CLARKSVILLE, Ark.-A blend of several talented newcomers join key experienced players in what will make up the 2003 U of O baseball team. According to head coach Jimmy Clark, his youthful squad may produce inconsistent results at times, but the talent level at Ozarks has increased from last season and the future of Eagles' baseball is encouraging.
"This ball club has a lot of upside," said head coach Jimmy Clark, who is beginning his second year as head coach. "We have some really talented freshmen who came from winning programs. However, we will be a much better team at the end of the year than at the beginning of the year." Clark and his staff brought in 27 new players this season to begin the rebuilding process. "We will start six or seven freshman this season," said Clark. "One of our overall team strengths is the youth factor. We’ll only have one senior, three juniors and the rest will be freshman. Their attitudes and enthusiasm have been exceptional. Our overall team strength, however, may be our defensive game. We will be a much better defensive team than we were last year." Offensively, Clark feels the team will be able to put the ball in play more than last year. Three returning players will play significant roles in the offensive production of the team. Sophomores Clint Phifer and Chris Harrell along with junior Cliff Ford are proven hitters and will give the Eagles an offensive lift. Phifer, a catcher from Benton, returns as the leading batter on the team after hitting .325 and knocking in 29 runs. Phifer also smashed five home runs and had a .487 slugging percentage. Harrell, an outfielder from Plaquemine, Louisiana, had 30 hits from his leadoff position last season and finished with a .240 batting average. Ford, an outfielder from Lindale, Texas, hit .273 with 11 RBI a year ago. "Up and down the lineup we have some guys that can cause some problems," said Clark. "We will put the ball in play more this year because we will have some gap type hitters. Our first three hitters will have a lot of speed. Chris Harrell is probably our best player on the team from an athletic standpoint and judging from the way he played in the fall. Phifer and Ford will make strong contributions too." The pitching rotation will consist of sophomores Nathan Moore and John Burgess and senior Justin Dixon. Numerous newcomers will join that trio to add depth to the rotation. Moore, from Benton, finished with a 4-2 record a year ago and recorded 29 strikeouts to go along with his three saves. Burgess, from Winona, Texas, went 2-2 last season and struck out 25 while Dixon, from Morrilton, pitched 45.1 innings and tallied 26 strikeouts. "Pitching wise, we are going to have a lot more depth," said Clark. "We really don’t have anyone that I would call just an ace. But there is defiantly more talent in the rotation. Of the 11 wins we had last year, Nathan had a hand in seven of them." The Eagles, who finished the 2002 season 11-27 overall and 6-16 in the conference, saw marked improvement from the previous year, defeating all but one team in the ASC East Division during the 2002 season. The Eagles also pulled off an upset beating then conference leader UT-Dallas last April. "A legitimate goal of ours this year is to finish at the .500 mark," said Clark. "And hopefully finish in the upper to middle pack of the conference which is something we haven’t done since 1995." The Eagles begin the season on February 14 against College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri. The Eagles first home game will be on February 15 against Mid-America Bible College at 1:00 p.m.