JACKSONVILLE — The White Hall baseball team is now one game away from completing an almost impossible turnaround after defeating conference rival Watson Chapel 4-3 in the semifinals of the 5A state tournament at Hickingbotham Field on Monday afternoon.
“I always want to be optimistic with these guys,” White Hall head coach Skip Carr said. “I told you for weeks we have had really good practices.
“If you look at the games we’ve played, we’ve lost a lot of close games. If we had a hit here or there or held them an inning or two, our record could have been a lot better.”
White Hall (15-11) was swept by Watson Chapel (20-6) in the regular season but on Monday held the Wildcats to just three hits.
“For whatever reason, these guys up here have put it together and good things are happening,” Carr said. “We are getting clutch hits or a key pitch.
“Our pitchers have done a fantastic job all weekend.”
White Hall will face Pulaski Academy in the state championship on Saturday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
White Hall had a 4-2 lead over Chapel heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. But with one out, Jaylen Jackson hit a solo home run to cut the deficit to just one run.
Landen Colson reached on an error and made it to second after a groundout by Blake Phillips.
White Hall junior Daniel Sprinkle struck out Jacob Owen with the tying run on second for the final out of the game. Sprinkle earned the win after 2 2/3 innings of relief, allowing one run (earned) on one hit with a walk and three strikeouts.
“We got them twice earlier this year in one-run games,” Watson Chapel head coach Chad Cope said. “And they bounced back and they played well.
“Bottom line, you can’t have three hits and win a game.”
Two days after escaping a bases-loaded jam and securing a win over Harrison, sophomore Cade Canada pitched 4 2/3 innings for a no-decision.
“(Saturday) gave me a huge boost,” Canada, whose birthday was on Monday, said. “Coming out here and getting a win against our rivals, that gave me a huge boost.
“I want to play again tomorrow.”
Canada allowed just two runs on two hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
“He did a good job of keeping the ball down,” Cope said. “I don’t know if we were nervous or anxious or what. But we just swung at pitches out of zone and that isn’t us.”
Antoine Luster led off the game with a solo home run to left field.
“It was a huge confidence booster,” Canada said. “We were a little skeptical coming in today’s game. Chapel has beaten us twice this year.
“We all know we can win, we just got to go out there and do it. Antoine set the tone for the whole game with that hit.”
Luster finished the game 1 for 3 with two runs, a walk and an RBI.
Watson Chapel scored a run in the second to take a 2-1 lead but after White Hall tied the game in the top of the third, the game remained tied until the top of the sixth.
Turner Sparks led off the sixth with a single and after Clayton Bowers courtesy-ran for the catcher, Bowers moved to third on an error throw and to third on a sacrifice bunt by Aaron Johnston.
After a walk to B.J. Pullman, Justin Archer plated Bowers on a squeeze bunt to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead.
“Archer is by far our best bunter,” Carr said. “I had all the confidence in him.
“He laid down a perfect bunt.”
Caleb Carr led the Bulldogs with two hits in four trips.
“It means a lot,” Caleb Carr said. “A lot of people did not have confidence coming in today’s game and Watson Chapel thought they were going to have an easy win to get to the finals.
“We turned it around and showed them we can win.”
White Hall added an insurance run in the top of the seventh thanks to a sacrifice fly by Sparks, which plated Caleb Carr from third.
“Hats off to them,” Cope said. “They deserve it. They outplayed us.”
Jackson, who suffered the loss, pitched 4 2/3 innings of relief and allowed two runs on two hits with four walks and four strikeouts.
Justin Pierce started the game but lasted just two innings. He gave up two runs (both earned) on three hits with four walks and one strikeout.
Blake Phillips pitched two-thirds of an inning and did not allow a hit. Justin Dardenne pitched a complete game in Saturday’s win over Nettleton, so Cope had no intention of using him.
“He threw 115 pitches on Saturday and I’m not in this game to ruin people,” Cope said. “I’m not going to do it. He’s not going to throw.”