Does the road to Fayetteville go through Star City?


STAR CITY — Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.

The much-used phrase would seem to be a good way to describe the Star City baseball team.

The Bulldogs have overcome plenty of adversity this season, but appear to be better for it having won their fourth 8-4A Conference championship under coach Scott Johnson.

“We had some adversity,” Johnson said, “but each one of these kids stuck together.

“They decided they wanted to accomplish our goals, and did not let (the adversity) take us away from that.

“The conference championship was just the first one those goals.”

The next step comes this weekend when Star City (19-5) hosts the 4A South regional.

“It’s really good,” Johnson said of the eight-team field. “I know that teams in the East may say theirs is the toughest region and those in the North may say theirs is.

“But I can tell you one thing, the South has some quality baseball in it, especially for 4A.”

Johnson knows the 7-4A representatives — defending state champion Arkadelphia, Ashdown, Central Arkansas Christian and Nashvile — will be tough, but he thinks Star City and its 8-4A brethren — Hamburg, Crossett and Monticello — should be able to hold its own.

Bulldogs sophomore Tye Brown said he believes the eventual 4A state champion will be playing in Star City this weekend.

“There is a lot of great teams,” the outfielder said. “These are the elite of the elite. It’s great to get to compete against that.

“I think the state winner will likely come out of this region. I think it’s a great opportunity to see what we’re made of.”

The regional tournament will begin Friday with four first-round games with the winners of those games qualifying for state. After the first round, the four remaining teams will play for seeding in the 4A state tournament.

Star City’s lone senior Max Ross said he and his teammates wouldn’t change their approach for the win-or-go-home first-round game against Nashville at 3 p.m. Friday.

“We just need to come out and play our game,” Ross said. “We just need to try and keep all the pressure off of us.”

For his part, Johnson said he isn’t going to change his coaching approach.

“I’m going to coach the game the same way,” he said. “I don’t ask my players to change their approach, so I won’t change mine.

“I don’t want my players to press, so I won’t press as a coach.”

It could be argued that not panicking is what got the Bulldogs to this point. Johnson says a lot of that has to do with the leadership Ross and Brown bring to the team.

“Max has been with me four years,” Johnson said. “… He knows the expectations we have in this program, and he has the leadership to accomplish those expectations.”

Johnson, who’s in his seventh year leading the Bulldogs, said Brown’s comments during a team meeting about halfway through the season really set the tone for the team’s last few weeks.

“I asked if anybody had anything to say,” Johnson said of the meeting, “and Tye raised his hand immediately.

“He said, ‘If it’s not about competing for championships together, then what is it about?’

“We rolled off eight straight wins after that.”

Ross said he thought that moment, especially during a time when the team was facing adversity, really changed the team dynamic.

“At that point we started to really become a family,” the second baseman said. “We weren’t just individuals anymore.”

If the family of Bulldogs can defeat the Scrappers on Friday, they will qualify for the state tournament … to be played in Nashville.

“It’s kind of funny,” Johnson said. “They can feel pressure, because they’re hosting state. We can feel pressure, because we’re hosting this regional.”

The 12 teams that reach the state tournament — four from each of three regions — will play next weekend in Nashville. The 4A state championship is set for May 24 at the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium.

Brown said the Bulldogs want to keep playing at the very least to prolong Ross’ career.

“Throughout the rough patch he stuck with us,” Brown said. “Ever since that day he’s emerged as a leader.

“We want to keep playing for Max. We want his career to continue. We don’t want it to end.

“Well, actually, we want it to end at Baum.”