- Alma School District
Fry, Airedales open baseball season Tuesday
By Kevin Taylor
Alma baseball coach Brian Fry didn't fret over last summer's COVID issues.
He simply got busy.
"It has been strange, but at the same time, productive," he said. "When we were able to get back on the field June 1, we immediately shifted our focus to the 2021 season. We have several starters back and they've created their own opportunity by what they have put in since June."
Fry was just learning the tendencies of last season's team when the pandemic spoiled the 2020 season. Now, with COVID slowing down, Fry is eager to see the fruits of all the hard work.
"To have a full season means we get to watch these guys get back by the amount of time and work they've put into it," he said. "It also means we have a chance for player development within the program. The talent is there; what we lack is experience.
"Most of the players on our roster lost between 45-50 games (a combination of spring and summer)."
Alma opens the 2021 season Tuesday at home against Pea Ridge. The Airedales will hit the road for five straight games, including the team’s 5A-West conference opener with Mountain Home on March 9.
Junior Logan Taylor boasted a 5-3 record in American Legion action last season. He led the Sportsman in strikeouts, innings pitched, and twirled two shutouts.
Taylor started at first base and pitched for the 2019 Airedales.
"(Logan) is a guy that will throw in the big games for us and we'll lean on his leadership and experience every game out," Fry said. "We are counting on the guys who played at a high level this summer to continue playing at a high level this spring."
Derek Hatcher and Noah Likens also played high-level travel ball last summer. But a number of other key players didn't play another game following the March 13 COVID shutdown.
Just sophomores, Likens and Hatcher will be called on to pitch and play some infield.
"Noah pitched this summer and has great stuff as a sophomore and also carries a competitor's mentality," Fry said. "Even though Derek is a sophomore, he has a high baseball IQ. He has a great feel for shortstop and will also see his share of innings on the mound."
In all, the Airedales return seven starters.
Outfielders Jacob Machen, Zach Holt, and Ledger Anderson will play a vital role for the Airedales this season. "They try to joke when they say we have an All-State outfield, but they know they will be key to our success," Fry said. "We're counting on them to be All-state and they have the drive and talent to do it."
A number of Alma contributors are underclassmen, including junior catchers Kaleb Burdick and Kevin Mills. "We lost two senior catchers last year and both Kaleb and Kevin have stepped right in," Fry said. "We're counting on them to handle our entire staff and stay healthy in the process."
Sophomore Axl Spain may be the fastest player on the roster. He can play outfield and pitch, too. "Axl has an above-average high school arm with a breaking pitch that has more depth than any sophomore that I can remember," Fry said.
Junior infielders Caden Gifford and Lucas Hayes are also key starters. "Both of these guys are returning starters on the infield and with what they bring to practice every day, we definitely expect to see great things from them," Fry said.
Right-hander Josiah Weaver and left-hander Cameron Ray are expected to contribute. "With a little game experience under their belts, we think they will help us tremendously down the stretch," Fry said.
Van Buren, which drops from 6A to 5A this season, is expected to be one of the top teams to compete in the 5A-West, Fry believes. Greenwood, Greenbrier, Russellville, and Vilonia will be tough, too.
Having watched other sports complete their seasons, such as football, volleyball, and basketball, Fry is anxious to get the season started.
"We are hoping to compete at a high level early in the season," he said. "We need the learning curve to be very flat. We know we have to start off strong since they moved conference games to the second week of March. Since they pushed basketball back a week, we may not have Logan or our other basketball guys for our opening conference games and with this conference, there will be no room for error."