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Friday, April 19, 2024

Paris Looks Forward to Upcoming Baseball Season with Much Anticipation

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PARIS- After yet another postseason appearance in the 2023 Region One tournament, the Paris Eagles will return several players and starters from a team that appears to be poised for another return in the 2024 postseason.

Paris earned a trip to the 2023 regional tournament after finishing fourth in the district tournament a year ago. Narrow losses to both Charleston and Booneville in the district tournament sent the Eagles to the regionals as a number four seed. A year before, the Eagles advanced to the state tournament semifinals, losing eventually to state champion Harding Academy.

Paris coach Josh Hart has built a very strong program in Paris, attracting athletes who want to play in his program. Field improvements have taken place over the past few years, and this year, fans will notice improvements made to both the home and visitors’ dugouts. Additionally, a windscreen has been added to the outfield fence that provides a more closed appearance to the ballpark, as well as a good visual background for hitters.

So, there is a lot of momentum in the Paris baseball program, and with the returning experience on this year’s roster, that momentum is expected to continue.

To preview this year’s upcoming season that will start in just a few days, RNN Sports visited with Eagles head coach Josh Hart on a telephone call where the coach shared his thoughts about this year’s team. We thank Coach Hart for taking time to visit with us for this story.

Our conversation started with an overview of the upcoming season. I asked the coach about how he felt overall about the season, and he started by saying, “I feel pretty good. We’re returning a lot of people. We lost a couple of kids, but we are returning some key players and should do pretty good. I anticipate having another state trip (qualifying for the postseason state tournament).”

A key returning player for Paris this season will be senior Konnor Edwards. Edwards will lead the conference pitching rotation and will be a key component of the Eagles’ infield when he is not pitching. Edwards has battled injuries throughout basketball season and has been convalescing and getting himself physically ready for the upcoming baseball season that will start at the end of the month. I asked Coach about Konnor’s progress, and he said “I think he will be well enough (recovering from his injuries to start baseball season). His ankle will still bother him a little at the start of the season and will be something we have to pay attention to make sure he is not overdoing it. We will rest him when we can. He is a little banged-up right now, but we think he will be ready.”

Edwards will be the number one starter this season in the Eagles’ pitching rotation. Coach explained, “there are three of them (three primary starting pitchers) that will be our main pitchers for conference. Konnor, Dax (Baumgartner) and Kort (Tencleve) will be our main pitchers. We also have had a move-in (player who has transferred to Paris) who will help us out a lot on the mound. He is a lefty who has a good off-speed pitch. Looking forward to that, and then I have some younger ones that are developing. Hopefully by district tournament time, some of those will be able to contribute.”

Dawson Neumeier, a senior transfer from Scranton, will be counted on to give the Eagles more depth on the mound in both conference and mid-week non-conference games.

Senior Maddox Watts, who contributed greatly to the success of the team the past two seasons, has elected not to play this year. Watts would have been an arm available to Hart in certain situations had he chosen to play this season. Watts, a multi-sport letterman, has experienced various injuries in football and has played all season in basketball. He is looking forward to a career in the military and will now focus on healing and getting ready physically to begin his military career after high school graduation in May. Watts’s absence this season will affect the Eagles in both the outfield and on the mound.

The Eagles’ pitching depth is a welcome addition to this year’s team. Part of the struggles for the team in last year’s district tournament was the lack of available pitching in the latter stages of the tournament. Player injuries reduced the depth of the staff, and in the final two games against Charleston and Booneville, the Eagles were virtually depleted of available pitching. Baseball fans know that quality pitching depth is a key ingredient in a team’s ability to compete for a championship.

The absence of Maddox Watts in the outfield leaves the question of who will take his place this season. When I asked Coach about who he thought would fill Watts’s outfield position, the Eagles coach responded with “That’s a good question. Alex Yang played in the outfield on the JV team a year ago and showed some promise. Jestin Churchman played outfield some last year. We need kids who can cover the gaps and have good arms. So, there are options there and we will try to figure out who is going to work best for us. We are working hard and trying to get better every day.”

