Catcher wows with big numbers

BENTON – Senior Benton Panthers catcher Matthew Krikorian may not be the biggest guy on the field, but his size didn’t stop him from posting big numbers this past season. Krikorian signed a letter of intent to play baseball for the University of Central Arkansas (Conway) on Tuesday night at Holland Chapel Baptist Church Life Center in front of friends and family before the Panthers announced their postseason awards.

Despite being 5 feet, 6 inches tall, Krikorian didn’t let his lack of size stop him from having a team-best .443 batting average, a ridiculous .598 on-base percentage, a .544 slugging percentage, and a 1.143 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS).

“I’m really excited about it,” Krikorian said. “It’s kind of close to home and I’ve always wanted to play Division 1 baseball and they’re a Division 1 program. [UCA Coach Allen Gum is] one of the few coaches who was actually interested in me even with my short stature.”

“That’s awesome,” Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said about Krikorian’s stats. “He had a great year at the plate. He had one of the best years you can ask for being a senior. He did it all year long.”

Krikorian will join a UCA Bears team which went 24-30 overall and 15-17 in the Southland Conference. Balisterri had plenty of confidence in his former catcher who also led the Panthers with 35 hits, 23 walks and being hit by a pitch nine times. Krikorian also struck out a team-low (with qualifying plate appearances) five times and was second on the team with 22 RBIs.

“I have no doubt that you’re going to push whoever is behind the plate for a starting position,” Balisterri said speaking to Krikorian. “UCA is a great place. They have a great coach there who is building the program up.

“He’s a smart guy,” Balisterri continued on Krikorian. “Matthew made a 28 on the ACT. He got a big-time scholarship and he’s also getting the opportunity to play baseball for a great coach and a good program.”
Balisterri also spoke of Krikorian’s experience and consistency.

“We’re losing a lot of experience,” Balisterri said. “He started every game for us his junior and senior years. He’s one of those players that leads by example when he plays. He’s not a real vocal-type kid, but when he’s on the field, he takes charge. We’re going to miss that.

“That’s the thing about Matthew – you get the same kid every single day, no matter what. He worked hard, had a great attitude and you just knew what you were getting. You knew you were getting a guy that was going to play hard-nosed and was going to play the game the right way.”

Krikorian said if he would have put up the big numbers his junior season, he may have had more offers, but it was actually UCA Coach Gum who helped Krikorian in his outstanding senior campaign.

“When I talked to Coach Gum, he said he saw something in me last fall,” Krikorian said. “He said to work on a few things and my batting average would shoot up. I worked on them and it really helped me this season.”
Krikorian reached base 29 out of the Panthers 31 games on the year and Balisterri said he should have moved his catcher to the No. 3 hole in the lineup earlier in the year.

“Knowing now what he did, I should have moved him back down to the three-hole midway through the season,” Balisterri said. “But, when you’ve got a guy that’s hot like that, you hate to mess with him. You don’t want to change anything for him.

“With three weeks left to go in the season, I went to him and said, ‘we need to drop you down in the order a little bit to try to get you into RBI situations.’ He asked me if he needed to change anything and I said, ‘Heck no you don’t change anything. You do what you’ve been doing. You don’t need to change one thing.’ We put him in the three-hole and he continued to do what he does.”

Krikorian doesn’t know yet what his major is going to be, but his high school coach was certain of his ability.

“I can promise you this,” Balisterri started. “The first year he’s there, the coaches are going to love him. I guarantee you he’ll compete. That’s what competition is all about. The important thing for Matthew is getting an opportunity.”