FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
The players on the field and the stadium they are playing in will both look a lot different this season for the University of Central Arkansas Bears baseball team.
UCA will be playing in a brand new stadium when they open the season at 3 p.m. on Friday against UT Martin. The Bears have been practicing in the new facility since early January and have watched the daily progress of their new home.
“The guys are excited about playing in their new stadium,” UCA coach Doug Clark said. “And so is the coaching staff. I think there is going to be plenty of curiosity and there’s going to be some excitement about the program this year.
“We had the lights on last night for practice and we had people just showing up and coming in and sitting in the seats and watching, checking everything out. There’s definitely some excitement about it.’
UCA lost a strong senior class of 10 players, including one that was drafted and several listed in the school record books. But Coach Doug Clark said the 2009 edition of the Bears will be a competitive bunch with several key returnees and some quality newcomers.
“I think our strength starts without starting pitching,” he said. “We have six quality guys who we think can eat up some innings. We have more arms than that, and a freshman group that is going to be good. If those six guys can do what we think they can on the weekends, and the freshmen can get some experience in the midweek games, we’ll be all right on the mound.”
The pitching staff lost two starters from last year but returns three quality starters in senior Jeremy Cloud, junior Bobby Pritchett and sophomore Reece Cross. The bullpen is also full of experience, including seniors Matt Humphrey (three saves) and Eric Everson and juniors Jeremy Brewer and Michael Wild, the team leader in appearances (21).
Clark said a couple of transfers and the trio of freshmen will also see time on the mound. Conway’s Brandon Solberg, a transfer from UA Fort Smith, Bren Schuehler, a transfer from Chattanooga State, and Addison Rayford, a transfer from Crowder College, are all newcomers to the program. The freshman hurlers include Dustin Ward from Little Rock Christian, Logan Ariola from Prairie Grove High School and Shaun McPeters from South Lake Carroll, Texas.
Offensively, the Bears have to replace a group that hit 35 of UCA’s 50 home runs and combined for nearly 200 RBI. The top returning offensive threats include senior second baseman Josh Huffman of Carrollton, Texas, who hit .366 and was named second-team All-Southland Conference. Junior outfielder Tye Throneberry of White Hall, who hit .303 with two home runs, junior catcher Eric Tennyson of Harrison (.312, two home runs), senior designated hitter Richey Irvin of Conway (.301, two home runs) and senior third baseman Jonathan Yerby of Winnfield, La. (.255, four home runs) will also be counted on to pick up the slack at the plate.
“I really think we’re going to be OK offensively,” Clark said.
“My gut feeling is we won’t have maybe as much power, but this group can hit. Huffman, who did not play in the fall, has to hit like he did last year. Yerby wants to do it so much, he’s strong, it’s all in there. Irvin has power and was our best hitter at the end of the fall. Dillon Smith is gotten better from last year and he has power.
“Hopefully those four seniors will all have good years for us.”
Since all three starting outfielders a year ago were seniors, the Bears will have new faces there. When he’s not on the mound or at shortstop, Pritchett will be in center field. Throneberry can play any outfield spot, while sophomore Zack Dickson from Oakville, Ontario, returns from a medical redshirt and should start in left field. Right field could feature senior returning backup Dillon Smith or junior transfer Dan Putnam from Madison Area Tech. Conway’s Casey Cooper could also figure in, as well as junior transfers Beau Geren and Hayden Miller.
“Dickson is our best hitter right now, he has to be in the lineup,” Clark said. “Throneberry will be in center and either Smith or Putnam in right. They’ll all get opportunities. Geren, we’re not sure where he’s going to play but he’s a hitter. We definitely have some options.”
Junior returning starter Graham Martin is coming off surgery and will be at shortstop when healthy, according to Clark.
“He’s throwing pretty well, not great,” he said. “But he’s such a good defender. He may not be ready in the beginning, but we hope to get him back in there quickly.”
Clark said he and his staff are looking forward to the season and the new atmosphere at Bear Stadium.
“We lost a lot but we signed some nice players as well,” Clark said. “If we can get off to a good start and get a little confidence going, we’ll be OK. We have a nice schedule and a great new place to play. We’re ready to go.”