Cats’ handful of aces deal good results

By Donna Stephens Originally Published June 9, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated June 7, 2013 at 12:19 p.m.
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Conway’s Connor Prout pitches to a Fort Smith North batter in a March game at Conway High School.

Pitching was never a problem for Conway’s baseball Wampus Cats as they marched to the semifinals of the Class 7A State Tournament recently.

• Dylan Crossley, a junior, recorded two no-hitters, including one perfect game;

• Bubba Carter, just a sophomore, didn’t allow an earned run all season;

• Spencer Jerome, a senior, came within one strike of a perfect game; and

• Senior Connor Prout, a two-time all-stater, just won.

“I’m really excited about the fact I’ve had all this pitching, and I’ve got some more coming,” said Barry Lueders, the pitching coach who just completed his 28th season with the Wampus Cats. “Some of those guys are 6 feet tall, long and lean with good arms. I haven’t had that in a long time.”

Prout, the squad’s ace, finished 7-3 with a 2.20 ERA. In 63 innings, he struck out 43 “against the stud teams,” head coach Noel Boucher said.

Jerome said he was grateful to have been a part of a special 2013.

“Connor Prout definitely should get most of the credit,” he said. “We came together as a team. There was always somebody there to pick up the team. We always had somebody ready to go.”

Lueders called Prout “5-5 and a little stumpy guy.”

“You look at him, and you think, ‘That guy ain’t going to beat us.’ And all he does is win,” Lueders said. “He throws 80 mph, but he’s a real smart kid. He was the only regular guy. The rest we mixed and matched according to who we were playing.”

Prout said the staff overall had “a great mindset.”

“We overcame a lot and didn’t let things bother us,” he said. “It takes a good pitcher to do that. Our pitching staff was young, too.”

He said he embraced the role as senior leader.

“We love our underclassmen,” he said. “We worked with them every day. Every day we helped each other get better.”

His baseball days are over. But he will attend the University of Central Arkansas, so he’ll be close enough to follow the 2014 Wampus Cats.

“We’ve got to find our No. 1,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of people who can do it. We’ve just got to find out who it is.”

Jerome finished with a 1-1 record. Through 26 innings, he had a 4.60 ERA and 22 strikeouts. Against Little Rock Hall, though, he had a perfect game going in the fifth inning, with two outs and two strikes on the 15th batter he had faced.

“I hung a curveball, and he swung and pulled it into the hole between short and third,” he said. “I knew I was having a good game, but I didn’t really know I had a perfect game going.”

He retired the next batter with three pitches.

But he hasn’t spent any time pondering what might have been.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I was happy with my performance. I had 13 strikeouts. I couldn’t have asked for a better senior year.”

He, too, is done with baseball. He’ll attend the University of Arkansas in the fall.

Crossley finished 3-0 with a 2.50 ERA. In 25 innings, he struck out 35 batters.

He threw a no-hitter against Jonesboro Westside in the Mountain Home tournament. In the other 7A/6A Central game against Hall, he threw a perfect game, leading the Wampus Cats past the Warriors in six innings, 11-0.

“When he’s right, he’s tough, very tough,” Boucher said. “He’s learning the game. He did a lot of growing up this year.”

For the first time, Crossley chose to focus on baseball instead of also playing other sports this year. He agreed that had made a difference.

“I had a lot more free time to work on my mechanics,” he said. “I’ve got a good schedule for workouts, and it’s paid off. In my first American Legion game, I pitched four innings and struck out 10 of the 12. I’m making really good strides, and my main goal is to be up in the 90s next season.”

At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Crossley has the build to get to where he wants to go, Lueders said.

“He’s learning as he goes,” he said. “He’s got a ways to go yet, but he’s a pretty sharp kid. He’s willing to work, and he wants to learn.”

Carter was 7-1. In 33 innings, he struck out 19 and had a 0.00 ERA, breaking Mike Wiley’s school record of 0.67 through 94 innings from the late 1980s. Carter also no-hit Little Rock Parkview.

And he didn’t even plan on being a pitcher.

“This season, I went in expecting to be a catcher, and after about the third game, coach Lueders said, ‘Bubba, you’re a pitcher now,’” said Carter, who pitched some in summer ball a few years ago but was always primarily a catcher. “I love pitching. I never thought I would make it farther as a pitcher than a catcher, but right now it just feels like everything’s falling into place.”

He said he never really paid attention to his stats during the season, but he’s already thinking about what the Wampus Cats can do next year.

“We want to go as far as we did this year, if not farther,” he said. “It’s all what God wants to do, and apparently he has great plans for me.”

Conway finished 21-7, won the conference and fell in the semifinals of the Class 7A State Tournament to Fayetteville, the eventual champion, 4-2.

Pitching and hitting (team batting average above .340, 25 home runs) were there. But defense was a bit suspect, the coaches agreed.

“We made 58 errors, and that just kills you,” Boucher said.

“We gave up three unearned runs against Fayetteville,” Lueders added, “and that’s how they beat us. We should’ve won 2-1.”

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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