FORDYCE — The 2013 season was one Tim Rodgers and the Fordyce baseball program had been looking forward to for a long time.
That year the bulk of one of the most promising groups of baseball players the city had ever seen would be entering their freshman season with the Redbugs. The players lived up to the hype as they gelled with the team’s three seniors and together reached unprecedented heights.
One year after reaching the state championship game for the first time in program history, the still young — but now experienced — group of players is looking to finish what they started.
“We’d been waiting for this group for a while,” Rodgers said. “They’ve been playing travel ball together since they were 10, and last year they all moved up and we stuck every one of them in the starting lineup.
“They were just the right combination with our three seniors last year. This time they’re a year older and smarter.”
Rodgers said he thinks last year’s 14-3 loss to Harding Academy in the championship game has only helped the group of sophomores. It’s hard to argue his point with Fordyce (20-6) set to face Genoa Central (29-2) for the 3A state title at noon Saturday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
“I thought the experience was good for them,” Rodgers said. “You can see they’re working hard to get back there.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Tom Tidwell, who coached them in travel ball. … He did a great job just teaching them the game.”
Fordyce assistant coach Mitchell Musgrove said it’s obvious the camaraderie of the players goes beyond the field.
“It plays a huge part (in their success),” he said. “They’ve been well-coached since the time they started, and they are just so familiar with one another.
“I mean they are buddies off the field, too. Anytime during baseball season that you’re looking for one of them, if you find one, you find them all.”
Sophomore Tommy Tidwell, son of the aforementioned coach, said he thinks that familiarity is what helps Fordyce the most.
“This group has went through a lot together,” he said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity together.
“It’s good to know everyone will do whatever it takes to win, because that chemistry helps on the diamond.”
Fellow sophomore Ross Rogers said he felt the same way.
“The longer you play together,” he said, “the more you get connected. You know where everyone’s going to be, so you can be in the right spot.
“It helps us really band together and it helps us with our defense, mostly.”
Rogers said he thinks the Redbugs have one of the best defenses in 3A and it was evident last week as Fordyce allowed just two total runs in three state tournament games in Harrison.
With a save in the quarterfinals and a win in the semifinals, Rogers was a big reason why Fordyce will be playing in a second straight championship game.
“Overall, it’s easier,” he said of the second-consecutive march to Baum, “but in some parts it’s harder.
“Last year, we made it there with a team full of freshmen and to lose the way we did makes us want it that much more.”
Tidwell also came up big in the state tournament with his solo home run providing the only hit in a 1-0, first-round win over Mayflower. It was all the offense the Redbugs needed as they got a no-hitter from senior Braden Chambers, who will start on Saturday.
“It meant a lot to me,” Tidwell said of the third-inning blast. “It’s satisfying to see all your hard work pay off.
“But we don’t win that game without Braden throwing his tail off. He never gave them a chance to win.”
Tidwell said if Fordyce can repeat its success in Harrison, then the Redbugs will be able to avenge their 5-4 loss to Genoa Central in the semifinals of the 3A Region 4 tournament.
“We just need to play the way we have at state,” he said. “We don’t need to make the game any bigger than it is.
“If we can do that, we’ll probably be walking out of there as state champs.”