El Dorado leaning on underclassmen

With only eight upperclassmen on their roster, a youth movement is in full swing at El Dorado.

A year ago, the Wildcats went 16-10, but missed out on qualifying for the state tournament.

For coach Jeff Burson, his young team has been making steady progress in preseason workouts.

“It’s been going well,” Burson said. “We had a good offseason. We’ve had to fight the weather a little bit, but we’re getting as many innings in intrasquading as we can.”

The Wildcats open their season on Monday by hosting Magnolia before immediately jumping into 5A South play on Tuesday with a trip to White Hall.

“We have only two juniors and a lot of freshmen in the mix,” Burson said. “The first week is going to be a lot of experimenting to see where guys stick. We have a lot of pitchers.”

The Wildcats have plenty of flexibility, particularly with their upperclassmen who may have to fill in at several spots.

Junior Xorian Robinson, along with seniors Holden Lowry, Sam York and Jake Webster-Moore can play multiple spots, as can freshman Drew Owens.

Lowry has signed with Arkansas-Monticello, while York is headed to Hill College in Texas.

Mitchell Polk, a sophomore, returns at catcher, but Burson said he could also pitch and see playing time in the outfield.

Polk homered and had three hits with four RBIs in El Dorado’s benefit game against Crossett earlier this week.

Webster-Moore, who also homered, drove in three runs and had three hits against Crossett, could see playing time in the outfield along with Lowry and senior Peyton Howard.

“Especially my older ones,” Burson said of his team’s flexibility. “My younger ones are starting to. A lot of times in our intrasquads, we’ll move them around because of that. It just takes time to get them the knowledge that they need to play in this conference.”

The pitching staff will be without senior Jonah Davis, who signed with South Arkansas College, as he recovers from arm surgery.

“He’s always going to be ahead of the curve because he’s such a hard worker,” Burson said. “He’s proving it again because he’ll be back playing in the field in about three or four weeks. I know he’s going to really push to get back on the mound because that’s what he loves to do, but I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize him. Jonah’s one you have to hold him back sometimes because he’s so gung-ho about getting back out there. That’s one of the things I really love about him.”

The Wildcats will be relying heavily on freshmen, particularly on the mound.

Harrison Lowry, Hamilton Laird, Tate Meadows, Brett Major and Josiah Moore are some of the freshmen in the mix to log varsity innings this spring.

Sophomores Paxton Strong and Ethan Darden are also candidates, as is senior Daniel Roblee.

“They’ll have to pitch for us this year being as young as we are,” Burson said of the freshmen.

The quintet of Roblee, Darden, Major, Meadows and Strong combined to limit Crossett to three hits in six innings of work, allowing one unearned run. They walked three and struck out eight. 

The 5A South ranks as one of the toughest leagues in the state regardless of class, and Burson said where EHS could be at a disadvantage is through physical maturity.

“In our conference, it’s so hard,” Burson said. “The physical maturity that you have to have to play in our conference will be the challenge for them. Mentally, they’re maturing really well. They’re ahead of the game. Physically, it is what it is. We’ve worked hard to develop it, but it comes with time, so it’s going to be a really fun year and a really challenging year for me to really stay on top of what I need to do to pick them up and give them an advantage on the field. I’m looking forward to it. They’re a great group of guys. They’ve worked really, really hard.”

But one advantage Burson does have is that he has had a chance to work with the incoming freshmen for the last year to help prepare them.

“One luxury I have this year is last year they gave an eighth-grade baseball class,” Burson said. “I had all but one of those kids in that eighth-grade baseball class, so this is my second year with them. They’ve transitioned really well because of that. It’s put them a little bit ahead of the game.”

Although it would be easy to temper expectations because of their youth, Burson said that will not be the case for the Wildcats.

“As we’ve gone through the offseason, we’re not going to use youth as an excuse,” Burson said. “I think they’re mentally strong enough to compete. I really do. I’m not going to use being young as an excuse, and I don’t expect them to. We’ve already predetermined that. We’re going to go out there and see how much better we can get every day and make it simple.”

Burson said the 5A South should be solid from top to bottom as it is year in and year out.

“It’s kind of hard to tell,” Burson said. “Texarkana gets so many move-ins over there, but Sheridan, Lake Hamilton, (Hot Springs) Lakeside and Benton will always be good. I’ve said this from the start, but I really don’t worry about those guys as much as worrying about us getting better and being the best that we can be. 

“That’s what I get my guys to focus on because if we play our best and we don’t beat ourselves, we’ll have a chance.”

For the Wildcats to have success, Burson said some of the underclassmen must step up.

“To have some surprises, some younger guys surprise us,” Burson said. “I know some of these younger guys can play, but sometimes when the lights come on, they don’t really have the confidence in themselves like they need to, and then there will be some that really do, that really take it to another level when the lights come on. 

“We need a couple of those guys to step up. I need my older guys to stay healthy and lead and have good team leadership.” 

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