SouthArk set to begin second season on diamond

Season opener: South Arkansas Community College infielder Clay Burrows competes during a game. The Stars begin their second baseball season today with two games at Henderson State, starting with an 11 a.m. contest against SAU Tech. The Stars will face North Arkansas at 2 p.m. (Heath Waldrop/Special to the News-Times)

The curtain officially rises on the second season of baseball for South Arkansas Community College today.

The Stars take on SAU Tech at 11 a.m. before squaring off against North Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. with both games being held at Henderson State.

“Practice has been going good,” said SouthArk coach Cannon Lester. “We got everybody back at Christmas, and for the most part, everybody seems to be healthy, which at this time of the year is the one thing you really you want to watch out for with cold weather and being off for a long time. We’ve really been trying to get a hold of that, and I think we’ve done a really good job. I think we’re ready to go.”

Lester said today’s games will likely see a wide range of players getting the opportunity to get on the field.

“We obviously want to win just like anybody else, but we know there’s more on the horizon whether we go 2-0 and look great or go 0-2 and look terrible, it’s not really going to define the season,” Lester said. “With that being said, we’re going to go out and compete. I think we’re going to roll out a couple of different lineups. We’re going to platoon in the outfield for a while.”

On the mound, Lester said Kade Lively, who recently signed with Arkansas Tech, will get the Game 1 nod with Louisiana-Monroe transfer Christian Clayson a candidate to pitch in the second game.

Ethan Riche, a freshman who has been expected to follow Lively in the rotation, likely won’t pitch on Friday.

“Ethan had a little shoulder thing right now that we’re nursing back,” Lester said. “He’s fine. We’re just being really careful with it, so we’re probably not going to throw him this weekend. We might look at next weekend, just kind of give it time and make sure we’re all right there.”

With the season getting underway, Lester said the starters will be on a strict pitch count.

“We’re going to keep our starters probably to 40 or 50 pitches and try to throw as many guys in there as we can,” Lester said. “Pitching, I think the situation is going to dictate who we throw in there out of the bullpen. Whoever we don’t throw on Friday, we’re going to come back and scrimmage on Saturday against each other and then we’ll get ready to go for a four-game set next weekend. That’s when we’ll really get a chance to see everybody and how we mesh together.”

When asked what he wanted to see from his team on Friday, Lester said he wanted them to keep an even keel.

“A lot of compete, staying in the moment,” Lester said. “Obviously, everybody is going to be excited, so keep those emotions in check, don’t get too up or down, just kind of play the game. We’re going to platoon in the outfield for a while. We’ve got a lot of depth out there. I called those guys in and told them what we’ve got going on and it’s a good thing. Each one has their own strengths and weaknesses. 

“I told one of them, ‘If you go 2-for-3 with two homers or 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, that’s not going to determine right now whether you play the next game. You don’t have to live and die with every pitch in every at-bat. Just go out and get your work in and let’s try to make adjustments and do the things you’ve been told to do.’”

Lester added that the Stars are ready to see someone wearing a different uniform.

“I think everybody gets to that point, especially game week,” Lester said. “I think we had one of those practices on Tuesday. I looked at coach (Hayden) Dow, and I said, ‘Well, they’re ready.’ They need to see somebody else. I know for sure our pitchers are ready to see other hitters. Our hitters have been pretty good. 

“Our pitchers have been good too, but I think once pitchers and hitters see each other a ton of times, I think the hitters start to have the upper hand a little bit, so I know they’re ready to see different guys, and I’m ready to see them throw against different hitters. If we want to have as much success as we want and win a championship, it’s going to start on the mound.”

As far as today’s opponents are concerned, when the Stars face SAU Tech, it will be the first official game for the Rockets.

“We saw a lot of SAU Tech’s arms in the fall,” Lester said. “Jaden Woolbright signed with SAU. We saw him in the fall. He has really good stuff. I think he’ll probably be toward the top as far as stuff that we’re going to see. He’s going to be 87 to 92 (miles per hour) with a really good breaking ball. He fills it up. I don’t know a ton about the rest of their arms. I don’t really know about NorthArk, but I think they lost only 10 or 11 games all year, and we beat them twice in the first two games. I think they’re a well-coached team and they’re going to do things right.”

Following Friday’s games, the Stars will host Three Rivers and Bossier Parrish for a four-game homestand next week, and Lester is excited to see how his team handles the early weekends of the season.

“I told coach Dow the other day that the first three weekends that every arm we’re going to see is probably going to be in the nines (90s) with a decent breaking ball,” Lester said. “We’re going to see a lot of good arms, which is exciting for me and it’s going to prepare us to see what we need to make adjustments on. We’re really going to see who can handle that, and who can handle the moment.”