Former Arkansas baseball player Brian Walker had a simple goal once he took over as head coach of rebuilding Roger Heritage program in 2019.

The team had not been to the state tournament the previous four years, but begin making steps forward each season and made a big statement last season by eliminating  crosstown rival and defending state champion Rogers in the state tournament quarterfinals.

The upward trend has continued this season with Eagles (17-5, 7-4) having gone on 16-game winning streak before losing three of their last four contests.

“It’s like anything –  you start winning and it becomes a habit and an expectation,” noted Walker, a former Razorback catcher from 2005-2007 and two-time team captain. “The hope when we came here was that we were going to go out and have a chance to win every game and that has come to fruition. 

“Lot of that is because of the group that came before this current one and some of the failure that they had early in their careers before convincing themselves they could win.”

It doesn’t hurt that Heritage has a top-notch facility.

“The facility is as good as it gets for high school athletics,” Walker said. “I know that I am very thankful for Rogers Public Schools and what they invested in our baseball and softball complex.

“It has allowed our kids the chance to be a part of an almost Division I-esque as far as facilities go. It is second to none at the high school level.”

Heritage’s run in the 2022 state tournament before losing to eventual state champion Conway  semifinals is something the former Arkansas and Wichita State assistant coach thinks was a learning lesson.

“Last year’s deep run in the playoffs allowed a lot of these young guys to see it and be part of it,” Walker said. “That  further festered this belief that they have the ability to go out and compete in the games we have played, as we have minus the first two.”

The aforementioned 16-game winning streak lasted from March 3 to April 6 and  came after a pair of losses to Springdale Har-Ber to open the season.

“We played poorly against a good Har-Ber team,” Walker said. “We didn’t pitch it well, didn’t play good defense. Part of that was my fault. I had a couple of pieces in the wrong spot and rectified that. Same guys, just different spots.”

Heritage, which has games with Fayetteville coming up on Monday and Tuesday, hit a bump in road this week with pair of conference losses to Bentonville

Several sophomores are playing key roles.

“It is a very young group,” Walker said. “Last year we graduated 11 seniors. There were also some guys back that played quite a bunch for us last year so there is a nice new mix of young and returners and there has been great leadership.”

Walker got a nice surprise during the streak as as inexperienced pitching staff has come into its own.

“Pitching was a big question mark going into the season because we only returned seven innings from last year’s club,” Walker said. “So there was a lot of unknowns.

“Really the success of this group has been getting those guys to throw the ball over the plate. Our defense has been average, but our starters have taken the ball every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.”

Sophomore Dillon Askew gets the pitching start on Monday, sophomore Josh Hinds on Tuesday and junior Josh Askew – Dillon’s older brother – starts Thursday if there is a game that day or works in relief earlier in the week. 

Sophomore Cade Miller has has also been solid in relief for the Eagles.

“You start adding it up and you have a bunch of these young guys competing in the (strike) zone and (Heritage pitching g) Coach (Derrick) Wynn has done a great job of getting them prepared to be successful.

“It is a credit to them and to my staff, just what they have done to prepare these kids to be ready for the moment.”

The Heritage offense has been balanced up and down the line up per Walker, who played four seasons professionally in the Anaheim Angels organization.

“Offensively, it has been good one through nine,” Walker said. “Seldom to you get to write the same line up and don’t see to change it, but I haven’t had to change it much this season.”

Luke Askew has established himself as the Eagles spark plug as a lead off man.

“We finally moved Luke Askew the lead off spot and he has the ability  to change the game from the first pitch because he is a complete hitter,” Walker said

Bennett Crafton, Jack Hammon and  Brett Renfro round out the top four in the order.

“Brett Renfro is probably the main cog in the line up in the four hole,” Walker said. “ He has really been driving in a bunch of people 

Senior Aiden Adair is finally fully healthy and flourishing in the five hole.

“It’s best year that he (Adair) has had,” Walker said. “ His whole high school career has been injury riddled and now he is actually healthy and able to perform daily, which has been nice.

Junior Spencer Mounce and junior  shortstop Ethan Martin bat sixth and seventh while Hinds is usually in the line up whether he is pitching or not.

“Mounce played sparingly before this year, but is  having a great season,” Walker said. “Martin has played since a freshman but had not done anything offensively until this season and now  is producing at the plate which is making a huge difference at the bottom of the order.”

Photo courtesy of Rogers Heritage