Friday, July 09, 2010

SPORTS>>Cabot’s Runyan heads to Lakeside

Leader sportswriter

When Cabot junior Legion head coach Andy Runyan leads his Centennial Bank team onto the field in Sheridan this weekend for the state tournament, it will be his last time wearing Cabot red.

Runyan is headed to Hot Springs Lakeside to take over the baseball head-coaching job recently vacated by J.R. Folds.

Runyan served as an assistant to Cabot High School head coach Jay Fitch and helped run the summer Legion programs for five years. He coached the AAA/senior Legion teams for the first two summers before taking over the junior program in 2008, leading Cabot to state-tournament berths in 2008 and 2010.

“I can’t express how much I owe to Cabot and to coach Fitch for giving me an opportunity to get into the high-school game,” Runyan said. “I’ve learned a lot from Jay, and there’s going to be a lot of things we do alike at Lakeside.

“If people from Cabot came down and watched, they would see some similar things. There are a lot of things I’m going to take from him as a mentor and as a coach.”

Once Runyan expressed interest in the Lakeside job in late June, the process moved quickly.

He applied on a Thursday, interviewed the following Monday, and the school board approved him at a meeting the following day.

Runyan made it final by signing his contract one week after applying.

“I’m extremely, extremely exited about the opportunity down there,” Runyan said. “Those guys have got great facilities, they support baseball, they’ve got tradition — they’ve won four conference championships since 2000 and won state Legion championships. Just excited to be able to run my own program.”

Runyan began his high school baseball career at Little Rock Mills, where he played three years before his father, legendary football coach Pip Runyan, took the head-coaching job at Greene Co. Tech in Paragould. That’s where Andy Runyan played his senior year before signing with the University of Missouri.

Runyan redshirted, then transferred to Arkansas State midway through his sophomore year and played all four seasons he was eligible.

Runyan coached Legion baseball in Paragould for three years while in college and played for the Salinas Packers of the California Coastal Collegiate League before moving to Cabot to be Fitch’s assistant.

“First of all, you couldn’t ask for a better place for fan support,” Runyan said. “Our fans do a great job. Our kids have a baseball background because their parents afford them those opportunities, which makes our job easier as coaches.”

Runyan will lead the Lakeside Rams in a stout 5A-Southwest Conference that includes private-school powerhouses Central Arkansas Christian and Little Rock Christian, as well as Magnolia, Arkadelphia and Hope.

But Runyan said his five years with Cabot in the 7A Central Conference was good preparation for any level of competition in the state.

A number of 7A Central players were taken in the recent Major League Baseball draft, including former Cabot Panthers/Centennial Bank infielder Sam Bates and Bryant pitcher Benjamin Wells.

Both players have also signed with the Arkansas Razorbacks.

“The biggest thing I’m going to take away from Cabot was the opportunity to be exposed to big-time baseball,” Runyan said.

“You go back and look, 7A Central this year were all four semifinal teams. Bryant won a state championship and had a kid drafted in the seventh round.

“There were four players drafted this year in the Major-League Baseball draft who were former players from the 7A Central.

You’re not going to find a higher level of baseball than what we play day in and day out at Cabot High School.”