No one needs to look further than the pitching mound to find the secret to North Little Rock’s success, and it starts with their two perennial starters Preston Oberling and Dylan Howell.
The two have been directly responsible for the Charging Wildcats’ 23-4 record including just one loss in 7A/6A-East play going into Saturday’s league finale against Jonesboro.
What is the key to their success?
Pitching coach Gene Whitley said the philosophy they live by is not only pounding the strike zone, but also getting ahead of hitters immediately.
"We want to throw first pitch strikes at least 80 percent of the time," Whitley said.
In Dylan Howell’s 3-0 win over Little Rock Central, 20 of his 26 first pitches went for strikes. Howell struck out 11 Tigers’ hitters.
The other advantage, especially if pitchers are keeping the ball down, is that infielders stay on their toes. If they make the plays they are supposed to make, then it makes the hurler more efficient according to Whitley.
"Walks and errors kill you," Whitley said.
Oberling and Spencer Byrd pitched game one, a 5-1 loss that saw four walks and six errors. Oberling did, however, strike out eight while Byrd struck out all three hitters he faced in the seventh inning of Tuesday’s opener.
The Charging Wildcats, despite Tuesdays misstep, are on the fast track to playing in Fayetteville in a couple of weeks, and are still arguably the best baseball team in the state, and it starts on the pitching mound.