A perfectly executed squeeze play in extra innings capped off a last-minute charge by the Taylor Tigers (17-12) as they rallied from a three-run deficit to defeat Armorel 5-4 at Taylor Field in the semifinals of the 1A state tournament in Pine Bluff.
“I really think if you execute it correctly, it is almost impossible to defend,” Taylor head coach Robby Frizzell said. “We got it down and we got the job down.”
Down 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Taylor scored three runs to force the game to extra innings. After holding Armorel to a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the eighth, Taylor scored one run in the bottom of the eighth to win.
With one out, Taylor’s Tyler Honeycutt walked and stole second to get into scoring position. A sharp single to right field by Luke Lane moved the runner to third.
And on the first pitch and Honeycutt heading towards the plate, Drew Sessions laid down a bunt between the pitcher and the third baseman. Honeycutt scored and Sessions reached first for the walk-off win.
“It is a staple of our offense,” Frizzell said. “We had a situation early in the game and we considered doing it then, and just didn’t.
“I’m glad now we didn’t because they might have expected it.”
Taylor High School will now face Southside Bee Branch in the 1A state championship in Fayetteville. Taylor will look to win its fourth state championship since 2004.
The Tigers rallied from a three-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to tie the game at 4-4.
“We have had great leadership from our seniors all year long,” Frizzell said. “I could hear them in the dugout telling the younger guys, ‘Hey, we’ve been in this position before.’
“We know how to win these close ball games.”
With one out, Lane reached on a walked and moved to third on a double by Sessions. A RBI single by Robert Tompkins plated Lane and a walk to Chase Whitehead loaded the bases and chased Armorel starter Taylor Hopper.
Relief pitcher Ty Wagganer hit the next batter to force in one run and walked Ben Lane to force in the tying run. He escaped after turning an inning-ending double play.
“We tried to go with our other kid,” Armorel Charlie Brown said. “It was probably the wrong move, because it didn’t work out. But the percentages were with us.”
Wagganer has proven to be successful before, pitching 5 2/3 innings in Saturday’s win. He allowed just four hits and struck out six.
Wagganer was tagged with the loss after pitch 1 2/3 and allowing one run (earned) on two hits with two walks.
“We had a great year. We would have liked to go further, but we just didn’t get it done today,” Brown said.
For Taylor, Robert Tompkins pitched a complete game, allowing four runs (four earned) on nine hits with four strikeouts and three walks.
“It seems like every game that we have had – starting with the semifinals in regional’s – has been decided by three runs or fewer,” Frizzell said. “Today was no different.”
Armorel took a three-run lead in the top of the sixth inning.
Jonathan Porter led off with a double and Hopper reached on a bunt-single. A double by Dallas Nicholson scored Porter and gave Armorel a 2-1 lead.
With one out, Seth Eatman hit a two-run single to right-center field for the 4-1 lead.
“We got some good hits, we just couldn’t hold them,” Brown said.
Hopper, who started for Armorel, pitched 6 1/3 and allowed four runs (all earned) on five hits with two walks and five strikeouts.
Hopper finished the game 2 for 4 with a run scored.
For Taylor, Sessions led the team with three hits including two doubles. He also scored two runs and had one RBI.
“The high school game has changed,” Frizzell said. “Definitely has changed the way the game is played. Can’t play for the big inning anymore.
“It makes for some exciting baseball as we saw today.”
Southside BB 17,
Southside Bee Branch hit a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the fifth inning to enforce the 10-run mercy rule as it defeated Viola 17-7 in the semifinals of the 1A state tournament at Taylor Field.
For Southside, Mason Duncan pitched all five innings.
Southside will face Taylor High School for the 1A state championship on Saturday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville at 5:30 p.m.