Monday, April 02, 2007

SPORTS >>Mild-mannered hero

IN SHORT: Taylor Roark has a subdued personality, but on the field as Sylvan Hills’ three-year starting catcher, his Mr. Hyde-side takes over. The senior has also taken care of business in the classroom with a 3.6 GPA.

Leader sportswriter

Being a starter on such a traditional powerhouse team as Sylvan Hills might be stressful for some young men, but you would never know it by talking to Bears senior catcher Taylor Roark. The 17-year-old is as easy going as it comes, his voice never altering from his somewhat monotone speech, regardless of the topic.

What he might not show in outward enthusiasm, however, he makes up for and then some with his record in the classroom and on the field. Roark boasts an impressive 3.6 GPA, and recently scored 27 on his ACT.

His baseball stats measure out just as staggering. Roark’s batting average so far in the ’07 season is .465, up from his already solid .400 average last year as a junior. He has crossed the plate 26 times this season, and has landed 13 steals without being picked. As impressive as those stats may be, they are nothing compared to his on-base average of .708, a number that Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton says is very hard to come by.

“That’s just downright impressive,” Tipton said. “He has been our lead-off batter for the last two years now. He always sets the tone for us offensively. He is a gifted athlete, not just behind the plate, but he can play shortstop, pitcher and outfield as well. He is probably one of the most versatile players we have. Other coaches know what he is capable of, and they always seem to try and throw around him.”

Roark grabbed first-team All Conference honors for the AAAAA-East last season as a junior. Despite the numerous accolades that can be brought to his attention, Roark’s attitude and philosophy never seem to waiver.

“I guess I’m pretty laid back,” Roark said of his demeanor. “I think that’s why I like going to school here. The discipline is pretty easy, it’s kind of laid back too.” The term ‘laid back’ is one you will hear often when listening to Roark. It was also spoken when he described his front-running college prospect, Henderson State University in Monticello.

“I like the coaches there,” Roark said. “I would also have a good opportunity to play early there. I also like the campus, it’s real laid back.” Roark is verbally committed to being a Reddie, but also has interest from Arkansas State. He says he is still leaning towards Henderson, but won’t make a final decision until the deadline of national signing day on April 4.

Roark was also a two-year starter on the Bears football team as a wide receiver. Although he did not earn an All-Conference spot in football, his baseball prowess earned him a spot in the Xtra Innings Classic at UALR last summer, as one of the top 88 juniors in the entire state. While some might gush at the honor, Roark, ever the competitor, looked at it as an opportunity to size up the competition.

“I got to play with a bunch of good players,” Roark said. “Watching other guys from this conference and surrounding conferences, I got to pick up on their strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, it is something we can use when we face some of those teams.”

Sylvan Hills’ second-round loss at the hands of Fayetteville last year in the AAAAA state playoffs was among one of the biggest shockers in the 2006 baseball season. The Bears were predicted to go all the way by many, but a controversial call in the second inning that ruled a Purple Dogs runner safe when Roark tagged him three feet from the plate served as a springboard for the underdogs, and led to an 11-0 shutout of the heavily-favored Bears.

Roark says the team has not forgotten about that moment, and has used it as a point of motivation in preparation for his senior year of baseball.

“Last year hurt,” Roark said. “To get run-ruled by Fayetteville was something we took with us into the off-season. It left a sour taste in our mouths; it’s definitely not a good feeling. We know we have to step it up this year if we want to contend for the title.”