By: Seth McKinzie
*Photos used with permission from Odessa Photography
The Gravette baseball team will be looking to do better than last season’s 7-13 finish. In order to do that, the Lions will have to improve in multiple areas to consistently compete in what looks to be a very tough conference.
Head coach Bryan Bearden, entering his third season at GHS, knows he has the core group of players to take a step forward. Bearden also knows the team can be much improved and still have to battle to get more victories than 2018.
“We have seen a lot of improvement across the board this year,” said Bearden. “We have guys who have been putting in extra time and working hard on their game and should see a big improvement.”
Every team needs leadership, both in a mental way and from modeling the type of play needed, and Bearden thinks he has some reliable hands ready to assume those roles.
“Guys who have stood out early on are Hunter Cole, Thomas Tryon, and Brodie Parsons,” said Bearden. “These guys work hard on the field and even harder off the field in the classroom and in the weight room.”
The coach has been pleasantly surprised with the improvement shown by several players but one in particular has caught Bearden’s eye.
“Biggest surprise from last year to this year is Caleb Wallace,” said Bearden. “This guy has really grown as a player and as young man over the offseason and looks to play a big role this year for us.”
Bearden hopes the experience his team has gathered over the last few seasons will play to the benefit of the Lions.
“As a whole, this team has grown up a lot from the last two years,” said Bearden. “They want to win and they are working hard in all aspects to make that happen. I have seen more selflessness from these guys than ever before and I believe that it will show this season.”
On the mound, Gravette fans can expect to see a few familiar faces sprinkled in with some newer arms. Having host of pitchers, if they can be consistent, is a luxury for a 4A baseball team.
“I feel like this (pitching) is where we have been the strongest this year (in preseason),” said Bearden. “Cole brings with him three years of varsity experience and will lead our group of young arms this year. Jake Carver proved last year he was able to get people out at this level so I am excited to see how he has improved during the offseason. Expect to see a bigger role on the mound for Parsons this year. He has really stood out during our scrimmages this year as a guy that I can trust to get the job done. We will also throw a barrage of young arms this year to help them gain valuable experience. Wyatt Coffelt, Ty Frakes, Ryder Brown, and Noah Tawney are the younger guys that I can count on to come in and throw strikes to help give our team a chance for success.”
At the plate, Bearden will be relying on several guys to keep showing steady improvement as well as some to carry over last year’s success to 2019.
“Hitting is where I think we have improved the most this year as a team,” said Bearden. “Guys that understand their roles and are willing to do anything to help this team be successful. Tryon and Mason Dagley have really improved from last year so I expect big things from them as I do with any one of my players. Mason has worked extremely hard this spring at learning how to become a lead off hitter. This is not something he is used to but has done a great job with his approach in that spot, but he also has the ability to step up and be an RBI guy if I need him to be. Cole and Parsons look extremely confident in their swings right now. Then you add Carver, Dillon Hendricks, and Frakes into that line up and any of these guys can spark an offense.”
Gravette has qualified for the 4A North Regional Tournament since Bearden has been the head coach. In order to be a program that expects to be competing to make the 4A State Tournament Bearden believes the formula is simple to define but has taken time to develop into the culture of the team.
“Togetherness,” said Bearden when asked what would take his program to the next level. “This is something that we have struggled most with over the past couple of years but this team has shown signs of playing as team this year. If we can come together there is no limit to how far this team can go. The boys know how tough this conference is and have prepared accordingly.”
Bearden will also be looking for an added spark from a newcomer senior.
“Can’t really talk about this team without mentioning Colton Grimes,” said Bearden. “This is his first year with me but has really stepped into a leadership role the minute he got here. He brings that football toughness mentality and positive energy with him and it doesn’t go unnoticed. I am sure the football coaches would say the same about him. He is great young and I am excited to have him this year as he helps lead this young team.”
With Opening Day only two days away, Bearden said his starting lineup is not quite set. There are several spots still in tight competition as well as some freshmen battling to see the field in their first high school game.
“We still have a couple of days left for guys to win spots so I will not know the lineup until Monday morning after talking with Coach (Mike) Larson and Coach (Jeff) Melton,” said Bearden. “We have several freshman who will step in and play big roles this year in key positions. Frakes, Gabe Edgmon, and Haden Bates have proven they can handle the pressure of playing at this level. I will say that I am excited about this team and the things they have accomplished this offseason.”
Gravette baseball starts their season Monday, February 25 at 5:00 hosting Siloam Springs. Lion Lettermen plans to bring you the action via live audio. Over the weekend, look for the details on how to find that audio stream.