Area baseball teams dealing with ups and downs as district play nears

The last week of baseball tournaments have begun, and district play is around the corner for the most area high school teams.

That means coaches can tweak one more time before hopefully finding the right combination of players to make a push for a district title.

But for several usual baseball powers, the first half of the season hasn’t been kind.

North DeSoto, Evangel and Calvary each advanced to at least the semifinals of their respective classes this past season, but each team is off to a less-than-stellar start.

Evangel, the reigning Class 2A champions, returned all but three seniors but has started 7-6.

The Eagles started 12-12 before making a championship run this past season, and while coach Tim Hullett remains confident in his squad, he acknowledges that the season hasn’t gone as planned.

“The expectations are really high, and we haven’t gotten off to a good start,” said Hullett, who is No. 23 in the latest LHSAA power rankings. “We don’t want them to feel good about anything right now … but personally, I do feel confident we will get it going again.

“We’re still trying to figure out where everybody goes after losing a catcher and a middle infielder. We’re also still looking for a number one (pitcher).”

Evangel’s team ERA sits at 2.30, but Hullett says defense and hitting is still coming along as the Eagles battled a daunting schedule that included Benton, Kinder, John Curtis, Barbe, St. Thomas More and West Monroe.

Inexperience is the main culprit for No. 26 North DeSoto (7-7) and No. 36 Calvary (4-8), the latter of which would miss the playoffs if they started today.

The Griffins are replacing eight of 10 starters, while the Cavaliers are missing multiple key pieces from their 2A semifinals team.

North DeSoto makes a move into District 1-4A, arguably the most difficult league in the area.

That league contains No. 4 Northwood (10-2), No. 8 Benton (11-3) and No. 22 Minden (6-5) as well as other capable teams like No. 41 Loyola (2-11) that need to make a push.

Northwood coach Darien Dukes said the key to the Falcons’ early success is simple – throw strikes.

“We’ve been hitting the strike zone and doing the little things like getting bunts down,” Dukes said. “Our pitching staff is keeping us in ball games with juniors like Kenny Yelverton and Cole Barnett, and catcher Slade Baker is pretty special.

“Teams are avoiding Dustin Brown at the plate, but Yelverton, Slade and Dalton Delgado are taking advantage of that.”

Benton and stud pitcher Jordan Shaffer might be the most talented team in the area, but the Tigers have lost two of three games after an earlier nine-game winning streak this season.

The Tigers’ wins include Haughton (twice), Captain Shreve, Ruston, Evangel, Calvary, University Lab and Teurlings Catholic.

Haughton (7-7) is the highest ranked Class 5A team at No. 18. Even though the Bucs have lost dour of its last five, they count Northwood among their wins.

Airline (5-6) has won its last three and sits at No. 33 while No. 38 Parkway (6-6), No. 40 Byrd (6-7) and first-year coach Greg Williams, No. 42 Ruston (5-7) and No. 54 Captain Shreve (3-11) all need strong district seasons to have a playoff shot.

Shreve returns All-City players in Bryant Bowen and Justin Skeesick, but coach Todd Sharp said the loss of four players to college ball has hurt the Gators.

“We knew we had some known hitters, but it takes a lot more than that,” Sharp said. “We lost a lot of good leaders and great players, but we’re starting to fill those roles.

“We’ve changed the whole infield, and that’s helped our team mindset. We’ve got a couple of guys on the mound like Tanner Johnson that gives us a lot of confidence, but we’re making a lot of changes defensively.”

After starting 1-11, the Gators have won their last two games, including a win against Benton.

“They are probably the best team in our area regardless of class,” Sharp said. “A win like that tells us we can do it … they believe it now.”

Other area teams that are showing out include 3A No. 6 North Webster (9-2), 2A No. 4 Lakeside (8-4), 1A No. 7 Cedar Creek (10-2), and B No. 6 Negreet and B No. 8 Zwolle (6-3).

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