It is not uncommon for high school baseball coaches this time of year to have to work around winter weather and wet fields, as well as waiting for key players to finish basketball before preseason practices can begin or be conducted with overall benefit to preparing for the start of the season. This season not only are some of the baseball Eagles playing basketball, but some are also competing in the district’s new wrestling program. In 3A sports, head coaches have to share the majority of key athletes with other sports, and it is just a fact of life that you do not have all of your players until just before the start of the season in most cases. There are approximately 21 players on the Eagles’ baseball roster, but only about ten of those players are participating now in preseason baseball practice. So, Coach Hart is only able to work with approximately half of his team right now due to participation in other sports.

Offensively, the Eagles are working to become much more productive from the plate than they were a year ago. “We will probably be a hit for average ball club this season. We have a couple of kids that have some power, but most of our kids are base-hit hitters. We struggled with our hitting last year. Our pitching was good, but we didn’t hit the ball well. We are working on that; we are working on making contact, being more selective at the plate, and hopefully having more success.”

With all of the Eagles’ experience, Coach Hart’s ball club is still relatively young. Most of the Eagles baseball team is comprised of juniors, and Paris will again have a lot of returning players in the 2025 season next spring. Coach Hart has built program stability in Paris and his approach has made and will continue to make Paris competitive each season. In fact, Coach believes that the current 8th grade class has several players that show future potential, and that should keep Paris competitive the next four years.

Coach Hart is extremely competitive, but his knowledge of the game and his approach to making it a fun game for players to play has been a key to his success. In fact, Paris volleyball fans saw this last fall when he took over a young team and coached them to the state quarterfinals in his first season.

Paris will need all of their experience and pitching this season to compete in a very tough 3A-4 conference. Paris is expected to compete with Booneville, Subiaco and Charleston for the conference title. When I asked Coach Hart to share his thoughts on this year’s baseball conference, he shared, “Booneville is going to be the biggest competition for all of us this year. They have several seniors this year again. They have a couple of people they have lost, the Herrera kid (Brooks Herrera), but they have some good seniors this year, such as Dax Goff, Washburn (Tayden Washburn) and several others returning. So, they will probably be the conference’s biggest competition. Danville will also be ready; they have a good coach and will be ready to compete in the conference.”

Schedule wise, the Eagles will again play Dover from Class 4A in the non-conference portion of their schedule. The two schools have had some exciting finishes in recent years, including an exciting comeback victory for the Eagles against Dover at Arvest Ballpark in Springdale. Paris will not play at Arvest this year, but Coach tries to schedule a special game and setting for each class in a year before they graduate. So, Eagles fans can look forward to a possible return trip to Springdale in 2025.

The Eagles open the 2024 season on February 26 at Ozark. The Saturday before the first game (February 24), weather permitting, the team will play an alumni game. That game may only be five innings as the coach will carefully work his pitching staff a prescribed number of pitches to get them positioned to start the season on the following Monday. The Eagles will begin conference play on March 11 when they host Subiaco Academy.

Paris will travel to Van Buren on 24 hours rest to play the Pointers in the second game of the season. Eagles fans can go to Scorebook Live to see a complete schedule for Eagles baseball this season. Those fans who are reading the electronic version of this story can click on this link to be redirected to the Eagles’ schedule: Paris Eagles Baseball Schedule – Paris, AR – scorebooklive.com

So baseball fans, it will not be too much longer! The season will start in approximately one week, and RNN Sports will be there to bring you coverage and action photos from the Eagles’ games.

Watch for our Paris softball preview in next week’s RNN Logan / Franklin County newspaper. The Lady Eagles open the 2024 softball season at Dover on March 4, and RNN will bring you a preview of the Lady Eagles in next week’s paper.

RNN Sports wishes Paris and all of the River Valley teams the best of luck this spring, and we will see you at a ballpark near you this spring!

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Jim Best
Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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