By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
It’s a long way from Haughton to Fayetteville, Ark. It’s a long way from District 1-5A to the top of Division I college baseball. And though it’s only about 120 feet from shortstop to first base, that may have been the toughest trip Peyton Stovall has made in the past year.
A year ago, he was perhaps the most feared hitter in Louisiana high school baseball. But instead of making the trip to the Major League Baseball draft – he was a certain early-round pick – he made the trip to college baseball.
That’s worked out quite well, by the way. The former Haughton star is a freshman starter on the No. 4 team in the country which, as you might imagine, can be pretty awesome stuff when you stand around and think about it.
Which he did, by the way.
“I did that my first couple of weeks,” he says. “But playing Mississippi State and LSU, you have to forget about looking out at the crowd. You have to stay between your own ears. Just play the game you’ve always played. Buy yeah, I remember looking around at the ballpark I’m playing in and thinking ‘This is insane’ with the number of people who show up. It’s a dream come true for sure.”
There have been lots of adjustments to make, but none bigger than moving from shortstop in high school to first base in college. “I didn’t have a first baseman’s mitt,” he says. “I’d never played it before.”
But the transition wasn’t as tough as he thought, even though he gained an appreciation for his new position.
“I know now that first base isn’t as easy as I thought it was,” he says. “But after playing there a couple of months in the fall and in the spring, it started becoming comfortable. After that, I feel like I’ve played it my whole life.”
As you might expect for a freshman playing at the highest level of college baseball, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster for Stovall.
He is batting .254 with three home runs and 14 RBI. He has started 31 of the games played by the 30-7 Razorbacks, who will take on Texas A&M this weekend in a three-game series in College Station.
At the beginning of March, he had an 11-game hitting streak in which he went 18-for-42 (.426). But he has hit only .172 in SEC play, though he has started all 15 games.
“At this level it’s tough,” Stovall says. “I started out slow and then for a while, I really had it going. It’s a challenge. It’s a grind. I was swinging it pretty well and then SEC play started. I just try to grind out each at bat. Getting better each game is a goal of mine and hopefully I can continue to do that.”
Stovall says he quickly realized the difference in pitching when SEC play rolled around.
“Definitely the depth of pitching and guys throwing harder,” he says. “They are able to locate better with all their pitches. Most pitchers can locate their fastball, but SEC guys can locate more than two pitches. If something isn’t working, they can throw something else. You have to let your hand-eye coordination and instincts take over. Just react. That’s something I’m still trying to get better at.”
Right now, Stovall says his focus is on the team and what the Razorbacks are trying to accomplish. When he arrived at Arkansas, his goal was simple and has remained the same.
“My number one goal is just to put the team in the best position to win, no matter what my role is,” he says. “I just want to give it my all, no matter how much I play. I knew if I did get my opportunity, to just give it 100 percent and don’t have any regrets. I can say I’ve done that so far. “
Photo courtesy Arkansas Razorbacks