Last season, after taking the title in the 7A Central conference, the Russellville Cyclones fell in the state semifinals to El Dorado.
This season, Coach Matt Long said the team is looking to reapeat last year’s success and go even further.
“Obviously when you come off a conference championship and you’re right there at the verge of becoming a state champion and you graduate seven starters [there’s] a feeling of being uneasy,” he said. “I’m thrilled to death with the way this bunch is working and I have full confidence with the kids we’ve got that we can make another run at a conference championship.
The Cyclones finished last season with a 23-7 record and Long said that as a 6A school playing in a 7A conference, winning the conference title was a huge victory in itself.
“It was a great feeling to win the conference,” he said.
Russellville will be looking to a new group of seniors and some younger players to make the big plays this season.
Best hitter for average: Long said that most of the teams best hitters graduated last season but he does have seniors Hayden Hipps, Jordan Barnes and Mitch Mullen will be creating some movement around the bases, especially catcher Hipps. “He has, in some capacity, has started for us for four years,” Long said.
Long added that Barnes will be an important part of the batting order by either leading off or being second in the order.
Best hitter for power: Hipps will be the team’s power hitter. “He’s a kid who can hit for power and also for average,” Long said.
Best speed: Barnes, Hipps and senior Cody Campbell will be providing the team’s speed, Long said. “Campbell is a senior who has started for us some as a freshman and sophomore, but due to medical reasons he had to sit out last year,” he said. “We’re looking for big things out of Cody Campbell.”
Best fielder: The two players the Cyclones will be relying on on defense this season, Long said, will be junior shortstop Cody Underhill and Hipps at catcher. “He started 90 percent of our games last year at shortstop,” Long said. “He’s probably our best all-around defensive player.”
Best arm: On the mound, Long said he has five players competing for the conference pitching responsibility. “We graduated three kids last year, three seniors who pitched every inning for us in conference games and we don’t have one returning pitcher who pitched in a conference game,” Long said. “I just hate picking someone out of that crowd because they’re all neck-in-neck.”