Hendrix College Warriors Baseball Climbing Ladder

Chris Murray Bio
It wasn’t that long ago that Hendrix College Warriors baseball was a bit of a punch line.

A moribund program with little success, sparse fan interest and below-average facilities in Division III.

All that has changed, and is changing still. The Warriors opened play this weekend in the brand-new Southern Athletic Association, which features seven holdovers from the familiar Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. Hendrix is in its fifth season in its pristine ballpark, a part of the school’s massive facilities expansion that now practically abuts I-40.

“At our level, you have to realize athletics is a great generator to grow a student body.“ said first-year head coach Neil Groat. “We play some schools who have some really nice facilities. Our administration realized that we just didn’t have those facilities. They’ve invested the money and will continue to invest, and that’s pretty cool.

Hendrix has injected millions into its athletic facilities, completely altering the landscape on the north end of Conway. From the Wellness and Athletics Center, which houses Hendrix basketball, to playing fields for baseball, softball, lacrosse, soccer and (starting this fall) football, the school now has the facilities to compete with its peers.

After seven years as an assistant, Groat took over for R.J. Thomas, who left for Southwestern in Georgetown, Texas. Groat, a 2005 Hendrix graduate, knows better than most the depths from which the program has risen. Many close to the program have cited Groat’s tireless work on the recruiting trail as a key to the program’s upswing, landing prep talents from Texas and California.

Recruiting at the Division III level, with no scholarships, and to a school like Hendrix, with its impeccable academic standards, is a different kind of challenge.

“You have to find someone who has the academic credentials,” Groat said. “You have to find a smart kid who can get in, a family who can afford it, and then you have to find a decent athlete. If you can’t get the first two, number three doesn’t matter.”

Standout junior outfielder Collin Radack is emblematic of the resurgent program. A lightly recruited prospect out of Austin, Texas, Radack has developed into a major prospect. Baseball America this winter named Radack the top position player prospect in all of Division III. A late-bloomer, Radack is now 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, and boasts a 6.7 60-yard dash.

“I was recruited by Hendrix the hardest. It’s a great academics school, and I knew I was going to have a chance to contribute my freshman year,” Radack said. “One of my coaches told me about (Baseball America). It was surreal, but I am definitely honored.”

The Warriors shocked the SCAC in 2009 with an inspired run to the tournament championship, and a berth in the NCAA Regional. Since then, expectations have increased. And though Hendrix has not returned to that level, it has knocked on the door.

“I think we’ve helped to make people aware what Hendrix College is,” Groat said. “When you get out of the immediate area, you can sell this great institution and great facilities, it draws a high-caliber player. We’ve been able to add better players and more depth, and we’ve been able to change the culture. It’s no longer a recreational program.”

After losing two of three to Berry (Ga.) College this weekend, the Warriors fell to 5-8 on the season, with five losses coming by just one or two runs. With only two seniors on the roster, and a number of freshmen starting, Hendrix figures to have a bit of a learning curve in 2013, but the talent is there.

“We graduated six three or four-year starters from last year,” Groat said. “We knew our pitching would be pretty strong, and they would have to carry us. We need to string together things offensively and continue playing good defense.”

Hendrix travels to Jackson, Miss., for an SAA series with Millsaps this weekend before returning home to host the University of Texas-Tyler on March 12.

Note: Things got ugly in Sunday’s series finale with Berry.


The University of Central Arkansas Bears notched a huge victory on Saturday, defeating Wichita State 6-3 at Bear Stadium. The Bears sandwiched that one with wins Friday and Sunday over New Orleans, to run their record to 11-1 on the season.

But defeating the Shockers, regular visitors to Omaha over the years, is a real feather in the cap for coach Allen Gum’s UCA squad. After a Tuesday game at Grambling State, the Bears face a test this weekend against Mississippi State in Starkville.

The soon-to-be-ranked-much-much-lower no. 2 Arkansas Razorbacks capped a disastrous weekend in Arizona by squandering a 3-1 lead in the ninth and losing to Pacific, 4-3. The Hogs dropped four games in four days, scoring a total of six runs. Arkansas’ pitching was once very good, as usual, but the Hogs committed 10 errors in four games.

At this point, it’s hard to dispute that the Hogs (7-5) were overrated as the preseason no. 1 team in the country. There is plenty of time to prove that prognostication right, but that is going to require much stronger play than what went on in Arizona. Arkansas made it to the College World Series last season despite struggling to score runs. With a deep and talented pitching staff, it is possible the Hogs can do that again, but not with horrid defense.

Arkansas hosts San Diego State, with Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn as head coach, for a four-game series starting Thursday at Baum Stadium.

Coaches, SIDs, baseball fans from around the state: got a tip or interesting note? Pass it on to ctmurray@gmail.com

Tags: , , , ,