Woodlawn is hosting the 2A baseball state tournament for the first time ever, but the Bears won’t open at home when the tournament begins on Friday.
The top half of the tournament bracket will play its first-round games at Woodlawn High School, while the bottom half of the bracket — which includes the Bears — will open at Taylor Field.
Woodlawn head coach Tommy Richardson said he has no problem with the half-hour trip north to play Marked Tree at 12:30 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve had a lot of success there,” he said of Taylor Field. “I think two of the three state championships we’ve won were played in Pine Bluff.
“It’s like Woodlawn No. 2. It’s really a home away from home. All these kids have played there and are comfortable there.”
If third-seeded Woodlawn (28-5) gets past No. 2 seed Marked Tree, the Bears would be set up to play their quarterfinal contest and, should they win again, their semifinal game in Woodlawn.
“They loving playing in front of people they know,” Richardson said of hosting the tournament. “I also think sleeping in your own bed and getting to stay in your routine is huge. As opposed to sleeping in a hotel room with three other people, one of whom probably snores, it makes a difference.
“You never want to play the host school. I haven’t hosted before, but I’ve played in plenty of tournaments. You never want to play the host, because usually the crowd’s on their side and they’re supportive.
“That’s what we’re hoping to have this week.”
Even with the hosting advantage, Richardson said Woodlawn would be facing some stiff competition as it looks to reach the 2A state championship game that will be played Friday, May 23, at the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium.
“There’ll be some really good baseball teams,” he said of this week’s tourney. “I think there’ll be at least eight to 10 teams coming here who think they’re going to win it.”
The Bears, who finished third in the 2A South regional, come out of a loaded 7-2A East Conference with Parkers Chapel and Junction City.
Woodlawn has yet to beat either the Trojans or the Dragons this year. Parkers Chapel ended a long Bears winning streak in Woodlawn’s conference opener. Junction City, meanwhile, has been responsible for the Bears last three losses — one loss each in the regular season, 7-2A East District tournament and regional tournament.
The way the state bracket is laid out, Woodlawn could face Junction City in the semifinals and Parkers Chapel in the state title game.
“It makes for some interesting conference, district and regional games,” Richardson said of the three teams. “But when we get to the state tournament, we kind of go off in different directions.
“Who knows, though, we might meet them at the end.”
Regardless of what team they might play, Richardson said he thinks if the Bears play their style of baseball, they could be on the field Monday for a spot in the state title game.
“When we’re good, we play boring baseball,” he said. “We play good defense and throw strikes, just real fundamental baseball. …
“If we play that way, then we’ll be playing somebody in the semifinals.”