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Combination of youth, experience formidable for Fountain Lake

by Krishnan Collins | March 27, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Fountain Lake's Evan East connects with a ball for a hit during a game on May 6, 2022, against Camden Fairview in the first round of the 4A-South Regional at Malvern. - Photo by James Leigh of The Sentinel-Record

FOUNTAIN LAKE -- Justin McArthur led the Fountain Lake baseball team to its first state tournament in school history in his first season in charge of the Cobras, and his team expects to be back in the Class 4A state tournament this season.

McArthur took over as head coach in the summer of 2021, and Fountain Lake finished the 2022 season with a 17-9 record, losing to state semifinalist Shiloh Christian in the first round of the state tournament.

After Fountain Lake defeated Camden Fairview 3-2 in last season's 4A-South Regional, McArthur said it was the first time the Cobras qualified for state, making his first season in charge extra special. The Cobras started this season 4-3 and return from spring break with the meat of the conference season to play.

"We lost one that we shouldn't have lost," McArthur said. "We've figured a lot of things out about our team, who our top pitchers are and kind of guys we're going to be able to depend on. We feel good about where we're at. We've won two in a row against two pretty good teams."

During their two-game win streak, the Cobras defeated Morrilton 5-1 and Glen Rose 4-3. Before losing to Fountain Lake, Glen Rose sat at a perfect 4-0 record on the season.

Looking at Fountain Lake's pitchers, the Cobras can rely heavily on ace Wesley Campbell. The National Park College signee threw a six-inning perfect game in a 12-0 win over eStem to start the season.

Campbell also threw a complete game, one-hit shutout in an 11-0 win over Mountain Pine. He struck out 17 batters against eStem and 14 against the Red Devils.

In Fountain Lake's win over Morrilton, Campbell allowed just three hits and struck out 15 batters in another complete game.

"Anytime he has the ball in his hand, we feel really, really comfortable that we have a chance to win," McArthur said. "He's a competitor out there. Really good fastball. Good off speed pitches. Anytime the ball's in his hands, we feel good about him."

Campbell, a senior, is no doubt the leading pitcher on Fountain Lake, but the Cobras also boast a group of younger pitchers who can make a difference.

McArthur highlighted sophomore Kolt Carden as an important pitcher for the Cobras.

"He's stepped up," McArthur said. "He hasn't really had a bad outing yet. Threw a lot of strikes. Throws his breaking ball for a strike. He's really cool and composed out there. The moment is never too big for him. He always wants the ball."

Freshman Cayden Elmore stepped on the mound for Fountain Lake and secured the save against Glen Rose.

"He's a kid that's played a lot of baseball," McArthur said. "He struggled early in the season, but he had a really, really good outing the other day and got the save against Glen Rose. Those are probably our top three right now."

From the lead-off man to the five-hole, Fountain Lake's first five batters can all hurt opposing teams.

Star football man and catcher Abe Rose leads off for the Cobras, followed by multi-sport standout Evan East in the second spot.

"If you've been around sports in Garland County, you've heard (East's) name," McArthur said. "He started in football, basketball and baseball the last three years for Fountain Lake. He's just a competitor out there."

Campbell gets it done on the mound and in the batter's box. Campbell hit a home run during his perfect game against eStem and bats third for Fountain Lake.

Carden bats cleanup for the Cobras and notched a home run in the win over Mountain Pine.

Sophomore Brodie McMillan rounds out the top five batters for Fountain Lake.

"He's swinging a really hot bat," McArthur said. "Those five we feel really good about. We've just got to put something else together with those guys at the top."

From seniors all the way down to freshmen, Fountain Lake has both young and older talent making a difference on the diamond.

McArthur said it's comforting as a coach for the younger players to get much needed experience and for the older players to be developing as expected.

"It means a lot," he said. "The best nine are going to be out there playing. Obviously you want the older guys to have success because that four-year window closes really, really quick, but the best will be out there playing ball. It's good to have the young guys get out there and get that early experience because as a coach you know you're going to have less holes to fill down the road."

Fountain Lake starts the conference slate this week with games on the road at Waldron and Mena.

"I think the conference is going to be really, really good," McArthur said. "Dardanelle and Morrilton and Pottsville, we think those are kind of the three big dogs. Our goal is obviously to compete for a conference championship and make the state tournament. Making the state tournament being the No. 1 goal. Get back there and play as much baseball as we can. We feel like it's going to be a very competitive conference from top to bottom with no days off."

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