Vernon Tarver covers the Springdale Har-Ber beat for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, LLC. Vernon has been a sports reporter in the local area since 1998, covering everything from Fayetteville, Springdale and Bentonville High Schools to the University of Arkansas baseball and women's basketball beats. Along with his newspaper duties, Vernon is also co-host of the morning sports talk show, Press Row. In his off time, Vernon enjoys spending time with his wife, Elyse, and his 3-year old son, Jackson.
Defensive-Minded Tyler Boosts Bulldogs
Arkansas commit will play at Baum Stadium in 7A title game
Fayetteville shortstop Drew Tyler tries to put the tag on Springdale base runner Trevor Beadle as he steals second base during the second game of a doubleheader Thursday, May 1, 2014 in Springdale.
FAYETTEVILLE — Drew Tyler plays one of the more difficult positions on the baseball field. He plays the position so well, Fayetteville pitchers have benefited with record-breaking numbers.
Tyler, a junior shortstop, is a big reason why the Bulldogs are back in their familiar stomping grounds of Baum Stadium for another Class 7A state championship game. For the sixth time in the last nine years, Fayetteville (31-3) plays for the title when it squares off against Bryant (29-2) at 4:30 p.m. today. And while the Bulldogs’ pitching staff deserves a heap of the credit for getting them this far, it’s players in the field like Tyler who consistently make the guys on the mound look good time and time again.
“Defense definitely means a lot to this team and defense is something I take a lot of pride in,” Tyler said. “I always expect to make the easy play, the routine play and I always try to make the hard plays too.
“Hitting is something you can’t always expect, but you can play defense. So it’s something I’ve always taken a lot of pride in.”
Fayetteville has a 1.35 team earned run average per game going into today’s 7A finals. Much of that can be the result of arms like Andy Pagnozzi, Kyle Pate and Cody Davenport leading the Bulldogs’ stellar staff. But Fayetteville coach Vance Arnold also believes the defense in the field plays a big part as well.
Tyler is at the front in that category.
“It’s tough because you can get lulled to sleep sometimes when you have such good pitching,” Arnold said. “But Drew just seems to make every play. The running play throwing from his hip, the deep ball hit in the hole. He’s got great range and he just loves everything about baseball.
“And now he’s kind of settled into a groove and he’s hitting the ball real well in the middle of the lineup. So he’s giving us some punch there too.”
Tyler hit .244 as a sophomore and battled some strikeout issues at the plate earlier this season. But near the end of the regular season into the state tournament, the hitting stroke is back in full force. The junior, who has committed to play college ball at Arkansas, is 6-for-9 in his last three games and has seen his average climb to .320. Tyler also gives Fayetteville that power from time-to-time, as he ranks second on the team with four home runs and 26 RBIs.
“I think just repetition and staying through the ball more, and going back to the basics have helped more,” Tyler said. Fayetteville seeks its seventh state title in the last 12 years today. The Bulldogs have played with the target on their backs all year long as the defending 7A state champions. But Tyler believes fighting through that target with another title will make it all the more sweet if the Purple’Dogs come out on top today.
“That’s the goal,” Tyler said. “It will be very rewarding if we win this one.”