FAYETTEVILLE – Harding Academy scored 10 runs in the first two innings en route to a 14-3 win over Fordyce in Friday’s 3A state championship at Baum Stadium at the University of Arkansas.
“We wanted that very badly,” Harding Academy coach Shane Fullerton said about the quick lead. “And I knew we were capable of doing it.
“If I said I wasn’t a little surprised that we got 10 runs in two innings, I’d be lying.”
The Wildcats have now won a state championship in football, basketball and baseball.
“It is a very special moment,” Fullerton said. “Some of these same kids come out here and did that job that they’ve done for us all year long.
“It’s very special.”
Harding Academy scored five runs in the first inning to chase out Fordyce (26-3) starter Cole Johnson. The Wildcats batted around, tallying four hits and three walks to begin the game.
Two walks and a single loaded the bases for Harding Academy in the first. A walk to Austin Calhan forced in the game’s first run.
Glover Helpenstill hit a bases-clearing double to left-center field to give the Wildcats (25-9) a 4-0 lead. Dylon Jackson hit a RBI single to plate Helpenstill and Harding Academy led 5-0 after the top of the first.
“We walked batters, something we haven’t done all year,” Fordyce head coach Tim Rodgers said. “We walked 12 batters. We probably haven’t walked 12 batters all season.
“We picked a bad time to walk them.”
Johnson is tagged with the loss. He pitched just two-thirds of an inning, but allowed five runs (all earned) on four hits with three walks and one strikeout.
“We couldn’t hit our spots and ended up walking a lot of people,” Rodgers said. “We had to throw it over the plate and they are a very good hitting team.”
Harding Academy picked right back up where it left off in the second inning, scoring five more runs for the 10-0 lead. Fordyce freshman Ross Rogers walked three batters in the inning and gave up a two-run single to J. Paul Fullerton.
“They can hit,” Rodgers said. “I don’t want to take anything away from them. They hit two home runs and a couple of doubles.”
Harding Academy’s J.R. Miller was named the game’s most valuable player after pitching a complete game. He allowed just three runs (all earned) on eight hits with three walks and six strikeouts in seven innings.
“J.R. has been that guy all year long,” Fullerton said. “He was a good pitcher last year, but just struggled with some consistency.
“This year he has been the picture of consistency. I can’t say enough about that’s kid determination and grit.”
Harding Academy’s Will Francis hit a solo home run in the fifth inning and Trent Finley hit a two-run home run in the top of the seventh. Francis, who was the MVP in football and basketball state championships, finished the game 2 for 4 with a home run, a double, an RBI and three runs scored.
Finley walked three times and scored four runs.
“With the strength of our schedule and who we have had to face, we have prepared for Cole Johnson all year long,” Fullerton said. “I tip our hat to that guy. He is just a great athlete and a good kid.
“We prepared for that velocity and our kids just rose to the occasion.”
Fordyce finally broke through in the third inning with a pair of runs to trim Harding Academy’s lead to 10-2.
With two outs, Tommy Tidwell walked and Rogers singled. Junior Braden Chambers hit a two-run double to right-center field to plate both runners. He was stranded at second after Johnson struck out to end the inning.
“We got our three runs and we can usually win a ball game with three or four runs,” Rodgers said. “We aren’t a very good hitting team right now. Our defense is what has carried us all year.”
Fordyce scored its final run in the fourth. It had an opportunity to score another run in the sixth inning when Jakeymes Gates hit a one-out triple, but he was stranded after a line-out and a strikeout.
Gates finished the game 2 for 3 with a run scored.
Rogers pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs (six earned) on five hits with six walks and four strikeouts. Chambers pitched 2 2/3 and allowed two runs (both earned) on two hits with three walks and four strikeouts.
“We weren’t close to the plate and we were walking them,” Rodgers said. “We had to groove it in there and they could hit.
“That’s what happened tonight.”
Harding Academy 550 110 2 – 14 11 0
Fordyce 002 100 0 – 3 8 2
HA: Will Francis (2), Trent Finley (2), Glover Helpenstill (2), J. Paul Fullerton, Dylon Jackson (3) and Alex Francis.
Fordyce: Tommy Tidwell, Ross Rogers, Braden Chambers (2), Cole Johnson, Jakeymes Gates (2), and Daniel Harris.
W – Miller, J. L – Johnson, C.
2B – Will Francis (Harding Academy), Glover Helpenstill (Harding Academy), Braden Chambers (Fordyce) and Daniel Harris (Fordyce).
3B – Jakeymes Gates (Fordyce).
HR – Francis, Finley (Harding Academy).
SB – Jackson (Harding Academy).
HBP – Chambers (Fordyce).