Home Opinion-Free Column: Perseverance pays off for Peyton Stovall, Arkansas

Column: Perseverance pays off for Peyton Stovall, Arkansas

After Arkansas won the Chapel Hill Super Regional on Monday, Peyton Stovall’s mother and father posted this on their combined Facebook page.

“When Peyton was a little boy, as he grew up he would say, “I  hope to one day play in the College World Series”! Way to go Boys!! Perseverance prevails! OMAHOGS”

Stovall, the son of Matt and Leslie Stovall and a former Haughton star, will realize his dream Saturday when Arkansas (43-19) opens the College World Series against No. 2 seed Stanford (47-16) at 1 p.m. in Omaha, Neb. (ESPN).

The freshman will start at first base, where he’s played all season.

“Perseverance prevails” is a very good way to describe both Stovall’s and Arkansas’ season.

As anyone reading this probably already knows, Stovall came to Fayetteville with a lot of hype. He was expected to be a high choice in the MLB Draft but withdrew his name on the first day. That meant giving up for the time being a significant signing bonus, perhaps as much as $2 million according to some.

At Haughton, Stovall earned about every postseason honor possible in baseball. He was considered the top prospect in the state.

He was a success at every level, including a two-season stint at quarterback his sophomore and junior seasons. He didn’t play his senior season because he wanted to focus on baseball with showcase events in the fall, a decision his football coaches fully supported. There was also much uncertainty about the football season because of COVID-19.

Stovall’s college career didn’t get off to a great start. He got his first two hits in the third game of the season against Illinois State.

While he definitely enjoyed some success, the regular season was at times a struggle at the plate.

Late in the season, he injured a finger taking warmup at second base in the second of a three-game series against Ole Miss. He missed the rest of that series and two more SEC series before returning in the final series against Alabama.

“I think it’s been a battle for him,” Arkansas Head Coach Dave Van Horn told hawgsbeat.com. “He’s learning about Division I baseball in the SEC. The pitching that we see, it’s not what you see in high school, that’s for sure. … It’s all about working hard. You’ve got work hard. He knows that. He’s a smart kid.”

As a team, Arkansas also struggled some down the stretch. The Razorbacks lost four of their last six regular-season games and went 0-2 in the SEC Tournament, causing some consternation among a small but vocal number of Arkansas fans.

Then came the NCAA Tournament. The Razorbacks were sent to the Stillwater Regional, home of No. 7 national seed Oklahoma State. 

Arkansas won the regional, taking two of three from Oklahoma State. Stovall went 8-of-16 in the four games, including 7-of-12 against the Cowboys.

The Razorbacks advanced to a Super Regional against No. 10 seed North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Stovall hit a home run in a 4-1 victory in Game 1. He went 3-for-4 in Game 2 and scored the winning run as Arkansas rallied from one down going into the bottom of the ninth to win 4-3.

After Game 1, Stovall had a simple explanation for his postseason success.

“I’ve just honestly tried to slow the game down and just realized that this game is still the game of baseball,” he said. “There’s other things out in the world that’s a lot worse than striking out and making an error so I’m just relaxed and having fun, just enjoying the ride. I think that’s ultimately how I’ve been able to be successful these past two weeks.”

When he went out with the finger injury, Stovall was batting .263. His average is now up to .286. He has seven doubles, five home runs and 21 RBI.

On a personal note, I first saw Stovall’s athletic ability when he was in the seventh grade. I was on the sideline taking photos at Harold E. Harlan Field. I remember someone saying to me, “He’s pretty good, isn’t he.”

Yes, he was. You don’t see much passing in seventh-grade games but he could throw with accuracy even then. He also showed an ability to run. I wasn’t surprised when he earned the starting job as a high school sophomore.

When I was able to interview him after football games, he was always congenial and softspoken. 

I didn’t see him play baseball until he was a freshman. Not surprisingly, he was a first-team All-Parish selection that season.

If anyone plays sports long enough, they’re bound to face some adversity at some point. Just watching him play both sports, and talking to him the few times I did, and hearing his coaches talk about him, I figured if he ever faced some he’d handle it well.

Of course, his coaches and family can take some credit for that.

Whatever happens in Omaha, Haughton has justly taken great pride in what Stovall has accomplished so far. In fact, you can see how much just taking a look at Haughton-related Facebook posts and the many comments underneath them.

Perseverance has indeed paid off for Stovall and his Arkansas teammates.

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