WHITE HALL — After claiming the Little League district title and following that up with its second straight state championship, White Hall began preparations for the Southwest Regional in Waco, Texas, where it will open pool play against D’Iberville, Miss., at 1 p.m. today at Norcross Stadium.
White Hall came out of the loser’s bracket in the state tournament, beating Pine Bluff Western in the event’s final two games to reach Waco for the fourth time. The team wasted no time preparing for regional play.
“We got back to work pretty hard Monday,” White Hall coach Sheldon Pratt said. “We went in and made sure our defense was perfect and took a lot of batting practice on Tuesday.”
After scouting the Mississippi team on film, Pratt has confidence his squad can compete and win at the regional level after failing to win a game last year.
“They are very big and they look like a tough team,” Pratt said. “And the most important game is the first one. We need to win that one and then beat New Mexico on Saturday to take some pressure off the game against Louisiana.”
White Hall will play three pool games in Pool A and the top two teams advance to Tuesday’s semifinals. Pool A consists of White Hall, D’Iberville, South Lake Charles, Lou., and Petroglyph Little League of Abuquerque, N.M. Pool B is made up of Monument Little League of Grand Junction, Colo.; Lufkin, Texas; Northeast Oklahoma of Wyandotte and McAllister Park National of San Antonio.
Pratt will send staff ace Layne Hartsfield to the mound against Mississippi after the hard-throwing righty gave White Hall the performance it needed to escape the state tournament.
“We will start him and see how it goes,” Pratt said. “If things are going well we will get him out of there as soon as possible so he will be available for other games.”
If Hartsfield can take care of business against Mississippi and offensive leader Bryson Duckworth, who drove in eight runs in the district tournament championship game over Ocean Springs, Pratt will turn to Garrett Dennis against Louisiana with Ryan Ruff or Ruston Smith against New Mexico.
With three effective hurlers on the mound, the offensive production could be the key element of the squad to advance past pool play.
“They had a lot of life in their bats Tuesday,” Pratt said. “They want these wins pretty bad.”
Hartsfield is part of that offensive production but not the only hitter with power potential. Bryce Kincaid went deep against Pine Bluff, the first of his career, Zac Harbison came on strong in the latter stages of the event with a couple of long balls, Dennis belted a couple in the district tournament, Dutton Day hit a couple of towering home runs and Remington Curtis went yard as well. But it’s the bottom of the order — Smith, Ruff, Nick Roper and Carson Alexander — Pratt says could be the difference maker.
“If we can get everyone to put the ball in play and eliminate the strikeouts, we can score a lot of runs,” he said. “And all those guys gained confidence as we went through district and state. They hit the ball better and without them we wouldn’t be where we are right now.”
And where they are right now is in Waco with a chance to reach the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Penn.
“We want to make a good showing for the state of Arkansas,” Pratt said. “We may not be the best team down here but we are the most grittiest, hard-working one here. These kids are going to grind it out.”