As the school day winds down around 3 p.m. students trekking back to their cars on the North side of campus can catch a flurry of activity as they pass UCA’s baseball diamond.
The 2016 baseball season is rapidly approaching and hopes are high that the team will build upon last season’s success. With an overall record of 29-24 with a 16-14 record in conference the Bears have been working hard in the off-season to improve for the 2016 season. Despite an impressive record of 12-7 at home, the Bears struggled on the road with a record of 12-13. But with another offseason tucked under their belts, this seasoned team with an unusually high number of upperclassmen looks to take control of the conference despite being ranked sixth in the preseason Southland Conference polls.
The Bears have their work cut out for them to kick off the season with against big names such as the Missouri State University Bears and the Oklahoma Sooners. They play an eight game series at home though before they head off to Norman, which will no doubt be a warm up for the Big 10 powerhouse that are the Sooners.
Despite the tough lineup looming in the near future the Bears are optimistic and ready for the season to get under way.
Senior centerfielder, Tyler Langley, feels that the past four years with the Bears has come to a head this season.
“I think that our team will be great this year. We have a really special group of guys that always work hard and just love to compete. Our pitching staff has been outstanding this fall and as we start back up for the spring. We have a few freshman that are really stepping up and have been performing during scrimmages. Mark Moyer and Cody Davenport are two guys to really keep your eye on. Davenport is a great outfielder to add to that. Of course we have our older guys such as Gilmore, McClain and Echols that really just get on the mound and compete too,” Langley said.
Both Langley and senior right-handed pitcher Connor Gilmore were selected for preseason honors by the SLC. The duo from the “501” was selected for the Southland Conference All-Conference teams last week. The announcement didn’t come as a shock to many due to the impressive records put up by the pair. Langley, who started all 53 of last season’s games put up a batting average of over .300 while managing to do some damage on the bases with 10 bases stolen and 39 scored runs. Gilmore with an 8-3 record on the mound had an ERA of 2.42 in 15 starts. Striking out nearly 60 batters while pitching five complete games with 108 innings last season labeled Gilmore as a two-time Pitcher of the Week.
Though some players have graduated and others have moved around senior infielder, Chris Townsend, feels as though the team has never been more solid.
“We’re always looking to build on the success we had last year but more importantly we have been working hard on weaknesses and strengthening those so that we can eliminate those mistakes this season. We have a lot more speed on this team this year and we’ve been working on utilizing that speed every day on the field. Our pitching staff as a whole is looking strong this year and that is where it starts so definitely with those guys first giving us strong outings and chances to win,” Townsend said.
That speed is something that Townsend hopes to translate into wins this year with more aggressive work running bases.
“Personally I’ve been working on every aspect of my game. One especially is trying to get on base more, steal some bags and stir some things up and score runs or do whatever needs to be done to help the team win.” I’ve also have been working on getting comfortable in the outfield as well,” he said.
As the Bears head into their three-game series with Missouri State, both the team and fans alike look forward to seeing a talented and experienced nine take the field and hopefully open up their season with a sweep at home.
The Bears open their season Feb. 19 at 3 p.m. at home and play through Saturday and Sunday with game time at 1 p.m. both days. Central Arkansas will then play throughout the week against Tennessee Tech University on the Feb. 23-24 and Eastern Illinois on Feb. 26-28 at home.
image via UCA Sports