There will be a different voice in command of the dugout this season for Heber Springs, but not one unfamiliar with the game itself.
After leading Carlisle to a berth in the Class 2A state championship game a year ago, B.J. Greene is taking over as the Panthers’ coach following Darren Gowen’s decision to step down at the start of the school year to concentrate on his duties on the football team.
“He was splitting time between [football and baseball], so he felt that it wasn’t fair to either of the two,” Greene said. “There wasn’t anything bad going on, nothing like that. He just wanted to be fair to both, and you’ve got to respect that.”
Greene had spent the past five seasons at Carlisle before being hired to lead a Heber Springs program looking to return to its winning ways. The Panthers went 9-16 last year but reached the state tournament after advancing out of the East Region as the No. 2 seed. Heber Springs lost to eventual state champion Shiloh Christian in the quarterfinals.
However, the experience of the Panthers making it to the tournament may prove beneficial for Greene in his first season.
“That’s the thing about these guys,” he said. “To go on and play on that stage, they know what it’s like. That can do a lot for any team, especially when it comes to building team chemistry.”
The Panthers’ chemistry will be crucial if a return tourney trip is in the works. Heber Springs will field a young team this season. Couple that with the fact that the team is housed in one of the toughest conferences in the state, and you have a formula for a troubling year.
But Greene isn’t buying that. Instead, he’s embracing the challenge and dealing with it head on.
“We’re gonna be young,” he said, “but we’re getting better. We’ve improved our hitting tremendously, just have to develop some arms. We’ve got to get stronger as well, but we’re getting there.”
Best Hitter for Average: Greene is high on senior shortstop Paden Flippin, whom he’s hoping will provide the kind of hitting that former all-stater Michael Ludwig supplied in 2012.
“He’s a pure hitter,” Greene said of Flippin. “He’s got a very good swing and can see the ball well. We’ve got some other guys that are hitting it, but Paden is really hitting it.”
Best Power Hitter: Greene explained that Flippin has power and has only gotten stronger since last season.
“Paden’s got what it takes to do some damage,” Greene said. “He’s a four-year starter, and we’ll lean on him quite a bit.”
Best Speed: Senior utility player Brooks Morgan and sophomore third baseman Chandler Marquardt are possibly the team’s fastest guys when they get on base.
“They can really get out and run,” Greene said. “And that’s gonna be really beneficial to us.
Best Fielder: Flippin has been solid at his position. “He just makes plays,” the coach said. “That’s what you expect out of a senior.”
Best Arm: Pitching is the spot that worries Greene the most, but he’s confident that sophomore Dillion Moore and Morgan can furnish the team with quality outings.
“Dillion got some innings in last year, and he’s consistently been in the strike zone,” Greene said. “And if I had to go with a No. 2 guy, it’d be Brooks. He’s been really consistent, too. They’re both a year wiser, a year older, and that’s always a plus.”
All in all, Greene feels that his Panthers have a shot at being really good. He’s not setting the bar too high, though, because he knows the level of competition that lies ahead.
“When you’ve got a team like Lonoke, a state finalist last season with all but two players returning, and a team like Stuttgart, another one that made a deep run in the tournament and is returning all but four players, that’s tough,” he said. “The conference should be good up and down, but we’re excited about the opportunity. We feel good about what we have.”