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story.lead_photo.caption Junior Brant Stevens catches a pitch during practice Feb. 19 at the Cyclones’ indoor practice facility. ( Staci Vandagriff)

The Russellville Cyclones are returning all of their starters from last year.

“We have guys who have played for us over the past couple of years,” head coach Will McCrotty said. “They are a good group that is experienced and ready to play. We are fortunate for that aspect for this year.”

Russellville finished 19-10 a year ago, making it to the second round of the state playoffs before losing to Benton.

Returning on the mound this year are all-state pitchers Eli Thomas and Colton Sims. The two have already committed to the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, respectively.

Thomas is a 6-4 right-handed pitcher who does a great job on the mound, McCrotty said.

“He reaches 80 to 86 mph on his fastball and has a good breaking ball,” the coach said. “He is very competitive on the mound.

“He really does a great job of staying focused. He has earned numerous accolades and accomplishments throughout his career, but he stays focused on the team and what we are trying to do. … It has allowed him to have success.”

McCrotty said Sims is probably one of the best workers out there and throws three pitches — a fastball, a curveball and a changeup — for strikes.

“He does a good job of mixing up his pitches and can use multiple pitches for strikes,” McCrotty said.

Sims also plays center field for the Cyclones and is one of the fastest guys on the team.

“He is probably one of the fastest runners I’ve ever coached,” McCrotty said. “He is extremely quick, fast and smart on the bases.

“He makes things happen.”

The coach said the team’s pitching and overall defense will be strengths this year.

“I would put them up against anybody,” he said. “They do a pretty good job.”

Rotating behind the plate will be junior catchers Tristan Wheelus and Brant Stevens.

“Brant does a great job of calling the game,” McCrotty said. “Tristan catches and plays third base.

“Tristan has an excellent arm and tremendous power at the plate. He is able to drive the ball and get some home runs. Tristan does a good job of playing at third or catching. It really depends on if we have a double header or conference games — who will catch.”

Senior shortstop Cole Dawson is one of the team’s best hitters. He is currently batting .526 and “spreads the ball all over the field and has some power,” the coach said.

“He’s a guy who can put the ball in play,” McCrotty said. “Right now, the biggest thing we have implemented is more weights and conditioning.

“We have really focused this offseason on being stronger, and it has really contributed to his success. He has improved on his swing and his game.”

Dawson has committed to Kansas City Kansas Community College.

The coach said that two years ago, Russellville started incorporating more time in the weight room.

“Our baseball workout program relied mostly on football, so that was one area that I felt we needed to improve on — our strength and agility,” McCrotty said.

“I expect our players to work hard and have a positive attitude throughout the season. If we can do that, then we have a chance to compete with anyone and have a special season.”

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