Sports radio station 103.7 The Buzz out of Little Rock recently announced their selections for the 2019 Arkansas High School Baseball Coaches and Players of the Year for Classes 1-6A, and two area players and one coach made up three of the total statewide chosen recipients.
Rose Bud coach Taylor Cooper, a 2008 Concord graduate who just wrapped up his fifth season at the White County school, was selected as the Class 3A Baseball Coach of the Year, guiding the Ramblers to one of their best seasons in recent memory, going 22-9 on the campaign with a 3A-1 East conference championship and district tournament runner-up finish to their credit, eventually falling to 3A-1 Region Tournament host West Fork 3-1 in the first round.
“I don’t feel deserved to even be mentioned in the same breath as most of those other coaches that received this award from the Buzz,” said Cooper. “It is quite an honor for someone such as Kevin Bohannan to even think about us here in Rose Bud and acknowledge the work that our guys have put in over the last couple of years by awarding that award over the airwaves.”
The team improved from a 2018 season that saw them conclude 7-18 overall, taking the field with a very young roster consisting of one lone senior, seven juniors, four sophomores and two freshmen.
“I’ll be honest in saying it was hard at times to take and step back and look at the bigger picture and believe all of the people telling you how far the program has come and just how proud they are when the wins weren’t exactly piling up. It was nice to finally see all the work we do on and off the field show up in the win column. But like I said before, building a culture and a program is not just about the wins. I knew that coming in, but I realized for certain after the first group I was lucky enough to begin my coaching career with here in Rose Bud. That group really got to me and brought back much passion back into my heart and I’m still to this day close with many of those boys and very thankful for them.”
Cooper credited the bigger vision the team had coming into 2019 as well as their continued work ethic and determination to get better each day in the improvement from 2018.
“I could see it coming all along, and I think our guys did too. They never once laid down and gave in. They continued to work even harder this offseason as I challenged them with lots of new things. My goal is just to try to make as much of a positive impact in each of our guys lives as I can. That’s were a “program” begins and ends in my opinion, when those guys know that you have their back for better or worse each and every day and will always be there to hold them accountable for everything from baseball to life.”
Junior Dugan Jones joins his coach as an honoree, hauling in Class 3A Baseball Player of the Year honors for the Rose Bud sweep, adding on to All-Conference and All-State selections. Jones produced solid numbers from the batter’s box as well as the pitching mound, leading the squad in nearly every offensive category including batting average (.463), runs scored (57), hits (50), runs batted in (36), slugging percentage (.824), stolen bases (18), doubles (8), triples (2) and home runs (8). Jones also went 7-1 on the bump, racking up 104 strikeouts, 37 walks, 41 hits and 23 earned runs in 65 innings of work. The 2020 graduate also plays for the senior high boys basketball team.
“Dugan is beyond deserving to be getting some recognition and for his name to be thrown out there with some of the best in our classification if not the state,” Cooper added. “If I know Dugan the way I think I do, he would be one of the first to begin saying how other guys on the team deserve the same recognition he has received. Baseball is a huge statistical game, but we try to preach hard on not getting worked up nor worrying about stats. Do the work, control what you can control and be prepared. Do those things and the stats take care of themselves. But Dugan, like so many others I’m fortunate to coach and have coached, just has that over the top work ethic, that drive to not settle for mediocrity, and that determination to keep trying to better himself on and off the diamond. A coach’s dream.”
Rose Bud will lose starter Keaton Hambrick to graduation but will return in 2020 with a mix of experience and youth with a seasoned senior class and underclassmen looking to make an impact.
“Losing Keaton Hambrick will hurt for sure, as he has been a staple in our lineup for four seasons, but I think with the big group of eager and willing kids we have coming up we will be able to hopefully surpass everything we accomplished this past season,” exclaimed Cooper.
West Side freshman Travis Gentry rounds out the list of area honorees, playing a key role both defensively and offensively in helping get the Eagles all the way to the semifinal round of the Class 1A State Tournament and a 19-10 record, the furthest the program has been in the postseason since the 2010 season when the squad punched their ticket to the state championship game.
“Travis is one of those five-tool players that do not come along very often,” noted West Side coach Shane Davis. “Great arm, fielding, speed, hits for average and hits for power. He had a lot of extra base hits and does a great job of using the whole field. He was definitely one of our best pitchers late in the season when games mattered the most. Receiving this honor at our level shows the kind of season he had, and others had to take notice regardless of us being in the smallest classification.”
Gentry batted .582 with 45 runs, 57 hits, 42 runs batted in and three doubles, adding on an on-base percentage of .635 and a slugging percentage of .795, leading the team in each of those categories. The multi-sport athlete also accumulated a 4-3 pitching record, striking out 60 batters while allowing 26 walks, 33 hits and 23 earned runs in 47 frames of work.
“Travis definitely puts in the extra time in all sports he participates in, as does his sister Haley. I’m positive his parents, who were great athletes who had great careers at West Side, instilled that into both of their kids. A lot of times he and Haley are in one gym or the other getting work in or running up top in the arena or on the cross country trail training and a lot of times Travis was the last to leave the baseball field putting in extra work on his swing among other things.”
In a 2019 season that saw the Eagles claim 1A-5 conference and district championships as well as a 1A Region 3 Tournament runner-up placing before falling to state tournament host Taylor 13-1 in the Final Four, the 2020 group will look to build on what they accomplished, returning eight of nine starters while graduating only two in Robbie Schmidt and Josh Harness.
“Taking a page from Joe Buck calling the final out of Game 7 of the 2011 World Series: “What a team, what a ride.” So proud of this team, we started off March about as bad as we could’ve, but the boys stuck together and found a way to put it all together to the beat of a 16-3 finish, winning their last nine conference games to win it all along with the district championship and regional runner-up and state final four finish. They definitely bought in to what we told them when we got to State, being that good teams come to have fun, great teams come to state to win.”
Following is the full list of coaches and players honored:
Coaches of the Year
Class 1A: Clayton Gardner, Viola
Class 2A: Tommy Richardson, Woodlawn
Class 3A: Taylor Cooper, Rose Bud and Patrick Smith, Central Arkansas Christian
Class 4A: Kyle Slayton, Nashville
Class 5A: Brandon Eller, Little Rock Christian
Class 6A: Chip Durham, Bentonville West
Players of the Year
Class 1A: Travis Gentry, West Side
Class 2A: Tarzan Alumbaugh, McCrory
Class 3A: Dugan Jones, Rose Bud
Class 4A: Ty Gordon, Nashville
Class 5A: Cason Tollett, Little Rock Christian and Cayden Wallace, Greenbrier
Class 6A: Houston King, Cabot
103.7 The Buzz is a daily radio station in Little Rock that covers numerous athletics at the professional, college and high school levels, also serving as the radio home for Arkansas high school football and basketball state championship coverage.