Van Buren and Alma players suit up for American Legion baseball in Fort Smith
Several Crawford County players, including some from Van Buren's 2021 Class 5A state championship team, will play summer baseball with one of three Fort Smith American Legion squads.
Last year, the Fort Smith squads were able to get a couple of teams together after COVID-19 canceled the high school season. The 2020 AAA Sportsman (25-8) won the state title last season.
Close to 100 players from around the area participated in the tryouts for one of the three teams, with Van Buren's Tanner Callahan and Dakota Peters returning to the AAA squad. Fort Smith fielded just two teams last year but returns the Junior Sportsman for 2021.
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Alma pitcher Logan Taylor moves up from last summer's AA team that finished 20-12-1 last season.
Peters (Van Buren/Connors) is one of two college players, along with Logan Bolin (Sallisaw), on the team, and both were on the championship team last summer.
"It all starts with Dakota Peters. He's going to be the anchor of our offense, and we're going to rely upon him pretty heavily," coach Trey Prieur said. "There are going to be a lot of Van Buren guys we're going to rely heavily upon this summer. We got a good group of pitchers this season, and both Logan Taylor and Hunter Taylor will help us out a lot.
"I'm really looking forward to working with this bunch. I know they're going to work hard and get after it. Defensively, we're going to be solid this season."
Prieur said the team is strong up the middle with Steffan Fak (Northside/Labette CC), Callahan, and Bolin. At shortstop, the AAA Sportsman will rely upon Reed Carroll (Greenwood/Carl Albert), Austin Place (Red Oak/UA-Fort Smith), and Waters. The coach added that the outfield is solid this season with some speed.
AA Forsgren Sportsman
Caden Gifford (Alma) and Josh Nowotny (Van Buren) earned spots on the 16-man roster.
Taking over the Forsgren Sportsman is new coach Max Frazier, a Northside graduate who played for Prieur for two summers and is finishing up his degree at UA-Fort Smith.
"I'm looking forward to working with these guys this summer," Frazier said. "I wanted to get into coaching, and here I am. Working with these kids and doing what I love."
Joining the JR squad from Crawford County is Dalen Philpot (Van Buren).
Shea Hamilton takes over the Junior Sportsman after coaching the AA team for the past five seasons.
"All we knew about these guys is what we saw during the high school season and what we saw in tryouts," Hamilton said. "It's going to be challenging, but it's also going to be fun."
The team will have seven or eight pitchers who will be used this summer, including Ben Chastain (Southside), Dylan Herriage (Ozark), Dylan Addington (Clayton), Blake Owens (Waldron), Ethan Slavens (Hackett), and Philpot.