Two teams from Jefferson County are traveling 3 1/2 hours away to play the Class 5A state baseball championship game in Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
“Maybe we can play the best two out of three at Taylor Field and then go to Baum and finish it up,” White Hall coach Skip Carr said.
Even though White Hall and Watson Chapel are about 5 miles apart, the two schools will play for the title at 7 p.m. today at Baum Stadium, and every single player is excited to make the trip.
“Sometimes I think about it and it’s hard to imagine walking onto Baum Stadium where some of our heroes played,” White Hall’s Nathan Lee said. “To get to do that against Chapel, our crosstown rival, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
As Carr said, few people in Jefferson County could have asked for a better setup for the Class 5A title.
“Two great teams with great baseball tradition, so you couldn’t find a better atmosphere,” said Carr, who has been White Hall’s coach for 14 years. “Playing on that field is an experience they will never forget.”
This is the second title appearance for White Hall, which won the 1980 championship over Little Rock Catholic 2-1.
It is the sixth time Watson Chapel will appear in the championship game. The Wildcats lost to Sylvan Hills 5-4 in 2008, but won the title in 2000, 1996, 1991 and 1988.
Watson Chapel coach Chad Cope is hoping this title game has a better feeling than the last one, when he was an assistant coach.
“We had a 4-1 lead with one out in the top of the seventh and they hit a three-run home run and later went on to win it,” he said. “To sit there in the dugout, it was tough to swallow. The kids know there is a lot of tradition with Watson Chapel baseball, so they will respond and play hard.”
Cope, 33, has been the coach at Watson Chapel for three years.
Watson Chapel (27-6) won both games against White Hall (17-11) earlier in the year, 3-2 and 3-0. While Cope said those two wins have given his team confidence going into today’s game, he still knows the game will not be an easy one.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times and White Hall is hitting the ball well,” he said. “It’s a rivalry game so anything can happen. Just take care of us and we will have a chance.”
Lee said his team has not even thought about the two losses to Watson Chapel.
“I think I speak for the rest of the team when I say that we aren’t worrying about it,” he said. “It’s the state championship, and if the past mattered, we probably wouldn’t be here.”
White Hall lost five straight going into the state tournament.
The pitching matchup will be familiar as Watson Chapel will send Zach Bradford to the mound, and White Hall will start Tyler Zuber. Those were the two starting pitchers in Watson Chapel’s 3-2 win.
Bradford has an ERA of 0.99 to go along with 82 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings.
“I am excited but nervous at the same time,” Bradford said. “I kind of had the idea I would start, and I wanted it.
“I think we have a good shot. We have some good players and we’ve got good character, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out.”
Bradford will have to shut down a White Hall offense that scored 25 runs in the three games at the state tournament.
But Watson Chapel has a good offense as well. The Wildcats are batting .368 as a team.
White Hall counters with three starters who all have an ERA of less than 2.00, including Zuber.
“He’s starting and he is a warrior and a battler,” Carr said. “There is no quit in him.”