FAYETTEVILLE — There was no midnight for this Cinderella as the White Hall baseball team accomplished the impossible Saturday afternoon with a 3-1 win over Pulaski Academy for the 5A state championship at Baum Stadium.
“It means a lot,” senior Aaron Johnston said. “We’ve gone through a lot this season and now we are at the top.
White Hall junior Daniel Sprinkle — who earned the tournament MVP award — pitched a complete game, allowing just one unearned run on three hits with five walks (two intentional) and eight strikeouts.
“All year, he has thrown well for us, we just never could get any runs for him,” White Hall head coach Skip Carr said. “Even (Saturday), just scoring three runs, but he was on. He was phenomenal (Saturday).”
Sprinkle’s performance on the mound was almost all for naught as a seventh-inning rally by No. 3 seed Pulaski Academy (20-13) almost cost the fourth-seeded Bulldogs the game.
With one out and a runner on second, White Hall (16-11) intentionally walked Arkansas-signee Blake Wiggins for the second time in the game. The walk put runners on first and second with just one out and brought the potential winning run to the plate.
Cleanup hitter Merritt Osment hit a shot to the right-centerfield gap, which would have scored both runners easily if not for Johnston.
“I don’t know really at what point I thought I could catch it but I know he hit a shot in the gap,” said Johnston, who also had a game-saving grab against Harrison in the quarterfinals. “I knew I had to run as fast as I could and try to catch it over my shoulder.
“When I got right underneath it, I knew I could coast under it and grab it.”
With both runners already on their way to the plate, Johnston’s catch allowed White Hall to double up the runner at second base to win the game.
“I thought it was a one-hopper to the fence,” Sprinkle said. “And they were running the bases like they were going to win it.
“We came back and got the double play.”
Pulaski Academy’s Bryce Bartlett — who had reached on a fielder’s choice — was between third and home when the catch was made. Once Johnston made the catch, Bartlett just dropped down to the ground along the base path.
“Hats off to their centerfielder, he made a great play,” Pulaski Academy head coach Billy Adams said. “I goofed. I was waving my guy thinking we were going to get two out of it.”
Adams said he had seen Johnston make some good catches in warm-ups, so “I should have known better.”
“He can cover a lot of ground,” Carr said. “We got some really good baseball players and some good athletes.
“When a ball gets up like that, we have a chance to run them down.”
The win secures the Bulldogs’ second state championship in three years and it clinches a baseball/softball sweep — also the second in three years — for the White Hall program.
According to Walter Woodie of the Arkansas Activities Association, it is the first time a No. 4 seed has won a 5A state baseball championship.
“It is sweeter because no one expected us to make it this far,” Sprinkle said. “No one expected us to win against Pulaski Academy (Saturday).
“It feels good.”
White Hall took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second thanks to an incredible sacrifice squeeze bunt laid down by Jase Wilson.
With the bases loaded and just one out, Wilson bunted it hard towards the first-base side — allowing courtesy runner Clayton Bowers to score.
“(This win) is huge for our seniors,” Johnston said. “There is only six of us and it has been a struggle all season.
“Beating Chapel, beating Little Rock Christian and beating (Pulaski Academy). It’s big. It’s big for me and big for our team.”
Sprinkle did not give up a hit until the sixth inning as the Bruins’ only run scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the fifth.
“We had a game plan of laying off his high stuff but he was getting guys out because we couldn’t lay off of it,” Adams said. “… He was getting his breaking ball over for strikes.
“Hats off to him, he pitched a great game.”
For PA, Colin Castleberry pitched a complete game as well. He allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
“The kids believed all year that we were a hit away or a run away,” Carr said. “We knew we were close.
“They started believing in themselves and went after it.”
Offensively, White Hall managed just five hits in the game — including junior Kirk Baugh’s solo home run in the fifth inning — but left nine runners on bases, including a bases-loaded situation in the third.
“We’ve done that all year and we are used to it,” Carr said. “We load them up and have trouble driving a run in.
“But somehow, someway we got three runs and that was enough (Saturday).”
Dylan Quickel, Turner Sparks, Justin Archer and B.J. Pullman had one hit apiece for the Bulldogs.
“It felt real good,” Sprinkle said. “It felt like all our hard work has paid off.”