Berryville begins baseball

Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Berryville coach Matt Sayer works on bunting drills with sophomore Austin Howerton during spring drills. (Chan Davis / Carroll County News)

BERRYVILLE -- Entering his third season at Berryville, Coach Matt Sayer will be looking to move up the 1-4A Conference ladder this year with seven seniors at his disposal.

When baseball season gets underway on Monday at Green Forest, Sayer and the Bobcats get started on a 19-date schedule, including the Panther Classic tournament in Yellville.

Sayer, a 2001 graduate of Dover High School, played college baseball at Lyon College in Batesville for four years before accepting a teaching position at Green Forest in 2005. Sayer had no intentions of coaching but found himself at the baseball field during the spring.

"I went out there just to hang out and be around the game," Sayer said. "I helped out just as a volunteer the first year and then they asked if I would be an assistant."

Senior Anthony Noftsger takes a swing in the bating cage during a Berryville practice on Friday. (Chan Davis / Carroll County News)

Sayer lasted three years in Green Forest before Berryville recruited him to be an assistant. He filled that role for two years before taking over as head coach in 2010 where he guided the Bobcats to a 12-win season, Berryville's first winning season in over a decade.

The Cats went 5-14 last year after Sayer lost several key players to graduation. He expects this year to be better with a senior-laden squad and a quality pitching rotation.

"The big question is do we have a leader," Sayer said. "We have a little experience in spots. But we need someone to step into the leadership role. And I haven't seen that yet. That needs to come from that senior class."

Anthony Noftsger and Donnie Hoppe are expected to deliver a right-left combination on the mound. Both have already inked baseball scholarships with North Arkansas College in Harrison. Hoppe is a right-hander who throws in the mid-to-high 70's while Noftsger is a four-pitch surgeon with good velocity and control.

Joining the rotation is Tate Ferguson, a sophomore with low-80's capability and command of the strike zone.

"Pitching is going to be our strength," Nofstger said. "We have some guys that can really throw the ball. Donnie is a good pitcher and Tate can really bring it. We just need to score some runs."

Sayer said the Cats will benefit from Ferguson's addition to the pitching staff.

"Tate Ferguson is a baseball guy," Sayer said. "He's going to really help us on the mound. I haven't seen him since last year but he's a pitcher. He will also play some at third base. He can throw in the high 70's to low 80's and has great command of his pitches."

The Cats open the season against cross-county rival Green Forest, a game Berryville won with some late-inning scoring last year.

All seven seniors are expected to start opening day though three juniors and a pair of sophomores are vying for playing time. Austin Lehr, a three-year starter, will captain the outfield at center after moving from left field after his sophomore campaign. Jeff Adams started most of last year's games and will flank Lehr in wither right or left with Rick Porter filling the other position.

Noftsger will start at first base when not on the mound as Sayer rotates defensive positions depending on who toes the rubber. When Noftsger is on the mound, Sayer will look to junior Luke Mock at first base. Hoppe will man shortstop when not on the hill with Logan and Matt Manley rotating between second and shortstop. Third base is still open with Ferguson gaining attention for that spot during early practice sessions.

Senior Tyler Coatney will catch every inning possible, according to Sayer. Junior Alec Jones is also competing for a starting position.

"Avery will be at second base most of the time," Sayer said. "He played about half the time as a sophomore and has gotten a lot stronger during the off-season. Alec is a golfer that has good hand-eye coordination with good bat speed. He just needs a little work with his baseball swing."

Sayer said Lehr will begin the season in the leadoff spot to set the table for the top of the lineup that includes Hoppe, Nofstger and Coatney. Ferguson, Adams and Porter will be in the middle of the order with Avery, Mock and Matt Manley filling out the rest of the lineup card. Sayer said freshmen Seth Helmlinger and Jarred Osnes could also compete for playing time as the season progresses.

"Helmlinger will make a good infielder if he will stick with it," Sayer said. "Osnes will be a middle infielder. He's very athletic. He will run bases as a courtesy runner this year and get some playing time around the infield as he learns."

But Sayer's focus will be on the mound.

"That is our strength," Sayer said. "It's really nice. I've never had that. I have three arms that can actually pitch. By the end of last year Donnie was turning into a pitcher. When he's in the zone he's hard to hit. Noftsger has really impressed me with his velocity. His arm is live. He can legitimately throw four pitches. And we will see what Tate can do. But those are three quality arms."

Sayer said he hopes the Bobcats fare better in 1-4A Conference action this year after finishing in the final slot last year, losing to Gravette in the final division game.

We battled it out for last place in the conference last year and they beat us 11-9 It was awful

"I don't know where we will fit in," Sayer said. "I will make no great promises. But I would like to think that we could do better than two years ago when we won 12 games."

Sayer said he expects Prairie Grove to be at the top of the conference with Farmington and Lincoln, a newcomer to the conference, to finish second and third. He said Pea Ridge is always competitive and Gravette and Gentry could face down seasons after losing key players from last year, leaving the door open for the Cats to move up in the standings.

"We have to score runs," Sayer said. "That's why we have been working on bunts, hit and runs, and squeeze plays. We need to get guys to third with less than two outs. In high school the bunt is one of the best plays in baseball, especially with the new bats."

Noftsger said the Cats have the potential to win more games than two years ago.

"I would say we could go for 18 wins," he said. "I am hoping to go first or second in the conference. We have 10 times more talent than we've had the last four years. Tate is going to really help us on the mound. We just need to keep hitting the ball. We are not big but we know what we are doing. We just need to work hard and do the little things right."

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