When Lester White takes the field named after him on Friday night, the 32nd-year Lockeroom head coach will be looking for his 900th career victory.
But, unlike all of White’s other American Legion baseball milestones, this one will be bittersweet.
White’s longtime friend Mickey Huskey, owner of The Lockeroom Sporting Goods, who has sponsored the Senior American Legion team for the past 33 years, died Tuesday while on vacation in Oklahoma, leaving a void in the hearts of coaches, players, parents and fans of the squad.
“He was a great sponsor,” said White. “There isn’t another one like him around that I know of. Hosting the (Twin Lakes Classic) tournament, getting equipment and everything, if we needed it, we got it.”
Huskey was there for White’s very first head coaching victory in 1984.
“He started the year before I started,” White said. “It’ll be bittersweet just like the other night was. It’s always great to go over and beat Harrison in a doubleheader, but to get that news, it’s a sad deal at the end.
“He gave a lot of his time, and he gave a lot of his money, but he didn’t expect anything in return,” White said of Huskey. “It won’t be the same without him.”
The program already had suffered a huge loss before the season even started with the death of longtime pitching coach Jim Fudoli.
“For thirty-something years, having (Fudoli) in the dugout — now this,” said White. “It’s unfortunate, but we just have to make the best of it now. We’ll go out and do whatever we can to pay tribute to him and go as far as we can.”
Huskey’s memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Eastside Baptist Church.
Hosting the tournament
Lockeroom will hope to pay tribute when it takes the field at 7 p.m. Friday to open play in the district tournament.
“We played Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday,” White said of the club’s long schedule last week, “so yesterday we took off to rest. (Thursday) we’ll practice at 5 p.m. We want them to be relaxed but play hard, too.”
Paragould and Batesville will open the tournament at 4 p.m. Friday. All games will be nine-inning contests in postseason play.
Mountain Home will be without left-handed starting pitcher Mason Smith, whose return was pushed back two more weeks with an injury to his pitching hand. But, Lockeroom has added some depth with the recent call-up of a few Junior Legion players from the Hopper Environmental Services team.
“A lot better than I did this time last week,” White said of how he feels of his pitching. “All three of the Hopper kids threw some good innings, and I’ve seen a lot of good things. They are an added plus for us. If we need to use them we will.”
Right-hander Ryan Czanstkowski pitched just 31/3 innings on Tuesday, so he will be ready to start a game in the zone tournament.
“He just got a tune-up and threw really well,” White said of Czanstkowski. “Brody (Ninemire) threw against Batesville (Sunday), and Hayden (Hall) threw really well against Paragould on Monday.”
Lockeroom bashed three home runs in one of its victories against Harrison on Tuesday, including one by Hall, who has been on fire as of late, and is sporting a .478 average.
“He hit the hardest ball I ever saw him hit against Harrison,” White said. “It went out in the trees. Sky-Lar’s (Culver) was a line drive in right-center and Brody’s was to left-center.”
The entire team is hitting well but still can’t find a player suited for the lead-off position.
“The lead-off spot just kills us,” White said. “Whoever I put up there, it seems like I jinx them or something. We’re looking for someone with a good on-base percentage, because (No. 2 batter) Cole (Anderson) leads the team in walks, then we got Sky-Lar, Hayden and Brody to drive them home. We just have to get them on base.”
Lockeroom caught the error bug for a couple weeks, but still won several game where they made five or more errors due to strong hitting. That won’t be allowed to happen in the zone tournament, according to White.
“If we can play defense and catch it, we should be fine,” he said. “I think we kind of recovered from that. We just have to make plays for our pitchers, it’s that simple.”
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2015 Zone 2 Senior American Legion District Tournament
at Cooper Park
Paragould vs. Batesville…4 p.m.
Mountain Home vs. Blytheville…7 p.m.
Jonesboro vs. Paragould/Batesville winner…4 p.m.
Paragould/Batesville loser vs. MH/Blytheville loser…7 p.m.
MH/Blytheville winner vs. Jonesboro/Paragould/Batesville winner…1 p.m.
Loser’s bracket game…4 p.m.
Loser’s bracket game…7 p.m.
Championship game…4 p.m.
Championship “if” game…7 p.m.
Eyeing No. 900
Lockeroom head coach Lester White’s top five winning seasons:
Led by Ron Czanstkowski’s 19 home runs, 85 RBIs and .524 average, this was White’s first team to win the Area 1 championship and advance to the state tournament — where it went 2-2. The hard-slugging team also received 11 home runs and 44 RBIs from Lance Buchanan. Lance McQueen (.414, 7 HR, 66 RBI), Jimmy Dale Huskey (7 HR, 44 RBI) and Barry Adams (.408, 25 RBIs) also aided the team with the most home runs and runs scored in program history. And they could pitch, too. Scott Osmon went 11-2 with a 3.25 earned run average, Jeff Stone sported a 2.54 ERA, and Czanstkowski went 10-0 with a 1.87 ERA.
In a time when teams had to win their Area Tournament just to advance to state, this squad finished as runners-up. just missing out on the state tourney. Tom Czanstkowski slugged 10 home runs, and Phillip Taylor set the team batting average record (.527) and drove in 75 runs. Aaron Burnham went 8-0 with a 1.50 ERA, according to team statistics.
The only state championship in Lockeroom history followed the only state championship in Mountain Home High School history just a few months earlier. The Bomber pitching trio of Jeremy Friend, Heath Stanley and Dan Johnson was aided by future third-round MLB Draft pick Brandon Love from Viola and Jody Pendarvis of Mammoth Spring for the summer. The team repeated as Twin Lakes Classic champions, repeated as Area 1 Tournament champs, and hosted the state tourney, going 4-0 at Cooper Park. In fact, the club went 21-0 at home that year, which was part of a 41-game home win streak that spanned 3 seasons. Friend and Stanley had 2.55 and 2.82 ERAs, respectively, and Nick Pitts slugged eight homers and 55 RBIs. Future 11th-round MLB Draft pick Derin McMains sported 23 doubles.
Led by Ryan McMains’ 10-2 record and 2.07 ERA and Joey Urbanek’s 12 homers and 62 RBIs, Lockeroom went 18-0 at Cooper Park and won both the Twin Lakes Classic and the Area 1 Tournament. Sam Haney added nine home runs for the team which returned most of its talent the following season to win a state title.
Ron Czanstkowski clubbed 16 homers and 49 RBIs, and Jimmy Dale Huskey notched 15 home runs and 51 RBIs to lead a team that finished as runners-up in the Area 1 Tournament. Buchanan added nine homers and Adams had five long balls and 39 ribbies. The team peaked late in the season after placing just fourth in the regular season conference race.