Before the season started, junior Antoine Luster told his parents White Hall was going to win a state championship.
But they didn’t believe him.
“They just said, ‘Okay Antoine, we know how you are,’” Luster said.
Luster and the rest of the Bulldogs accomplished that dream thanks to an incredible turnaround resulting in a 3-1 victory over Pulaski Academy in the 5A state championship at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
“It meant a lot,” Luster said. “It was a dream come true. Something I wanted to do at the beginning of the season, I had finally done.”
Finishing just 12-11 by the end of the regular season, the Bulldogs squeaked into the tournament with the 5A-South Conference’s No. 4 seed.
“I think we just started believing in ourselves,” junior and tournament MVP Daniel Sprinkle said. “We kind of fell into a slump midway through the season.
“… But it was more mental than anything else and sure enough they came through.
“Everything fell into place and we peaked at the right time.”
After falling behind 3-0 to Little Rock Christian in the first round of the 5A state playoffs, the Bulldogs rallied for six unanswered runs to knock off the No. 1 seed from the East. White Hall would also knock off Watson Chapel — the No. 1 seed from the South — in the semifinals.
“Watson Chapel has a very good team and we knew it was going to be a battle,” head coach Skip Carr said. “(Antoine) leading the game off with a home run was a big boost for the team.
“It kept us up the whole game.”
Sprinkle pitched a complete game in the win over Pulaski Academy and — thanks to a game-saving double play in the bottom of the seventh inning — the Bulldogs won their second state championship in three years.
“We knew all along, in order to get to the finals, we would need three quality pitchers,” Carr said.
The pitching efforts of Sprinkle, Luster and sophomore Cade Canada had been pretty solid for most of the season, but the run support had never really been there — until the state tournament.
“When the offense is scoring for you, your confidence is going to go up,” Carr said. “They felt comfortable. They have played a lot of baseball over the years, so that wasn’t anything new for them.
“They just carried it over to the state tournament.”
In the regular season, Sprinkle threw 65 innings and had an ERA of 1.39 with 91 strikeouts. He allowed 13 runs on 43 hits with 30 walks and held opponents to a batting average of .182.
Canada had an ERA of 2.75 in the regular season with 34 strikeouts in 35 innings of work. He allowed 14 earned runs on 24 hits with 24 walks and an opponent batting average of .180.
Luster had an ERA of 1.77 with 47 strikeouts. He allowed 13 earned runs on 24 hits with 27 walks and an opponent batting average of .153.
“We would have the lead during the season and would lose it for whatever reason,” Carr said. “This tournament, everything seemed to be working.”
White Hall allowed just nine runs over the span of the tournament, and aside from the first-round game against Christian, the Bulldogs only trailed one other time.
“I think it was our dugout,” Luster said of what made the difference. “They gave our confidence a boost. We started being more of a team and were able to accomplish what we needed to reach state.
“They just kept us in the game and kept us motivated.”
Luster started the quarterfinal game against Harrison but it was Canada who sealed the win by escaping a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“I know there was a lot of pressure on him,” Sprinkle said. “He grew up in that moment.
“He is just a sophomore but that was big for him. We are glad for him. He came through.”
Canada started the game against Chapel and lasted 4 2/3 innings in the no-decision.
“Our plan was to use him for seven innings,” Carr said. “But he got us to the fifth inning and Sprinkle was rested enough to close the game for us.”
Canada gave up two runs on two hits with one walk and two strikeouts in the semifinal game.
“I think we did good,” Sprinkle said. “… And I think we are going to be even better next year.”