CONWAY Noel Boucher is in his 29th season as Wampus Cats baseball coach, so he’s seen a lot of ups and downs.
The past few years, it’s been mostly ups.
Boucher led the Class 7A Wampus Cats to a state championship most recently in 2011. Conway came close in 2012, losing in the state semifinals 3-2 to Rogers Heritage.
“We’ve been right there,” he said.
And this year?
“Our chances are great,” Boucher said. “We haven’t played enough to see everybody else to know, but I really like our ballclub.
“We have a new mix this year,” the coach said, but he takes it in stride. “That’s the ebb and flow of high school athletics. You don’t go out and recruit or anything like that.”
Of the 39 boys on the team, 19 or 20 are varsity at this point, he said. Five are seniors, and 14 “are freshmen in the training mode,” he said.
“We have a pretty good group to start with,” Boucher said. “I like their talent level. What I really like about this group is their work ethic. They come out every day trying to get better. They come with purpose.”
Best Hitter for Average: Boucher named center fielder Cade Jones, a junior. “He runs pretty good. … This is his first varsity experience. We think he’s going to do pretty well.”
Best Power Hitter: Cody Russell, a third baseman. Boucher said Russell has signed to play baseball at Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma.
Best Speed: “We have a lot of kids who all run about the same,” Boucher said.
Best Fielder: Boucher gave props to Jacob Adams, a sophomore and the team’s shortstop. “He got some varsity time last year on second base as a freshman; he’s a good solid infielder for us,” Boucher said.
Best Arm: The coach said he has “a few guys who are throwing in the upper 80s — 86, 87, 88 [mph].” Two of those he mentioned are juniors Connor Williams and Dylan Crossley.
Boucher said the team spends a week in the classroom each spring, where he emphasizes work ethic.
“I tell them, ‘This is about you, what you do, how much you want to get out of it,’” he said. “They’ve done a really good job; I’m proud of them for that.”
Boucher said he likes the team’s chances of making another run at the state title.
“It depends on how these kids handle the first part of the year because there are going to be some bumps in the road. I told them that,” Boucher said. “It’s about not getting frustrated; it’s about taking everything as a learning experience. If they do that, there’s no telling how far they can go.
“There’ll be times we’re going to go out and play like the Yankees and times we’re going to go out and play like the Bad News Bears.
“Hopefully, it’s a real good product by the time April gets here and we’re playing a lot of conference games.”