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Lakeside, Balisterri off to flying start

by Krishnan Collins | March 30, 2023 at 4:03 a.m.
Lakeside's Ethan Rogers (24) gets a hit in the first inning in a win over West Memphis on March 24, 2022. - Photo by James Leigh of The Sentinel-Record

Life under first-year head coach Brooks Balisterri has been sweet for the Lakeside Rams.

Lakeside started this season 6-1 in 5A-South play, including conference sweeps over Garland County rivals Lake Hamilton and Hot Springs.

"It's huge," Balisterri said. "It's huge for these kids' confidence. They all live in the same town. To say that we went 4-0 against teams who live in the same town, who they may hang out with on the weekends, go to church with, you know all those things, I mean it's almost like just a little bragging rights."

The Wolves swept the Rams last season, so Balisterri challenged his team this year ahead of the Rams' series against their nemesis.

"I addressed, 'Hey look, you guys got swept by these guys last year. Let's return the favor,'" Balisterri said. "They stepped up to the challenge. They were tough. I knew going into it, it was going to be a tough matchup. I mean that's a big rivalry. We walked them off in extra innings game one at our place."

Lakeside played in plenty of close contests throughout the first few weeks of the season, but most of the time, the Rams found a way to win.

Winning one-run games has been a staple of Balisterri's team so far this year. After losing 3-2 to Texarkana to open conference play, the Rams beat Lake Hamilton 2-1 and 5-4.

"Those are games that there's a lot of pressure," Balisterri said. "Our guys are handling it great and just stepping up to the challenge. We're making some big defensive plays and getting some big hits. Some timely hits that are kind of really putting us over the edge."

Continuing the streak of tightly contested wins, Lakeside defeated El Dorado 2-1 Tuesday on the road.

"Man, honestly I couldn't have asked for a better start," Balisterri said. "We knew coming into this conference with there being nine teams, there's just so much competition. Each and every week you're going to be playing somebody who's got an opportunity to be one of those final four teams. To be in the situation that we're sitting at 6-1, like I said, I couldn't have asked for a better start."

Lakeside's pitching and defense excelled through the opening weeks of the season. The Rams held teams under three runs seven times through 11 games.

"Both of our guys who start for us," Balisterri said, "have really just done a great job in giving us a chance to win everytime."

Junior Harrison Barmore starts Lakeside's Tuesday games, and junior Brady Arnold starts the Rams' Friday contests.

Barmore and Arnold both boast pitch repertoires with several pitches, and they throw those pitches for strikes. Both pitchers excel with first-pitch strikes and lead-off outs.

"I'm telling you, both of those guys have pitched outstanding," Balisterri said. "Even the game we lost, we lost 3-2 against Texarkana, Barmore pitched a heck of a game. Just competed and gave us a chance to win. Unfortunately we were playing arguably one of the best arms in the state in (Razorback commit) Ty Waid. Both of those guys, every single time they get on the bump, I have full confidence they're going to give us an opportunity to win."

Crowder College commit Wyatt Gibson has been dealing with "arm issues" but has been able to step in and help the Rams this season.

"We weren't sure we were going to have him, period," Balisterri said. "Luckily he's been able to come in and pitch for us. He came in and closed a big one against Hot Springs that was a close game. Then he closed again against Lake Hamilton. He's been big for us, too."

Although Lakeside's offense has not been quite as potent, different Rams have stepped up at different times to help in the batter's box this season.

"I know early in the season Wyatt Gibson and Ethan Rogers had two games, kind of back-to-back games, of some big hits," Balisterri said. "Just some clutch hits. Two out hits. Wyatt Gibson hit a walk-off triple against Lake Hamilton, and the guy who scored was Ethan Rogers."

Balisterri also highlighted Brennan Browning and Adrian Aguirre as two hitters who have made a difference for Lakeside this season.

"Offensively really you know we're not a team that's going to drive the ball out of the yard a ton, and we're not going to hit three or four doubles in an inning or maybe even three or four doubles in a game," Balisterri said. "We're gritty. We get guys on. We run. We bunt. We just have a lot of guys in the lineup who are tough outs."

The Rams are 7-4 overall on the season with nonconference losses to Searcy, Cabot and Batesville in tight games. Lakeside defeated Sylvan Hills 12-7 for a nonconference win.

"I demand energy and effort out of them," Balisterri said. "When we do those things, man, we're a pretty good baseball team. But we've also played some games this year that our energy hasn't been there."

Lakeside continues conference play tonight against El Dorado. The Rams already played tough series against Texarkana and Lake Hamilton, but still have challenging series ahead against Benton, Sheridan and White Hall.

"Although we are in first place, there's still a lot of baseball to be played," Balisterri said. "The good thing about what we've done early is we control our own destiny. We're not in a position where we need somebody to lose or anything like that, and we just need to try to keep it that way. It's a tough conference, and we've still got some really tough people coming up."

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