIs in the two games.