With a plethora of returning starters and a big recruiting class making its way on campus, the fall has been a busy one for South Arkansas Community College baseball coach Cannon Lester.
The Stars wrapped up their workouts two weeks ago with their World Series, and Lester said he was happy with what he saw.
“I think for the most part they went good,” Lester said. “We’ve got a lot of returners, so we kind of had a little better grasp of what those guys had. We’ve got a bunch of young guys that did some good things as well. We hit the long ball a lot more this fall, so that was good.
“That was a thing we really tried to add. Pitching-depth wise, we really tackled that as well. We got to see a lot of innings, got to get a lot of AB’s. It was a good fall overall.”
In their debut season the Stars hit 40 home runs as a team, but if the fall is any indication, SouthArk may be much more of a threat in that category next year.
“We hope it translates,” Lester said. “We had a lot of guys hit a lot of home runs this fall. I think we hit more home runs this fall than we did the entire spring in probably half the games. It kind of really started with our training.
“Coach (Hayden) Dow has got the guys doing a lot of good stuff in the weight room as far as throwing balls, just getting their bodies to move faster. We’ve really taken that from the training out to the field. I thought they did a good job of taking it from practice to the game.”
Elijah Nichols, who hit .268 with four home runs and 25 RBIs last year, was singled out by Lester for his performance this fall.
“Our offensive MVP was probably Elijah Nichols,” Lester said. “He was unbelievable this fall. I think he ended up with 13 homers and a lot more doubles too, so he by far stuck out the most. Trace Shoup had a good fall. He led our team in quality at-bats and he also had eight home runs. He had a great fall.
“Roc Hawthorne is always going to hit, Ryan Riggs is always going to hit and we’ve got a freshman that’s also another catcher in Jacob Ambriz that I thought of all the freshmen, he by far swung it the best. We had a lot of guys swing it well this fall.”
On the mound, Kade Lively, who led the team in strikeouts and ranked second on the team in innings pitched last year, had an outstanding fall that culminated with him verbally committing to Arkansas Tech.
“He probably had our best fall of anybody,” Lester said. “He’ll probably be at the top of our rotation.”
Ethan Riche, a freshman from Bunkie, La., also threw the ball well in the fall.
“He’s probably going to be one of our weekend guys,” Lester said. “He’s running it up there throwing pretty hard. He really commands the zone with three different pitches. I think his upside probably surprised us.”
Christian Clayson, a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe, was one of several pitchers Lester said had a good fall.
“At times he was really dominant,” Lester said. “I think he’ll probably start in the weekend rotation for us. Hunter Royal ran it up to 93 this fall. He has a really good breaking ball, and when he’s in the zone, he’s really well. Jackson Regan, a sidearmer that we redshirted last year and then we dropped him down, I thought he threw the best of our relievers.”
Making the transition to college can be difficult for freshmen, but Lester said a couple of others joined Riche in performing well this fall.
“I think Kade Pearl threw the ball well at times and Jack Moody threw the ball pretty well this fall,” Lester said. “I thought they threw the ball well, especially for freshmen with all of the learning curves that come along with that. I thought they made some big strides.”
Walks were an issue for the Stars last year, and Lester said that while there was improvement, old habits resurfaced at times.
“We did at times and at times we reverted back to old ways,” Lester said. “I think we had our seventh guy go over 90, so stuff-wise, we’re really good, but I’d be lying if I said we didn’t need to command the ball better.
“It has gotten better, but we still have a ways to go. I think that’s an ongoing thing that we’re going to keep fighting.
“I think as guys start to understand their body a little bit and get a little more comfortable, we’ve got a lot of returners back, so once they get into game action, they’ve started to slow it down enough to be able to control their misses a little bit better and really understand what they need to do to get back into the strike zone.
“We still have got a long ways to go on that, but we’re really starting to hone in a lot better as far as our numbers of misses and how far we miss with.”
At their World Series, Lester said Ryan Riggs was the offensive MVP, while freshman John Demcher was the pitching MVP thanks to five scoreless innings in the deciding game.
Players also coached the teams with Clay Burrows and Clayson on one side with Lively and former El Dorado standout Brennan Jones on the other after the players voted. Lester said Roc Hawthorne was also voted to coach, but couldn’t participate due to getting sick the week of the Series.
“We let them pick teams and it’s interesting to see who they picked,” Lester said. “We’ve thrown lineups out there all fall, and they’ve seen what we throw out there. We told them, ‘Hey, this is your deal. If you think somebody else needs to go in a different spot or in a different role, it’s your team.’
“It’s always interesting to see what they think of their teammates, who they trust and who they’re weary of. It’s a fun time and we just sit back and umpire and just let them go.”