Blue Devil baseball looks to future in 2016

Defense to be key for AWM

By Billy Woods WM School District

How do you replace all the hoopla that surrounded the West Memphis baseball program last year? Senior pitcher Gray Fenter attracted dozens of Major League scouts and wowed fans with his plus stuff before signing a million-dollar contract with the Baltimore Orioles after being drafted in the seventh round. The answer to the aforementioned is, of course, you don’t. It’s back to more normalcy for the Blue Devils in 2016 with interim head coach Jonathan Crymes taking over for Adam Neal, whose wife Brooke is battling cancer. Crymes inherits a team that actually only won three games last year despite Fenter’s talents. He may indeed be better than that in 2016 with five players who started regularly for their high school team a year ago. “I’m still trying to learn who all the kids are and what they can and can’t do, but it looks like our strength will be defense,” said Crymes, whose team opens the season unofficially today with a benefit game at Wynne before playing the regular-season opener Monday at Valley View. Offensively, Crymes said the Blue Devils will have to be intent on manufacturing runs with aggressive baserunning and small ball tactics. “Of course we’re going to miss Gray,” said Crymes. “It’s hard to replace a guy who was a Major League draftee. But we got guys who will do well. We’re going to do it by committee. We’re going to have 7, 8, maybe 10 guys who can (pitch).” The Blue Devil lineup will feature sophomore Taylor Roeder, who played last year in left field, but who will be the team’s starting catcher, backed up by senior Trevor Wise and sophomore Conner Allen. At first base is junior Bobby Flippo, who logged considerable time at that position last year. Freshman Lance Burch figures to open the season as the second baseman while the shortstop is Nick Alsbrook, who started at Marion High School last year. Back for his third straight year as the starting third baseman is junior Hayden Spears. “Hayden is like our six-year senior,” Crymes joked. “I’m thinking Hayden is a senior because he’s already started two previous years and then I realize he’s a junior. He brings a lot of experience.” The outfield will be manned by sophomore Curtis Washington, who showed ample improvement as the season progressed last year. He lends a capable bat and good hands defensively to go with solid savvy. Other outfielders will be Allen, senior Jordan Walls and senior Ta’Darrius McGee. The Blue Devil pitching staff won’t open the season with a projected No. 1 hurler, but as Crymes mentioned it will be deeper than it was last year. Those figuring to supply lots of innings are Wise, Allen, Spears, Morgan Williams, McGee, Alsbrook and Tyler Thorn. Home opener will be on Thursday, March 3 against Valley View at 4:30 p.m. “I’m anxious to get the season going,” Crymes stated. “We’ve got a good group of kids to work with this year.”

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