INSIDE: FILLED WITH GRACE: Russellville woman volunteers with Neighbors TableREAD ONLINE
Harding Academy Wildcats Harding calls on team’s leaders, experience for successPublished March 10, 2013 at 5:00 a.m.
After going 22-9 last season, coach Shane Fullerton is expecting big things from his six returning seniors this year. With experience and leadership on their side, Fullerton has already seen big things from the team’s pitching staff and defense.
“If you can do those two things, it gives you more room for your hitting, which tends to be more inconsistent,” Fullerton said. “You can win more games if you’re focused on those two things.”
Expect Harding Academy’s pitching staff to be especially strong this year with many of the players who threw big innings for the team last year returning this season.
Senior pitcher Trent Finley, who is recovering from surgery he had last summer following an injury, has already signed with Harding University to play next year.
“It’s a testament to how hard he’s worked,” Fullerton said. “Trent is well on his way. He’s already throwing at scrimmages.”
Senior J.R. Miller will be another strong force on the mound for the Wildcats.
“He’s been our mainstay so far this season, and he’ll throw a lot of innings for us,” Fullerton said. “He’s going to turn some heads this year. We’re looking to him to be very consistent and effective.”
Senior Will Francis will be another presence on the mound this season, as well as playing shortstop.
Fullerton said Francis, Miller and Finley would all hit in the middle of the lineup and will be leaned upon for both offense and defense throughout the season.
Chandler Ferren, returning at third base, and Noah Watson in the outfield and Caleb Spears at center field will round out the seniors on this year’s team.
“They’re a fun bunch of seniors for me to coach,” said Fullerton, who started with the team three years ago. “I’ve been with them since the beginning, and they know how to respond to me.”
The focus for the team during practice so far has been on routine plays.
“At the high school level, we tend to get in trouble when they don’t make routine plays and let mistakes snowball,” Fullerton said. “They might overthrow because they’re panicked. … We want to make those plays, and I feel like our defense is going to develop as we go through this year.”
Despite such a strong upperclassman presence, Fullerton said that two freshmen, Noah Holt and J. Paul Fullerton, and one sophomore, Jacob Bolding, on the varsity roster have a good shot at playing some innings for the team this year.
“They’re in a constant daily battle to earn a spot, but it’s a great place to be as an underclassman,” Fullerton said.
With 24 on the varsity team, Fullerton admits that they don’t have the deepest roster, but he is seeing the team grow through practice.
“Our goal is that when we get to conference and tournament time, we’re ready to play,” Fullerton said.
Best Hitter for Average: Will Francis had a .506 average last season. “We feel like he’s going to come in after basketball and do another great job,” Fullerton said. Trent Finley stands out as the team’s No. 2 returning hitter for average.
Best Power Hitter: Look for Finley to hit in the 4 hole as the cleanup hitter this season. Last year, he made 4 home runs. Francis hit 3.
Best Fielder: Coach Fullerton is hesitant to name one player who stands out in this department. “What we want is a balanced defense,” Fullerton said. “Our goal is to make 2 or less errors every game.”
Best Speed: Senior Caleb Spears in center field is not only quick in the outfield, but has been known to steal bases. “He did a super job for us last year,” Fullerton said.
Best Arm: When Finley has recovered from his injuries, Fullerton said, he’ll be one of the top in the pitching staff. Seniors J.R. Miller and Francis, along with Finley, all have “strong low- to- mid-80s arms,” Fullerton said.
Zoned Editions Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.