Vilonia coach Brad Wallace doesn’t completely know what to expect out of his ballclub this season, but the one thing he is sure of is that the Eagles are ready to find out.
“We’re just ready to play,” Wallace said. “We’re young, and playing young guys in the 5A West is generally tough. However, our young guys competed in this conference last year, and they’ve got some seasoning to their competitiveness.”
The Eagles held their own in the ultra-tough 5A West, a league that got even tougher with the additions of Shiloh Christian and Clarksville. Vilonia went 16-15 last season and 8-6 in league play, good enough for fourth place behind Greenwood, Harrison and Alma.
Wallace’s team advanced to the state tournament and knocked off Magnolia 2-1 before losing to Nettleton 6-3 in the quarterfinals. This season, Wallace is anticipating a return trip to the tournament, but the team will have to do so with a young squad.
“I feel like our team is always young,” he said. “Last year, we started as many as five sophomores, and for some reason this year, I feel like we are still young.”
Wallace is confident that his group can gel together quickly while depending on pitching and defense to keep them in games.
“[Pitching and defense] are our strongholds, but we’ll have to find ways to score some runs.”
Best Hitter For Average: Wallace said his team will have to generate some offense to complement what’s expected to be a strong defense and pitching staff. He’ll look to senior outfielder/pitcher Bryan Ayers to get them going. “He’s already signed with Arkansas State, and he’s ready,” Wallace said of Ayers, who batted .396 with 20 RBI and 2 home runs.
Best Power Hitter: Ayers posted the team’s biggest offensive numbers a year ago, but fellow senior Jacob Wright and junior Nathan Taylor could provide even more power at the plate. “They can bring some much-needed gap-to-gap power for us,” Wallace said.
Best Speed: A pair of juniors should give the Eagles the speed they need to advance whenever their top hitters are at bat. “Drew Estes and Dylan Foster will give us the majority of our speed in the lineup,” Wallace explained. “Those two will also be an asset for us on defense as well.”
Best Fielder: Vilonia will have a revamped outfield, but Estes at shortstop and Foster at third base will help shore up the infield, along with sophomore second baseman Scott Weaver and senior first baseman Jacob Wright.
Best Arm: Ayers, who will also see time in the outfield, will be the Eagles No. 1 pitcher after going 3-1 a year ago. The senior, who also recorded six saves, posted a 1.45 ERA while striking out 67 in less than 40 innings of work.
Still, Wallace realizes that the season is a long one and won’t be won within the first few weeks, but he is hopeful that the team will improve upon 2012. “We’re still looking for that true leader,” he said, “but we’ve seen players starting to take ahold of that role. But it should be fun. We’re ready.”