Clarksville, Ark.-New U of O head baseball coach Jimmy Clark is looking to bring the Eagles' program up to new heights during the 2002 season and a mixture of hard work and new talent has the squad headed in the right direction.
The Eagles can also turn to the leadership of eight seniors and All-American Southwest Conference performer Shawn Adams for a more productive offense. "These kids have worked hard from day one," said Clark, who coached at Heber Springs High School for nine seasons. "They have a good attitude and have done everything I’ve asked. Hard work and discipline will bring success to this program." The Eagles, who finished 4-29 last season, appear stronger in several areas, especially in the pitching rotation. Junior Justin Dixon from Morrilton is poised to have a breakout year. Dixon, who throws a fastball in the high 80’s, should be the ace of the squad. Dixon pitched 46 innings last season, striking out 21 batters, and improved his mechanics in the fall. Shane Norrid, Andy Tasker and lefty James Seymour all provide experience and depth to the rotation. Norrid, who also plays basketball, tied for the team lead with 25 strikeouts and pitched seven complete games a year ago. Tasker gives the Eagles durability and tied Norrid with 25 strikeouts. Seymour, who earned All-Conference in 1999, will give the staff another lively arm. "Pitching at the top end is a strength, but the depth is not there," said Clark. "We’ve got four or five pitchers who have the potential to throw a good game. Justin was effective in the fall and Seymour can overpower batters." Clarksville product Chase Pearrow and fellow freshmen Nathan Moore, Jeffrey Young and John Burgess could develop into successful hurlers as the season progresses. Pearrow, a three-time All-State player at Clarksville High School, will also help in the infield. "Chase is an impact player for us," said Clark. "He will help on the mound and is a solid defensive infielder. I look for some of our other freshmen to step up and give us some depth on the mound too." The offense will be centered around senior centerfielder Shawn Adams. Adams led the team in numerous offensive categories last year, including batting average (.413), home runs (3), hits (45), slugging percentage (.606), runs scored (29) and stolen bases (9). The speedy Lafayette, Louisiana, native finished third in the conference in batting and earned All-Conference honors. Rounding out the outfield positions will be Eric Parker, Cliff Ford, Chris Harrell, Chad Henson and Brandon Bain. Parker and Ford started 18 and 19 games, respectively, last season. Henson started in 25 games in 2000 while newcomers Harrell and Bain will also see time in the infield. The infield will consist of first basemen Heath Swiney and Seymour. Second base will fall to fiery competitor Cody Gebhart who had 12 runs batted in a year ago and defensive wiz Josh Underwood. Chance Lawless, Pearrow and Harrell will likely split time at third base. Lawless, a senior from Rattan, Oklahoma, earned All-Conference in 1999 and 2000. In 2000, he hit .315 and tallied 25 runs batted in. Moore and Burgess may see time at other infield positions. The catching chores will be handled by junior B.J. Greene, talented freshman Clint Phifer and sophomore Jeremy Claunch. "We should be able to hit the ball in the middle of the order," said Clark. "Adams can hit for average, Seymour has some pop to his bat and Lawless is a good all-around hitter. Those guys are experienced hitters and I look for them to help us score runs. We’ve got to stay consistent and cut down on our strikeouts as a team" The Eagles schedule includes 40 games and road trips to NCAA II opponents Arkansas Tech, Henderson State and Harding. The Eagles will play ASC powerhouses East Texas Baptist and Mississippi College at home. "We wanted to play as many games as possible," said Clark referring to the 40 game maximum allowed by the NCAA. "The more games you play, the better you get and the kids enjoy playing. It’s hard to determine where we’ll finish since I haven’t seen the competition, but I think we will be solid." The Eagles will also play in newly renovated Hurie Field. New dugouts will be in place soon and two new batting cages have already been added. The Eagles begin the season on February 13 against Hendrix College in Conway.