By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
While Forsyth’s baseball program struggled a bit in 2019 with an 8-15 record, the team peaked late and reached the district title game.
The Panthers won a pair of games in the bracket, including an upset over No. 1 seed Marionville.
Forsyth fell 6-5 to Clever in the championship game.
“Last year’s team was a great group,” head coach Byron Richardson said. “Our record was not as good as we hoped, losing several close games. The team continued to work and improve all season and it really showed in districts. We had a one run lead in the 7th with two outs (against Clever), but we were unable to hang on.”
Now in his third year with the Panthers, Richardson will once again deal with a sizable roster turnover.
Four graduated starters depart, including Kaleb Etheridge, Darrien Woods, Briar Kellem and Johnny Mayhew.
Etheridge (.328 BA, 17 RBI, 1 HR, 8 SB), Woods (.282 BA, 16 RBI, 4 SB, 3-5-1, 3.32 ERA) and Kellem (.250 BA, 9 RBI, 21 SB) were all-conference and all-district selections in 2019. Mayhew missed most of the season due to shoulder surgery.
Woods will continue his baseball career this spring at North Arkansas College.
Forsyth returns seven lettermen and five starters to its lineup.
The Panthers will be led by a pair of senior all-district selections in first baseman Jake Jordan and shortstop Kendon Doublin.
Jordan hit .307 with 15 RBIs and six stolen bases last season. He also compiled a 1-1-1 record on the mound and a 3.27 ERA.
“Jake has worked hard in the weight room and I look for that to really show this season,” Richardson said. “Jake should be a force in the middle of the lineup for us this season and will pitch for us as well.”
Doublin hit .227 for the Panthers in 2019 with 11 RBIs and four stolen bases. His record on the mound was 3-6 with an ERA of 5.25.
“Kendon will once again be relied on to throw a lot of innings for us,” Richardson said. “I look for his offensive numbers to climb this year.”
Junior infielder Buck Sanders hit .228 last season with 5 RBIs and 18 stolen bases.
“Buck really became a solid player last year,” Richardson said. “He has tremendous speed, and we look forward to him scoring a lot of runs for us this season. Buck will also get more innings on the mound.”
Forsyth’s additional returning players include junior catcher Hunter Creson, junior outfielder Parker Gillman, junior infielder Hayden Day and sophomore outfielder/infielder Keegan Etheridge.
Etheridge, another all-district selection in 2019, hit .197 with 5 RBIs and one stolen base for the team. He also compiled a 1-1 record on the mound and a 6.00 ERA as a freshman.
“Keegan played outfield for us last season and could play some infield for us this season as well,” Richardson said. “He will also get a larger pitching role.”
With a host of available spots in the lineup, Forsyth will look to several varsity newcomers to compete for playing time and make vital contributions this season, including Easton Nida, Corgan Strong, Aaron Gross, Carter Brown, Nathan Jennings and Jackson Stauffer.
Richardson believes his team is more than capable of competing and surprising some people, once again, in the district tournament.
“This year’s philosophy is going to be outworking other teams,” Richardson said. “We will have to show up to compete every day. We have several experienced returners, but will need some new faces to step up. I hope our guys are hungry to get back to a district championship game.”
For the Panthers to be successful and improve upon last season’s win total, Richardson believes the team will have to put in the work during practice and focus on details and repetition.
“We have a really tough conference and schedule and should get experience having to play well to win,” Richardson said. “We will look to improve in practice every day and focus on doing the little things right.”
Forsyth opens its season Friday, March 20, at Reeds Spring.