Next spring, Conway Christian senior Andrew Dather might not be playing baseball. He doesn’t quite know right now. A star wide receiver for the Eagles football team (he ended his high school career with some 2,700 receiving yards and 51 touchdowns, including more than 1,200 receiving yards his senior season), Dather signed a football scholarship with Harding University in February. He knows next fall will be devoted to football. But what about baseball at Harding?
“I’m not sure,” he said. While he hasn’t discussed playing both football and baseball at Harding, the idea is “kind of a thought.”
Looking at Dather’s junior-year baseball numbers, Harding might consider making the 6-2, 180-pound center fielder and pitcher a two-sport star. Last spring, Dather batted .486 with 53 RBIs, 19 doubles and 5 triples. He added 40 runs scored and 52 total hits. On the mound, the right-hander sported a 5-4 record with a 4.59 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 50.1 innings. And for his senior season swan song, Dather has his sights set on being an even better hitter. That’s right. He wants to improve on his almost .500 batting average and increase his output in other offensive categories.
“I want to beat my batting average from last year,” he said. “I want more RBIs. Basically, I just want to do better in every category than I did last year.”
Individual goals aside, Dather and the rest of the Conway Christian Eagles baseball team, led by first-year coach Andrew Roberson, have one main team goal: getting back to the Class 2A State Tournament and winning it all. In 2012, the Eagles were bested in the first round of the state tournament.
“We definitely want to make it to the state tournament,” Roberson said. “The boys were able to accomplish that last year. They had a very good season last year. They lost in the first round, but we would like to go even further than that. Our goal is to win the state championship. That’s where we would like to be at the end of the season — holding that trophy.
“I expect [Andrew] to be a leader on the field both vocally and athletically, and if he does that, I feel as though we will have a very good season.”
The Eagles return six starters from last year’s team, and the squad includes five seniors, so there’s a lot of experience. Roberson also noted that this spring’s pitching staff will be a plus for the Eagles.
“Definitely, the pitching rotation is going to be very good this year,” he said. “We’re going to be very strong in that category, with Andrew Dather being one of them.
“He’s an unbelievable athlete.”
Dather, the No. 1 pitcher on the Eagles’ 2013 staff, mentions his speed covering ground in the outfield and his pitching as two of his biggest strengths. Dather has a four-pitch arsenal on the mound, with a fastball, a cutter, a curveball and a changeup. He can hit 84 mph with his fastball and usually averages around 82 mph.
The concern for the Eagles this spring? Well, even in late February, when perhaps the team should have been pitching, hitting and throwing, many of the Eagles baseball players were still playing basketball as the Eagles reached the state tourney. (Dather, a starting post player, scored 14 points in the Class 2A West Regional Championship.)
“A lot of the guys play basketball, and they’re still playing basketball right now, so hitting will be an issue right off at the beginning of the season because the guys have to get back into the flow of the game and get used to hitting again,” Roberson said. “They just need the practice of seeing the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand again. That’ll be a struggle for us at first.”
Dather, who bats in the 3rd and 4th holes for the Eagles, agreed that it will be a challenge getting his batting timing right early in the year. He hasn’t hit too much, but “once I start hitting every day, I’ll get back into it,” he said.
“I feel as though I can improve on my hitting,” he said. “It’s going to be hard work because I wasn’t in basketball this late last year, so it’s going to be working hard to achieve that and get there.”
While Dather debates playing both football and baseball at Harding, he’s excited about playing football on the next level, and he loves the idea of playing football for Harding.
“I love the campus,” he said. “When I first went there, I loved the campus. And the coaches are great because other colleges started recruiting me, but [Harding coaches] stuck with me and talked to me after every game and didn’t stop talking to me.”
Dather hasn’t decided on a college major yet but suspects it’ll be sports-related. Beyond sports, Dather plays the drums (he’s been playing for six years and plays at his church) and enjoys hunting and hanging out with friends.
But college is still a few months off. Dather and his Eagle teammates have one more spring of baseball and some unfinished business: winning their conference, district and regional, and getting back to the state tournament.
“We want to make it as far as possible in state,” Dather said. “Hopefully win it.”