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Newport: Competitive spirit, team chemistry could push Newport higherPublished March 10, 2013 at 5:00 a.m.
Count Newport coach Mark Hindsley as one of many who believe the path to a 2 4A Conference title will travel through either Stuttgart or Lonoke.
But he’s not phasing his Greyhounds out of the equation, either.
Newport will enter the season with high expectations after finishing 11-6 last year, including a 5-3 mark in an ultra-competitive league that from top to bottom may be the best in Class 4A. In fact, the top four teams in the conference in 2012 all won a game at the regional tournament to advance to the state tournament, where three of the four were quarterfinalists. Heber Springs was the only team among the quartet to not reach the second round, losing to eventual state champion Shiloh Christian.
The Greyhounds just narrowly missed out on a regional berth a year ago but are expecting to change that in 2013. Hindsley believes he’s got the team to possibly finish among the top three or four in the conference when the dust settles.
“We’ve got a very competitive group,” Hindsley said. “We’ve got good team chemistry, but we’re young.”
Youth was also a worry for Hindsley prior to last season, when most of his players were freshmen and sophomores. He’ll again be faced with fielding a youthful bunch, but those same ninth- and 10h-graders from a year ago have a season under their belts now. And that experience alone will be key if the Greyhounds are to make it back to the postseason.
Best Hitter for Average: Hindsley is counting on sophomore outfielder Colton Willis to become the team’s top hitter, now that former Greyhound and all-state outfielder Michael Reynolds has moved on to play for Williams Baptist College.
Best Power Hitter: Sophomore shortstop Gunner Bullard has the kind of “pop” Hindsley will be looking for to help his team improve upon their power numbers, which will be a necessity once conference play begins.
Best Speed: Senior center fielder Zach Heisler, one of only a handful of seniors on the roster, has a great deal of experience and may see his role increased because of the Greyhounds’ youth.
Best Fielder: Reynolds was the Greyhounds’ steadiest player in 2012 and showed a knack for making plays in the outfield whenever he wasn’t on the mound. Hindsley is looking for some of that same consistent play out of sophomore third baseman Hayden Schulz.
Best Arm: Willis will enter the season as the Greyhounds’ top pitcher, with junior Garrett Smith right behind him. Heisler and Bullard may also see some action on the mound.
Heading into the season, Hindsley doesn’t have many concerns. Those may come as the year progresses because right now the Greyhounds are just ready to get things kicked off. But there is one area that the fourth-year coach isn’t sold on just yet, and that’s pitching.
“We’ve got inexperienced high school pitchers,” he said. “They’re young starters. We’ve got some solid sophomore players; they’re just inexperienced.”