It is an unique experience to watch three different teams compete for a state championship, but it is something I’ve done on two separate occasions. In 2010, when I was working for the Saline Courier in Benton, I had to cover four state championships in two days as both Bryant teams, Benton softball and Bauxite baseball made it to the finals in Fayetteville. In the first game on that Friday night, Bryant’s Ben Wells pitched a perfect game as the Hornets defeat Van Buren in five innings. Wells now pitches in the Chicago Cubs’ minor league system after he gave up a full-ride to the University of Arkansas.
The Benton Lady Panthers lost to Mountain Home in the first game at Bogle Park on Saturday, Bryant Lady Hornets defeated Bentonville and Bauxite defeated Parkers Chapel in extra innings to win its first ever baseball state championship.
And now I got to experience that rush once more after covering three state titles in one weekend as Fordyce baseball, Stuttgart baseball and White Hall softball made it to the finals.
While not all three teams had the same kind of success as their predecessors, it was still a rare opportunity that I throughly enjoyed.
Fordyce lost the first game in a big way, but the game did end with a play at the plate and it was the first time for Fordyce to play in a state championship.
Unfortunately, the Redbugs gave up a season high in walks and runs as they fell 14-3 to Harding Academy. Fordyce is filled with quality sophomores and freshman so the Redbugs have a good chance of making a far run in next year’s playoffs. The win gave Harding Academy a state championship in football, basketball and baseball. Will Francis, the MVP of the football and basketball state title games, might have had a chance of winning the MVP in baseball as well after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth. But instead it was given to J.R. Miller, who pitched a complete game.
Fordyce reached the finals by defeating Mayflower in extra innings in the semifinals at Harding University in Searcy.
The 4A baseball final between Arkadelphia and Stuttgart featured two teams that have never won a baseball state championship but are known for their power on the gridiron.
The Ricebirds turned around a season that started 1-4 and won the 2-4A Conference and the 4A East Region championship.
Stuttgart did win a state championship in football in the fall and was hoping to add to it by winning a baseball crown but came up just a bit short.
The Ricebirds got off to a quick start, leading 2-0 at one time, but dropped 5-4 after failing to score in the bottom of the seventh inning after getting two runners on with just one out.
After White Hall won its state championship, a fellow reporter and myself talked about how both White Hall and Greenbrier could compete against the two 7A teams that had played before them.
It was that good of a game.
White Hall’s Sydnee Clark and Greenbrier’s Aundrea Hardin pitched complete games with Clark coming out on top. If it wasn’t for a missed fly ball, the game could be still going on. It was one of the better pitching performances in softball I’ve seen in quite some time.
Neither one was willing to give up a hit, and if they did, it was quickly erased by a double play or a strikeout.
In 2010, when I had to cover four state championships in one weekend, I was lucky that the scheduling of the games did not overlap. Meaning I could easily move from Bogle Park to Baum Stadium without missing anything.
This year, however, Stuttgart and White Hall were scheduled fairly close together. I was worried I would miss one of the games. Sure enough, with Stuttgart and Arkadelphia behind schedule and the softball games running a bit ahead, I had to leave after the first inning to go cover the White Hall game.
I was glad I did since they do not print up box scores and summaries at the softball games like they do for the baseball games.
Luckily, I made it in plenty of time. I became a sports writer because I wanted to be as close to sports as I possibly could without actually playing, and it is weekend’s like these that make it all worth while.
Sam Pierce is a sports writer for the Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at the office at 543-1459.