The Walnut Ridge Bobcats played 36 baseball games last year, winning 30 of them. And though the Bobcats, under the direction of head coach Derek Bramlett, started the 2012 season slowly with a 7-4 record, they ended the season 23-2 in their last 25 games.
Rising senior Hunter Flippo was partly responsible for the Bobcats’ winning ways. Flippo failed getting a hit in only five of those 36 games. He also batted 1.000 in five games as well. Consistently hitting is one of the main reasons why the 5-10, 185-pound center fielder hit .467 during his junior year. Flippo, hitting third or fourth in the batting order, also knocked in 53 runs with 23 doubles and six home runs, was a perfect 15 of 15 stealing bases and scored 48 runs. On the mound, the right-hander started six games and won five of them, finishing the year with a 2.71 ERA.
In the 2012 playoffs, the Bobcats crushed Marmaduke 14-1 to win the Class 2A North Region championship and beat Union Christian 4-3 in the Class 2A State Tournament. But in the quarterfinals of the state tournament, Woodlawn thrashed Walnut Ridge by a score of 13-1, ending the Bobcats’ season and Flippo’s junior year. It was the fourth year in a row Woodlawn ended the Bobcats’ dreams of a state baseball championship. (The Woodlawn Bears have won three of the last six Class 2A state baseball championships, including last year’s title.)
So coming into the 2013 season, the Bobcats, Bramlett and Flippo know what their goals are.
“We most definitely want to win our conference and go to regionals and win that again like we did last year,” Flippo said. “We really want to win a state championship. That’s the big deal. We have the talent to do it. We’ve got the players and seniors and experience to win state if we get there.”
The Bobcats return seven starters from last year, and the team includes eight seniors. That mix of experience and senior leadership is why Bramlett is looking forward to this season and another shot at the Class 2A state baseball championship.
“Anytime that we’ve played [Woodlawn], they have put us out,” Bramlett said. “We know what we have to do, and we know we have to get better because we know how good they are and those other teams in the [South Region] are. We think we have the team this year to do it.”
Flippo is one key component of the Bobcats’ championship hopes, and not just because of his offense and defense, Bramlett said.
“He leads by example,” he said. “When somebody makes an error or something, Hunter is the first one to pick them up. He’s just everything you’d want a captain on your team to be. He doesn’t have to say a whole lot or get on to anyone. He’s just what you would expect from a leader.”
Flippo first started playing organized baseball at the age of 4, and throughout his athletic career, he has played the sport, along with basketball and football. And while he started on both the football and basketball teams this year, baseball has always been Flippo’s first love when it comes to sports.
“Baseball came naturally, and I just enjoyed it a lot more from when I was little until now,” he said. “In football and basketball, you’ve got to have size, and I really don’t have the size to play either one of those — or the speed. I’ve done well with baseball, and it’s just fun to me.”
Flippo has been a varsity baseball starter since his freshman year and said his hitting and fielding abilities are probably his best baseball attributes, along with just a feel for the game. Bramlett is a little more detailed when asked about Flippo’s baseball strengths.
“He can hit,” the coach said. “He can hit for average. He’s got some power. He’s not going to strike out. Defensively, he’s not the fastest center fielder in the world, but he gets a good jump on the ball. If he gets to it, he catches it. He’s just a very solid baseball player — well-rounded.”
All this baseball talent has paid off for Flippo, as he signed a baseball scholarship with Williams Baptist College in December, selecting the school for its closeness to home (the college is in Walnut Ridge) and his familiarity with the coaching staff. Flippo, who is thinking of majoring in physical education at Williams Baptist (he already offers children baseball lessons in his free time), said the coaching staff for the Eagles expects him to play the outfield — either center or left field — in college.
But first, Flippo has some work to do in 2013 — his senior year — and after falling short last year, Flippo wants a state title for Walnut Ridge. He’s spent his offseason — between football and basketball — working on his speed and throwing. But he also wants to be better at the intangibles this year.
“I want to be a better team leader,” he said. “I want to teach the younger guys what I know — not really coach them, but help them with things I see them struggling in.”
Those are individual goals. The team goals? Make the playoffs and win it all.