SouthArk ready for trip to Oklahoma

Sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story.

When South Arkansas Community College opened NJCAA Region 2 play against National Park, the Nighthawks were hitting only .228 as a team, and had been held under five runs in nine of their 16 games.

But in the first three games of the series, the Nighthawks exploded for 28 runs and SouthArk was able to split the series thanks to a walk-off three-run homer by Trace Shoup in a 7-6 win in Game 2 and a dominant performance in a 13-0 win in Game 4.

Now the Stars (13-9, 2-2) hit the road for a four-game series at Northern Oklahoma Enid (12-11, 3-1) with doubleheaders today and Saturday with starting times of 1 p.m. on both days.

“Honestly with the way they played, I was happy to come out with two games,” SouthArk coach Cannon Lester said of the split. 

“They easily could’ve won three of them. I think that was one of those series where last year that we might’ve gotten swept or at least lost three out of four, so that was good to split and hopefully we can go to Enid and play well there.”

The Jets have been on a roll having won eight of their last nine games, and they won three of four games against Arkansas Rich-Mountain last week.

The Jets’ offense has been blistering hot over that stretch, scoring double figures in eight straight games before tapering off to a mere seven runs in Game 4 against Arkansas-Rich Mountain.

Sophomore Brayden Bock (.419 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI) and freshman Owen Tracy (.321 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI) are key members of an offense that is hitting .321 as a team.

On the mound, sophomore Jack Cline leads the team with 33 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings, while fellow sophomore Dillon Dibrell leads the team with a 3.57 ERA in 17 2/3 innings of work.

“Just looking, numbers sometimes tell a story,” Lester said. “Just looking at numbers, it looks like they definitely slug it pretty good. It looks like they’re pitching staff might be down a little bit. 

“If we’re going to go into a series and the other team is slugging it and their pitching is down, I’m going to take that every day of the week. 

“I would rather face that than a team that has a three of four ERA and is hitting .250. I would rather face that team that can slug it because I think our pitching is a little better than most, so hopefully we can slow them down a little bit. 

“It’s going to a be a good series. They were one of the only teams this weekend to win a series. A lot of teams split, so they’ll have a little confidence, but we’re excited about going down there and getting after it.”

The Stars’ series with National Park had its schedule changed, so the Stars finished up their series on Monday, and while Lester said the rotation for the series was up in the air, he hinted that freshman Brett Foss (1-0, 3.00 ERA) would start Game 1 with sophomore Hunter Royal (2-2, 6.12 ERA) going in Game 2.

Christian Clayson (1-2, 4.18 ERA) could get the Game 3 nod with Game 4 still to be determined, but Gage Bellati (2-0, 0.00 ERA) could be the Game 4 starter after working three scoreless frames for his second win in Monday’s Game 4 win over National Park.

“Maybe we’ll piggyback him (Bellati) with Kade (Lively). That worked well, and Gage is still not quite all the way back yet,” Lester said. 

“He felt good and he wasn’t sore, so that’s exciting. I think he went 35 (pitches) last week, and if he’s going OK, we might bump him up to 45, 50 at the most and go with a bullpen game from there.”

The Stars were downed 14-3 in the opener against National Park before rallying to win Game 2 7-6 on Shoup’s aforementioned walk-off home run.

On Monday, the Stars were shutout by Jaden Lewis in an 8-0 setback in Game 3 before Bellati, Jack Moody and Kade Lively combined on a three-hit shutout in a 13-0 win in the series finale.

“It was an interesting series for sure,” Lester said. “A lot of dominating on one side and then the other. On Saturday, they had a really good approach against Clayson. He’s been throwing the ball well, but they were a little bit better and just put it on us and hit it all over the yard.

“In the second game, they pretty much dominated from the get-go. Luckily, we kept ourselves in the ballgame. I thought Foss threw the ball pretty good and gave us a chance to win. We rallied late and we go single, single and then Trace hits a walk-off homer and it’s like, ‘Well we got away with right there.’

“In the first game on Monday, they had a pretty good guy on the mound and we come out of the gate and go missile, missile, missile to begin the game and I had a guy thrown out on a bang-bang play at home. We’re down 4-0, and I had a guy thrown out and we had second and third with no outs, so it could’ve been a different game. I thought we hit it OK, they just didn’t give us any freebies and made a couple of big plays behind them.

“In the second game, Elijah Nichols got off a big swing and Gage Bellati came out and throws three in his first time and only went 35 pitches. It was awesome and kind of set the tone. We had a big second inning and put those ghosts behind us. It was an interesting series for sure.”

Freshman Nikolas Ioannou made his debut at first base, going 3-for-11 with a double, but it was his defense that shined.

“We started Niko at first base. That was a big 6-7 frame over there,” Lester said. 

“He had a good weekend. I thought he played really good defense and had some big hits in there, so we’re going in a few places. We’ve still got some depth. 

“Whatever we get from him offensively is kind of a bonus. He’s really good around the bag, and he’s 6-7 and left-handed. It’s nice to throw to that when you’re an infielder, and I thought he might have saved a few errors, so that was good. 

“He had some really good at-bats, he hit some balls hard and he was really competitive, so that was good to see. We’ve been pretty good at first with Beau Kuttenkuler. He’s been good offensively, but we went with a little bit more of a defensive route for a couple of games. We’ve got some depth there, we’ve just got to keep going.”

Another sophomore will be getting the opportunity to move on to a four-year school.

Trey Miller, a sophomore who has been a key component to the Stars’ bullpen during his career at SouthArk, has signed with Arkansas-Monticello.

“We are excited for Trey,” Lester said. “He has an elite curveball and the velocity keeps going up. He never gets rattled on the mound and he is a great example of what development and buy-in looks like. 

“He has established himself as our closer and that is a testament to both himself and coach (Hayden) Dow.”

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