Jessieville coach Jamie Saveall hasn’t had a chance to get an accurate feel for his team yet, but that hasn’t forced him from changing his aspirations for the upcoming season.
The goal remains the same: winning a state championship.
The Lions did just that in 2011, but Saveall is awaiting the arrival of a few players from the school’s basketball team, so he hasn’t been able to utilize his entire squad in practice.
“I haven’t seen some of those guys yet, so it’s been kinda tough,” Saveall said. “Right now, we’re looking OK. But like everyone, we’ve got to get better.”
If Jessieville is to improve on last year’s season, the team will have to do so with a blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen, some of whom Saveall knows will be inexperienced.
“Our depth will be a little thin,” Saveall said. “We lost some talented players from a year ago, but we do have a few guys that know what it takes to win games. And that’s something that we’re counting on.”
The Lions will also have to adjust to life without Michael Mendez. The former all-state slugger, who signed with Southern Arkansas last year, batted .566 with five home runs for a Jessieville team that went 14-9 and finished fourth in the 3A-5 Conference.
According to Saveall, this year’s team will rely heavily on pitching, an area he feels extremely good about.
“We may have some problems scoring runs early, so we’ve got to lean on our arms,” he said with a laugh. “But I think the guys will be up for the challenge.”
Best Hitter for Average: Senior catcher Hunter Mayfield may turn into the team’s top hitter, along with utility players Chase Anderson, a senior, and Josh Mitchell, a junior. “Mayfield was the starting catcher on the title team, so we’re definitely looking for big things out of him,” Saveall said. “And with Chase and Josh, we’re expecting both to have good seasons.”
Best Power Hitter: Saveall mentioned that third baseman Johnny Chambers might be the best power hitter that the team has had in a long while. The 5-foot-10 junior weighs about 225 but benches 325 pounds. “He’s stout, but moves really well,” Saveall said. “If he makes contact, it’s got a shot to get out of the park.”
Best Speed: The Lions will have a trio of guys on the base paths who have potential to “make things happen” once they get on. Mitchell, who Saveall said has gotten faster, along with sophomores Ronnie Anderson and Kyler Cox, all have enough speed to put the Lions in position to be successful. “If you ask Josh, he’ll tell you he’s the fastest on the team,” Saveall said. “Ronnie’s not a burner, but he’s fast. And we’re expecting Kyler to do some good things. We’ll have to wait and see on him, but that’s what we’re expecting.”
Best Fielder: Mayfield and Chambers have both done a great job at fielding the ball, especially Chambers, Saveall said. “He handles it really, really well,” Saveall added.
Best Arm: Anderson is regarded as Jessieville’s top pitcher, particularly because of the amount of experience he’ll bring, not only to the mound but to the team as a whole. “He’s a mid-80s guy, but he’s strong on the mound,” Saveall said. “He’s got that type of experience we’ll need out there because the league has improved from top to bottom.”
Saveall isn’t sure how the pecking order will unfold during conference play, but he’s hopeful that his guys will battle every game to put themselves in positions to win.
“As a whole, the conference is stronger this year as opposed to last year,” Saveall said. “And last year, the league was pretty good. I’m sure Mayflower, who’s got all of its starters back, and Glen Rose, who had mostly juniors last season, will be among the two at the top. Perryville will always battle as well. A lot of the teams have gotten better, so we know we’ll have our work cut out for us.”