White Hall All-Star coaches Ron Gray, Bart Freeman and Russ Sparks are playing the waiting game to see what team their squad of 15-year-olds will take on in its opening game of the Babe Ruth State Tournament on July 15 in Lonoke.
After demolishing the competition at last week’s District 3 event at Townsend Park, where White Hall outscored its three opponents by a combined score of 27-5, Sparks is ready to fly into state.
“I think we have a really good shot of winning state and moving on to regional,” Sparks said. “I expect us to win state. We have great pitching, great defense and definitely have the bats.”
White Hall received a bye in the first round slated to begin July 14 and conclude July 17, with 10 teams vying for a spot in regional action in Hurley, Miss., at the end of the month.
“This is a talented group of kids,” Sparks said. “I have been fortunate enough to have them since they were about 7 years old. I have been coaching around here for about 25 years and this is one of the most talented groups I have had. Just a great group of athletes.”
Sparks said the trio of coaches have discussed pitching rotations for the tournament but have not set anything in stone.
“We have discussed it a little,” Sparks said. “We still have to go over everything but we have four or five guys we can throw out there at any time.”
Sparks pointed to Daniel Gray, Justin Archer and Jeffrey Jones as the trio of starters with Tanner Sparks coming on in middle relief and hard-throwing Daniel Sprinkle in the closer role.
The defense shifts around depending on who is on the mound with Sparks and Kirk Baugh rotating games behind the plate.
Alex Hartz, one of the team’s leading hitters, splits time at first base with B.J. Pullman, Conner Freeman is at second, Jones and Gray rotate at shortstop and Zack Thurgood holds down the hot spot at third.
In the outfield, White Hall will shift around Nathan Richmond, Joseph Failla, Archer, Baugh and Kirk Green.
In addition to Hartz, who belted two grand slams in district action, White Hall also receives power from Baugh and Sprinkle with Archer and Jones setting the table at the top of the lineup. Pullman, Thurgood and Sparks absorb the middle and Gray, Green, Richmond, Freeman and Failla fill out the lineup card.
Sparks said not only did he want to see his players succeed on the field, but he wants them to have the experience that comes along with regional competition.
“In 2003 me and my wife (Laura) hosted three boys from Minnesota when the regionals were here,” he recalled. “I want our kids to have the same experience. We still to this day have contact with them. One of them even came down from Minnesota and went duck hunting.”