Woodlawn has played baseball against Junction City eight times in the past two seasons, Walnut Ridge once in each of the last four postseasons and Carlisle back on April 9.
As much as the familiarity on paper looks good, Woodlawn coach Tommy Richardson isn’t counting much on it to lead his team to a third state championship since 2008.
“We see Walnut Ridge once a year, but I don’t know that we’re that familiar with them,” said Richardson, whose team has beaten the Bobcats each time in the 2A state tournament. “We played Carlisle back in April, but I don’t know that with high school kids you learn a lot from playing a team one time. We were able to win that game, but they didn’t throw their best and we didn’t throw our best.”
So, maybe no one expected that 6-5 home victory over Carlisle would have been a preview for Saturday’s 2A championship game at Fayetteville’s Baum Stadium, but the clutch play helped the game fit the bill. Carlisle scored two runs in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 5, then Daniel Rissinger hit a walk-off RBI single to score Trey Hankins for the win.
Another thing Woodlawn (32-5) is familiar with is ending the season in Fayetteville — and Richardson believes that will help in preparing his team. This will be the Bears’ fifth title game in the last six seasons, having lost to Parkers Chapel in 2007 and McCrory in 2009 and beaten Dierks in 2008 and McCrory in 2010. Junction City ended Woodlawn’s reign last season in the semifinal round.
“I think experience is certainly a trustworthy factor, not just from the players’ standpoint but my standpoint,” said Richardson, who’s winding down his 19th season coaching at his alma mater. “From the first time going to now, I know what to do and how to prepare better each time.”
Expect Richardson to have his offense well prepared to try and outdo a Bison squad to beat perennial contender Horatio 14-3 in the semifinals. The Bears may have been held to three hits — all in one inning — Saturday, but in Thursday’s 9-6 win over Conway Christian, eight Bears in the lineup laced at least one hit, with Dillon Miller launching a three-run home run in the first inning. Seven of them lined a hit in a 13-1 thrashing of Walnut Ridge.
“Just like I told the kids, our bottom half (of the lineup) has to produce,” Richardson said. “When our bottom half produces, we get runs.”
Only the second through fourth batters, Jacob Richardson, Miller and Gavin Johnston, each hit off Junction City.
Defensively, Tommy Richardson hadn’t decided as of Monday who would start on the mound. Asked who is his ace this season, he said it’s a “toss-up” between Johnston, who worked the first five innings Saturday, and Hankins. Richardson didn’t have statistics available for either pitcher.
To Hankins, who pitched the last two innings of Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Junction City at Taylor Field, how to gear up for the Bison seems so simple.
“We prepare just like we have for everybody else this year,” Hankins said. “We had our ups and downs, but we’re on top of our game right now.”