By Amanda Perkins/For OzarksSportsZone.com
Lucas Brown assisted the Thayer Bobcats as they claimed their district championship and finished with a 13-5 record in 2016. Now he takes over as head coach and welcomes back a crew of experienced players to make another run at the postseason.
The Bobcats took second place in the SCA conference behind Mountain Grove – the eventual Class 3 state champions. After their district win over East Carter in the district finals, Thayer lost in the first round of the state playoffs in extra innings against Cooter.
“It was a fun team to be a part of as the assistant coach,” said Brown, adding that the group was hard-working and full of heart. “I look forward to taking over as head coach this year with some big pieces of last year’s successful team returning.”
But five members of last year’s squad won’t be along for the ride. The Bobcats graduated Ayden Henry, first team all-conference, all-district, and all-state shortstop and 2.56 ERA pitcher. The leadoff hitter also boasted a .483 batting average.
Landon Tyler also made the first team all-conference and all-district squad. His impressive 0.90 ERA and undefeated record as a pitcher, as well as his performance at third base and .423 batting average, earned him a place on the team at North Arkansas College. Tucker Hargrove joined in the first team all-conference and all-district honors last season, and the outfielder and .383 hitter was often a clutch player for the Bobcats. Thayer lost a standout first baseman in Brandon Tate, who also contributed offensively in the middle of the lineup with a .436 average. Will Tillman is the final graduate, an outfielder described as “the life and soul of our team,” by Coach Brown. “His presence will be missed both on the field and in the dugout,” he added.
THE NEW O-ZONE APP IS HERE!
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR APPLE
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FOR ANDROID
Brown said while last year’s talented team was able to rely on raw power, this year’s crew will “focus more on speed, athleticism, and fundamentals.” He looks for several players to have breakout seasons as they work to prove themselves.
“This team will need to play small ball to take advantage of our athleticism,” said Brown. “We will be small in terms of our size and strength, but I have a lot of high average hitters and some quick base runners. I want to be aggressive on the base paths, bunt runners into scoring position when necessary, and put pressure on the opposing defense by running every time we get the chance.”
Returning starters include three seniors and a junior. Jalen Andrews earned a SCA honorable mention last year with a 5.53 ERA and .352 batting average. In addition to pitching, the junior shortstop “has a sure glove and will be a huge part of our offense trying to set the table at the top of the lineup,” said his coach. “Jalen is a quick, athletic, and smart baseball player.”
Senior Dakota Poulette is back as the backstop, also batting in the middle of the order following a .314 season. Brown said Poulette is an offensive threat and a hard worker behind the plate. Brett Whitaker is a fellow senior who is quick in centerfield and batted .224 last year. His defensive range will be an asset for the Bobcats. Classmate Danny Gorham is “an important part of the infield and the pitching staff,” per Brown, and “can play virtually any infield spot. I look for him to have a breakout year at the plate.” Last year’s stats: 3.94 ERA, .264 hitting.
Junior Jordan Miller started in a few varsity games last season, but when he’s not at third base, the pitcher will now see more time at the plate. “Jordan will be an important part of our pitching core,” said Brown. “He has a plus fastball and can mix in some good off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance.” Miller had 28 strikeouts in 19 innings played last year with an opponent batting average at .141 and an overall 2.21 ERA.
Coach Brown acknowledges that the SCA will be tough, but that’s nothing new. “We will have to play error-free baseball to compete with every team in our conference,” he said. In district play, East Carter moved up a class, but Ellington replaced them, a team Brown describes as formidable. Despite tough competition, the Bobcats will work together with the goal of repeating as district champs and beyond.
“My goals for this season are simple: work every practice and game to make ourselves better, analyze each situation we encounter to learn how to improve, and play solid, fundamental baseball,” said Brown. “I have a group of boys with a very high baseball IQ that are fundamentally sound, and I believe that will allow this team to be competitive…if our boys will buy into this, we will give ourselves the chance to compete for another district title.”
The Bobcats host Dora on March in their season opener.