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story.lead_photo.caption Junior Graci Thomas of Morrilton watches Dardanelle’s pitcher while up to bat during a game against Dardanelle on March 5 at Dardanelle City Park. ( Staci Vandagriff)

The Morrilton Lady Devil Dogs return a ton of experience this season, featuring a lot of speed and power with a pretty solid infield, and the gamesmanship is there, head coach Jennifer Binnie-Poteete said.

As of March 11, Morrilton is 4-0 overall and 3-0 in conference play. Junior Makenna Keeton has thrown 26 innings with about 56 strikeouts. Binnie-Poteete said Keeton is overpowering hitters on the mound.

“And when our offense strikes, we strike big,” said Binnie-Poteete, who is in her second year at the school. “We have had 7 home runs so far in four games with 19 stolen bases.”

Last year, Keeton had an ERA of 1.72.

“She is one of the best pitchers in the state,” Binnie-Poteete said. “She has speed, but her specialty is her spin. She has an amazing spin and throws a curve and a rise. Her best pitch is the rise ball, and it makes batters look silly.”

The coach said Keeton has really worked on her speed this offseason and has received a lot of offers and attention from various colleges.

“She has always had the spin, but most coaches said she needs to be faster,” Binnie-Poteete said. “She currently throws in the high 50s, but most Division I schools are wanting mid-60s.”

Binnie-Poteete said Keeton and senior Graci Thomas meet with a personal trainer at 5 a.m. three times a week.

“Last year, Graci was injured and had a couple of knee surgeries and didn’t start until spring break,” Binnie-Poteete said. “She is absolutely crushing it right now, and she has some offers and visits [from college coaches] right now.

“She is probably one of the toughest and stubborn kids I have ever coached. Her attitude is ‘whatever you need me to do, whatever is best for the team.’ She is 100 percent a team player. She wants to contribute, and she wants to win.”

In 23 games, Thomas batted .418 with 22 RBIs and 6 doubles.

Thomas was in the lineup last year, merely for offense, and this year will start at third base, the coach said. Junior Loren Reynolds, who has committed to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, will play shortstop this year.

“Loren is a leader by example,” Binnie-Poteete said. “She is not very loud or very local, but she comes early and stays late and takes extra ground balls.

“She works real hard and doesn’t settle for anything less than perfect.”

Senior Shelby Tindall is one of the team’s best power hitters, the coach said. Tindall has signed at National Park College in Hot Springs and has been working with a lot of college coaches as well. Last year, Tindall batted .297 with 13 runs scored, 24 RBIs and 4 home runs.

“She has grown a lot, and if you look at her lower half, there has definitely been a bulk up a little bit,” Binnie-Poteete said. “We are waiting to see how much it will improve her game.”

Senior Abbie Jo Bane will return at catcher as a defensive specialist, the coach said.

“Our JV team is also crushing a lot of home runs,” Binnie-Poteete said. “Overall, the program itself is developing so well.”

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