WALNUT - The Walnut Wildcats and Falkner Eagles split a pair of summer contests against each other through last week, as both teams get acclimated with new conditions, new faces, and new opportunities to grow.

Both Falkner head coach Brad Barnes, as well as new Walnut head coach Cody Brownlee, have used this series and the summer overall to evaluate their players and clean up fundamentals.

“Our main goal for summer ball is seeing what we have for next year,” Coach Barnes said.

Coach Barnes heads up an Eagle squad that made an appearance in the Class 1A playoffs after a late-season surge last spring, before falling in the first round. For this series in particular, Coach Barnes noted the poise and attention to detail his team showed, despite the lack of experience.

“One thing that I liked about that game was the lack of errors,” Coach Barnes said. “They really cleaned it up, especially considering we haven’t practiced in a long time, and that’s really what I wanted to see, especially since we have a lot of young guys. Seeing the plays we made on defense really makes me feel better about next year. Every pitcher that we had went out there and battled. Our guys looked really good on the mound, they went out there and threw strikes and gave themselves a chance. That’s what it’s all about is getting these guys ready for next year.”

Attention to detail is a particular point for Coach Barnes and his team, who look to get better at the little things throughout the summer.

“We’re always looking to get better about the little things,” Coach Barnes said. “It’s like I always tell these guys, if you fix the little things, big things will come and they will take care of themselves. And they’re buying into that and and they’re really working on those things. Any little things we can fix in summer ball, that’s one less thing we have to worry about come next year.”

For Walnut, the effort shown thus far by the Wildcats has left an impression on Coach Brownlee, who takes over a squad that began last season with high hopes, but ultimately fell short of a Class 2A playoff birth.

“I’ve been super impressed with their effort,” Coach Brownlee said. “I told them when I got here that it doesn’t take any athletic ability to give me 100% effort, and they have.”

Coach Brownlee noted several returning players that have made impressions on the mound, including Eli Akins, Brantley Porterfield, Jack Leak, and Owen Hopper. Despite his short time with the team, Coach Brownlee feels confident in his team and what they can achieve in the future.

“We’re gonna be able to win a lot of ballgames here,” Coach Brownlee said. “There’s a lot of raw talent that hasn’t been taught some things they need to know fundamentally, but we’re gonna get there, and I think people are going to be surprised with how well Walnut comes out and plays next year.”

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