FORDYCE — In only a two-year span, the Fordyce baseball team has completely turned it around, finding themselves in the state championship for the first time ever in school history.
“Things just kind of fell into place real quick for us,” Fordyce head coach Tim Rodgers said. “We got some good seniors on the team as far as leadership, clutch plays and that kind of team.”
Most of the team success this season has fallen on the shoulders of the ninth and 10th-graders.
“They have been playing travel ball since they were six,” Rodgers said. “They won state in little league when they were 12. They are used to these kind of situations.”
Rodgers said moving the freshmen and sophomores up to the varsity level has added a lot of skill and fundamentals, especially in the infield.
“Over the years, there is no telling how many baseball games they have played each year,” Rodgers said. “That is what made us so much better over the last few years. Is the infield, knowing the situations and the fundamentals.
“We have just gotten so much better and are so quick.”
Fordyce (26-2) punched its ticket to the 3A state championship on Saturday after defeating Mayflower 5-4 in 11 innings in Searcy at Harding University.
In the bottom of the 11th inning, Cole Johnson hit the game-winning double to left-center field to plate Braden Chambers from first.
“When I saw the guy turn his jersey and you could see his numbers, I knew then it was over his head,” Rodgers said. “Braden is pretty fast and I knew we weren’t holding him up, we were going to score him from first.”
“It just worked out great for us.”
Harding Academy defeated Genoa Central 12-2 in six innings in the first semifinal game.
“They hit the ball hard,” Rodgers said. “Genoa made some errors because of how hard they hit the ball.”
Harding Academy is seeking to win a state championship in baseball after already winning titles in both football and basketball.
“Those kids know how to win,” Rodgers said. “I think they got a lot of juniors and seniors that have been there before.
“We have been really working on our defense, because we know they are going to hit the ball and put it into play.”
One freshman that played a key role in Saturday’s win over Mayflower was pitcher Ross Rogers. He pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief, allowing just four hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
“We were hoping we wouldn’t have to bring him in,” Rodgers said. “But when it started going into extra innings, and there is no tomorrow if you don’t win, we had to bring him in.
“I thought he did a great job.”
Rogers came into the game in the top of the sixth inning facing a bases-loaded situation with two outs. He escaped when freshman third baseman Jakeymes Gates caught a line drive to end the inning and keep the game tied.
“I’ve been in that position before,” Rogers said. “I’ve played baseball all my life. I kind of know what to do. I tried to hold them, not get too nervous and not mess up.”
Rodgers pitched the first game of the state tournament as well. He pitched a complete game, struck out 11 batters and allowed just three hits with no runs.
“(Ross) doesn’t get frustrated,” Rodgers said. “When he is on the mound, he is a totally different person then when he is away from it.
“He just stepped up and made plays.”
Fordyce’s assistant coaches are no strangers to winning championships as well. Last year, coach Dustin Sanders was an assistant at Woodlawn, which won the 2A state championship. Marcus Luther, who is also in his first year with Fordyce, came over from Oregon where his team also won a state championship.
Mitchell Musgrove has been an assistant at Fordyce for four years now.
“We wouldn’t have made it as far as we did this year without my assistant coaches,” Rodgers said.
Johnson, a senior, is expected to start on Friday.
“In every big game we’ve played, we’ve started him,” Rodgers said. “Plus, now he’s got a whole week rest.
“We are anxious to get him on the mound so people can see what he can do when he is rested up and at full strength.”
In the semifinal game, Johnson pitched just two-thirds of an inning, allowing one run (earned) on one hit with three walks and a strikeout.
“A lot of people didn’t see his best stuff on Saturday,” Rodgers said. “We are just hoping he has his good stuff on Friday.”