Tim Cooper has been a member of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports department since October 1988 and began reporting on high school sports full time in 1993. Cooper, a native of Malvern, attended Henderson State University and worked three years as a sports writer at the Paris News in Paris, Texas, from 1985 to 1988.
Pate on the mark at plate, mound
Fayetteville senior Kyle Pate hits a 2-run double during the second inning against Siloam Springs Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at Bulldog Stadium in Fayetteville.
Kyle Pate has been an excellent leadoff batter for the Fayetteville Bulldogs this season, but the senior also tends to bring a degree of uncertainty when he comes to the plate.
"Kyle is very unpredictable," Fayetteville Coach Vance Arnold said. "He may take a lot of pitches or he may turn on one and hit it out of the park. He sprays the field. You never know where he's going to hit it.
"He'll make mistakes over the course of the game, but more than likely he will overcome those mistakes."
With a team-high 18 walks and a .438 on-base percentage, Pate has continually set the stage for the Bulldogs' big hitters. But he also can be considered a big hitter. Pate has belted 4 home runs, 7 doubles and has driven in 19 runs.
"I've batted in the No. 3 hole before, but the leadoff position has always been a good fit for me," said Pate, who was the MVP of last season's Class 7A state tournament and has led the Bulldogs back to the title game, where they will face Bryant at 4:30 p.m. today at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. "With the team as good as it is, I'm still getting a lot of RBI chances by batting lead-off."
"The seven, eight and nine guys in our lineup are not your normal bottom-of-the-order batters," Arnold said. "They can hit. ... The one thing we hope for in a close game is to have Kyle coming to the plate in the seventh inning."
That plan worked perfectly in the Bulldogs' quarterfinal victory over Little Rock Central during last week's Class 7A state tournament. Pate came to the plate with one on and one out and hammered a game-winning home run over the 375-marker in center field at North Little Rock's DeJanis Memorial Field.
"We give him the green light to swing at 3-0 pitches," Arnold said. "He saw something good on 3-1."
Fayetteville has been on a fantastic run over the past two years. The Bulldogs (31-3) are a combined 58-5 since losing to Bryant (32-2) in the quarterfinals of the Class 7A state tournament in 2012.
"Last year we had to prove ourselves," Pate said. "This year, what we've accomplished has been expected of us. We've taken everyone's best shot."
Currently, the Maxpreps Xcellent25 poll has the Bulldogs ranked No. 9 in the nation.
"I think this team has survived because they respond so well to pressure," Arnold said. "They know they are capable, and they expect to do well."
Pate has been as good on the mound as he has been at the plate. The left-hander is 10-2 this season with a 0.60 earned run average. He has 116 strikeouts in 69 2/3 innings. He has allowed only six earned runs all season.
"I really have faith in myself and the team," said Pate, who has signed to play with the University of Arkansas next season. "I trust that my teammates will make the plays and I am always going to compete at my very best. ... Knowing that I've got a good defense behind me, I know that my pitches don't have to be perfect every time. My teammates have my back."
Pate said he is a better batter when he isn't on the mound.
"I have a whole different focus on getting the job done when I'm on the mound," Pate said. "When I'm not pitching, I get to think more about what I can do at the plate."
Pates said he also has become a more picky batter since he moving to the leadoff position.
"I want to see what the pitcher has," Pate said. "I want him to show me as many pitches as I can get out of him."
"I think that really depends on the situation he's in," Arnold said. "When it's a big game, you'll see him respond. He still surprises us at times when it comes to key situations.
"He's a big-game player."
Sports on 05/23/2014