SEARCY — For the first time in school history, the Fordyce Redbugs will play for a state championship in baseball after defeating the Mayflower Eagles 5-4 in 11 innings at Harding University on Saturday.
“I got a lot of great assistant coaches and the kids have been putting in a lot of time,” Fordyce head coach Tim Rodgers said. “I think this is the first time we have ever been to the finals in baseball.
“I know we have been to the semifinals once before.”
Fordyce finally broke the 4-4 tie in the bottom of the 11th inning when senior Cole Johnson hit a RBI double to left-center field to plate Braden Chambers, who had reached on an error, from first.
“It feels great, but honestly our defense and the way some of our underclassmen stepped up and held them, it made way for a walk-off hit,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s game-winning double was his only hit of the game.
“We have been waiting all tournament for him to get a big hit,” Rodgers said. “And he finally came through with a big hit.”
Chambers led with off by hitting a ground ball to Mayflower’s third baseman. He didn’t come up with it cleanly and Chambers was able to reach safely.
Rodgers said he no intention of trying to bunt him over.
“We were going to let him swing away,” Rodgers said.
In just one year, Fordyce (26-2) has completely turned its program around thanks in large part to the large group of freshmen and sophomores.
“It started years ago, when these kids started travel ball,” Rodgers said. “It has finally come forward now.
“These kids that are in the ninth and 10th grade now, they are making a difference.”
Fordyce has six freshmen and four sophomores.
“Everybody just played great as a team today,” Johnson said.
Held to just one hit in the first four innings, Fordyce finally broke through with four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 4-1 lead over Mayflower (29-3).
Senior Austin Hollis led off the fifth with a single and freshmen Jakeymes Gates reached on an error to put two on with no body out.
Senior Daniel Harris hit a RBI single to tie the game and after a sacrifice bunt to move the two runners to scoring position, sophomore Jordan Manes hit a two-run double.
After a two-out walk by freshman Ross Rodgers, Chambers reached on Mayflower’s second error of the inning. It allowed Manes to score from third and give the Redbugs a three-run lead.
“That inning in which we scored four runs, I think they committed two or three errors,” Rodgers said. “And that’s what we tell our kids, ‘Just make the routine plays and don’t make mistakes, you should win ballgames.
“They made more mistakes than we did and we took advantage of it.”
Mayflower answered right back in the top of the sixth with a three-run inning thanks to five walks issued and a two-run double by Trey Bradley.
“That’s the story of our team this year,” Mayflower head coach Joe Allbritton said. “That’s only our third loss of the season and we have had a bunch of come from behind wins.
“We just kind of expected we would do it again. We just kept waiting for that one after that, but everybody kept making great plays.”
Mayflower took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth when T Herrin hit a RBI single to plate Jordan Burns – who had singled to lead off the inning.
Herrin finished the game with two hits and a RBI.
“We had our expectations set high,” Allbritton said. “This is the best bunch of boys I’ve every got to coach. The bad thing is somebody had to lose. It just happens.
Burns was tagged with the loss. He pitched three innings, allowing one run (unearned) on two hits with two strikeouts and one walk.
Mayflower struck out a season high nine times.
“My gosh, Fordyce was awesome,” Allbritton said. “They played great ball and it could have gone either way.
“It just went the way we didn’t want it to go. There is got to be a loser in every game. Hopefully, we will handle it well.”
For Fordyce, Chambers earned the win after he came back in the game in the top of the 11th inning. He didn’t allow a hit but he did escape a jam when Fordyce’s center fielder made a diving catch to prevent a run from scoring from third.
Chambers, who had started the game, had already pitched five innings giving up three runs (three earned) on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts. He was allowed to come back in the 11th after both coaches and the umpiring crew double-checked to make sure it was allowed.
Rogers pitched 4 1/3 innings of relief for Fordyce. He allowed no runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
Mayflower starter Derek Vickers went eight innings and allowed just four runs (two earned) on four hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
“He’s a stud and we knew he could battle,” Allbritton said. “We were just on the wrong end of it today.”
Fordyce will now face Harding Academy in the 3A state championship on Friday at 7 p.m. at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. Harding Academy defeated Genoa Central in the first game, winning 12-2 in six innings.
“I think we are all mentally and physically just drained,” Johnson said. “What’s amazing is how we’ve turned this program around in one year.
“We just have a bunch of fighters on this team.”