The 2023 high school baseball and softball season saw great performances throughout the season from many players in Ouachita County. Among some of the top performances this season were from underclassmen in baseball and softball.
There is no doubt sophomore shortstop Aria Nipp was going to be one of the pivotal players for the Harmony Grove Lady Hornets this season. Her playmaking skills in the batting game and the fielding game. In 68 at-bats, Nipp accounted for 15 hits, 11 runs, a team-high 17 RBIs, a batting average of .221 and an on-base percentage of .303. Nipp was consistent at the plate as she would rarely put her team into tough situations. In the fielding game, she was an efficient shortstop who regularly made solid plays for outs. She was also the backup catcher in place of an injured senior Kailee Riggs. Nipp accounted for 35 putouts and 22 assists. There is only room for improvement for Nipp, who easily become an all-state player due to her athleticism by the time she is a senior.
Nipp was not the only underclassmen to make an impact for the Lady Hornet this season. Outfielder Peyton Priddy is a freshman that contributed early to her high school varsity career through efficient batting and fielding. Priddy's athleticism and solid timing was pivotal at the plate by accounting for 11 hits, five RBIs, 11 runs, nine walks and a batting average of .208 and an on-base percentage of .364. In the fielding game, Priddy accounted for 19 putouts and six assists. Priddy was named Camden News' female player of the week once this season.
The 2023 season did not go well for the Camden Fairview Cardinals, but it if there was one positive to take away, it is that the Cardinals have a solid future with sophomores and freshmen.
Kicking off the star freshmen for the Cardinals is catcher/infielder/pitcher Jaden Bryant. In 57 at-bats this season, Bryant accounted for 16 hits, one home run, a team-high 16 RBI, a batting average of .281 and an-base percentage of .400. Bryant had one of the best single-game performances of the season in the 12-1 road win over the Malvern Leopards by accounting for a home run, four RBIs, one walk and no strikeouts.
After the injury to pitcher Dayson Connely, Bryant became the ace pitcher for the Cardinals. In a team-high 33.2 innings pitched, Bryant allowed 37 hits, 30 runs and 12 walks while delivering a team-high 19 strikeouts and accounting for a team-high 3.119. In the fielding game, Bryant accounted for 29 putouts and nine assists.
Cardinals freshman outfielder Jy'Mauri Utsey was an effective power-hitter in his first season with Camden Fairview. In 52 at-bats, Utsey accounted for 11 hits, seven RBIs, 11 runs and five walks while only striking out four times. In the fielding game, Utsey accounted for 33 putouts, which was the fourth-most on the team, one assist, one double-play and occurred only one error. He had two of his best games of the season against elite teams in El Dorado and Arkadelphia by accounting for two hit, one RBI and one run each in the games.
Sophomore infielder/pitcher/designated hitter Ben McKinney was a player that was efficient since the beginning of the season. McKinney accounted for 10 hits, nine RBIs, six runs, a batting average of .222 and an on-base percentage of .379. Sophomore pitcher/infielder Dayson Connely only played in 12 games this season as a result of an injury to his throwing arm. While he was not able to return to the pitching mound, he was able to come back as a batter and a fielder. In 33 at-bats, Connely accounted for eight hits, four runs, four RBIs, three walks, a batting average of .242 and an on-base percentage of .306. Before his injury, Connely delivered 15 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched.
The Camden Fairview Lady Cardinals didn't have a good season outside the first two games of the season. One of the positive notes of a bad season was the batting of sophomore infielder Brianna Dupree, who accounted for 10 hits, four RBIs, eight runs, two walks, 12 strikeouts, a .233 batting average and a .267 on-base percentage.
The Bearden Bears baseball team had solid moments this season as they had a brutal schedule. The Bears saw some of their best performances from their underclassmen. Sophomore shortstop Pierce Finley led the team in batting average (.409) and RBIs (16). He was one of the most efficient and most reliable batters this season. Sophomore centerfielder Bryce Whisenhunt is a productive player on both sides of the field. In the batting game, Whisenhunt accounted for a batting average of .333 while accounting for 31 putouts and only three errors.