On the road for the Southland Conference baseball tournament, Conway Chris Curry is experiencing some surreal moments.
Curry, a former Conway High star who is an assistant coach at Northwestern State, is home — sort of.
“It’s just weird when you go on the road for a tournament and you sleep in your own bed and are around your parents and people you grew up with,” said Curry, who is in his second year as assistant for the Demons. “I drove around town the other day and there are so many high school memories and it was interesting to catch up on the local restaurants and things like that.”
But this is primarily a business trip for Curry and he and the Demons have gotten down to business nicely.
Friday morning, Northwestern State, No. 4 seed, eliminated regular-season conference champion Sam Houston State for their second straight victory in the tournament, moving on to play Southeastern Louisiana Friday afternoon.
“We haven’t been to the tournament in something like five years, so our primary goal this year was to get here and see what happens,” he said. “We’re building. Nobody in our program has played in the postseason. Nobody has had an at-bat or pitched in this kind of tournament. We hope this sets us up for next year and beyond. No matter what happens, the experience is valuable.”
Curry was instrumental in signing Conway High’s Cade Jones this season.
“There are a lot of good players in Arkansas and in Conway because I know how well (Conway coach) Noel Boucher and (Barry Lueders) prepare their players,” he said. “I realize that UCA and other state schools with good programs are going to get a lot of these players, but we want to develop enough respect for what we are doing that we can be an option for some of them. Hopefully, Cade can have a good experience with us and help us with that.”
Bear Stadium has changed a lot since Curry played at Conway and went on to have a good college career at Mississippi State and in the minor leagues. In Curry’s high school days, the UCA park wasn’t even a decent high school stadium.
“I grew up around it, so it’s interesting to see what has happened,” he said. “It’s a good ballpark. It’s tough to play in because the fans are right on top of you. It’s fair. The turf plays right and if you hit the ball right, you’ll be rewarded.
“And the people at UCA from Dr. (Brad) Teague (athletic director) to Darrell Walsh (assistant AD) to coach (Allen) Gum have done a great job running things. It’s been a good experience all the way around.”
Curry formerly was an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas, so he knows what good college baseball looks like. And he’s an advocate of Southland Conference baseball.
“The league is very underrated,” he said. “It starts with really good coaches who know what they are doing. The players are also underrated. Many could play for programs in the power conferences. The environments at the various schools are tough to play in and there’s a lot of parity.
“These teams schedule some good teams and if you look at the results, teams in this league have beaten teams in power conferences.
“But to gain respect, teams have got to win some games in (NCAA) regionals. When UCA takes Mississippi State to the final game of a regional like they did last year, that helps all of us.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)