Cats back in semis

MONTICELLO — Watson Chapel left nothing to chance Friday afternoon in the second round of the Class 5A state baseball playoffs with a dominating 12-2, mercy-rule win over Arkadelphia in six innings at Monticello High School.

Justin Dardenne improved to 8-2 on the mound and the Wildcats (26-6) pounded out 13 hits against Arkansas signee Garrett Rucker, who lasted only 2 1/3 innings against the explosive Chapel offense that scored 22 runs in 11 1/3 offensive innings in the two postseason games.

“It says something when you get in the state tournament, especially in the quarterfinal round, and have a game like that,” Watson Chapel coach Chad Cope said. “The kids are swinging the bat, they are making the plays and the pitchers are pitching. It’s just one of those things where you hope it keeps going.”

Dardenne surrendered six hits and fanned six, walking none and one earned run. He faced one over the minimum through three before the Badgers touched him for two hits in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, scoring a run in each of the fifth and sixth.

“It always feels good to a pitcher to come out and put some runs on the board,” Dardenne said. “I felt worse in this game than I felt all year. My arm wasn’t all there. It was tired and hurting more than anything. But I put my pitches in there. It wasn’t my best stuff but they say on the days where you don’t have your best stuff, you’ve really got to dig down and I did.”

Dardenne said he worked more around his off-speed pitches as his fastball seemed to be ineffective.

The victory advances the Cats to play Greene County Tech (23-4) in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. today at Monticello High School. The East No. 1 seed beat host Monticello in opening-round play on Thursday and slipped past Harrison 2-1 Friday afternoon. A win today would punch Chapel’s ticket to Baum Stadium in Fayetteville next weekend for the 5A crown.

“These kids are really special,” Cope said. “They are one of the mentally toughest group of kids I have coached. To go through what I have put them through since August says a lot. And all they do is show up everyday and work their butts off.”

Much the same as Thursday’s tournament opener when the Cats scored four runs in the bottom of the first in a 10-3 win against Batesville, Chapel jumped out to an early lead against the 5A-Southwest runner-up Badgers (19-9) with three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Landon Colson singled to start the game and went to second when Dardenne reached on an error. Zach Bradford followed with a triple to right-center that plated the pair and later scored on an RBI single by V.J. Dickson.

As Dardenne was cruising through the Badger lineup, the Wildcats were cruising through its own, led by Colson’s three-hit, three-run, two RBI production. Colson reached base all five at-bats against the Badgers and has reached safely in 8 of 9 appearances in the playoffs. Bradford continued his hot hitting and is 4 for 6 with six RBIs and four runs in the tournament.

“We are going to have to come out hitting the ball (today) too,” Dardenne said. “We’ve been hitting the ball really well. We are starting to get hot at the right time and that’s what you want.”

Dardenne helped his gutsy pitching performance with two hits and three RBI at the plate. Bradford added an RBI single to this triple and Dickson and Brandon Wade each collected two hits. Wyatt Jones, the likely starter for today’s game against the Golden Eagles, added a single, as did Josh Dardenne out of the ninth hole.