As a Missouri Tiger transplanted to Arkansas for a first job out of college, I expected my first trip to Fayetteville to somehow involve the new Mizzou-UA “rivalry.”
Instead the first trip to Northwest Arkansas for this sports reporter, save for the trip back home that takes me through Harrison, was to cover the 16th annual Weekend of Champions — better known as the high school state championship games for baseball and softball.
The trip, which travel-wise took much less time than I anticipated, exceeded any expectations I had for my first visit to the epicenter of Hog Country and my first experience covering a state championship weekend.
I had covered the December Pine Bluff-El Dorado 6A football game in Little Rock, but this was a much different experience. Not the least of which was getting to make the trek with my coworker and rent-splitter Sam Pierce.
The wily, 28-year-old was a veteran of the baseball/softball championship weekend having covered the event solo for The Commercial the previous year.
He watched as the White Hall softball team won its second-straight 5A title, and this May he got to cover — although I was also there to witness — the Lady Bulldogs become an official dynasty with their third-consecutive championship.
The view from the press box at Bogle Field of the White Hall girls celebrating was quite impressive, something that shouldn’t have come as a shock after getting a quick tour of the campus on the way to the field.
For all the experience Sam brought to Fayetteville, finding the softball complex proved tricky, but ultimately it allowed me to see some of the gorgeous layout of the hilly grounds.
After White Hall and the inspirational Vilonia team left the diamond, I got treated with the best of the four games we covered on the weekend.
A Sheridan bunch that had come so close to reaching the state final over the past few seasons — three losses in the semifinals in the previous four seasons — against a Benton squad that had been to the finals two of the past three seasons but hadn’t won a title since 2005.
Down by a run and down to their last strike, Benton got a three-run homer from freshman Breanna Langford that proved to be the game-winner.
After Friday’s two softball games, Saturday saw Sam and I head to Baum Stadium to watch the two local baseball teams — Fordyce and White Hall — try to end their season on the highest of highs.
In a tiny bit of déjà vu, the team I was covering lost a close game and the team Sam was covering came out on top.
The Redbugs’ loss made it two years in a row their season ended with a loss at Baum, forcing me to ask coach Tim Rodgers about things like a suspect offense not coming through and the valiant effort players like Braden Chambers and Tommy Tidwell had in defeat.
A few hours later, White Hall stuns Pulaski Academy to cap one of the most impressive state tournament runs I’ve witnessed in my brief 23 years on this Earth. The win meant Sam got to ask coach Skip Carr questions about winning a second state title in three years and the dominant pitching performance from junior Daniel Sprinkle that left a press box full of seasoned reporters with their jaws on the floor.
In some ways it doesn’t seem fair that I didn’t get to technically cover a team winning a state championship when Sam got to cover two. Then again I got to witness two local teams and their fans celebrate what has become a common occurrence.
Five state championships between the White Hall baseball and softball teams in the past three seasons is a feat few schools will ever rival.
I might not have gotten to be on the field interviewing the conquering champions of Jefferson County after their victories, but taking in the scene from press row reminded me of how it felt sitting in the passenger seat of Sam’s Scion, checking out the picturesque views of Northwest Arkansas.
Sometimes it’s better to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Nicholas Sullivan is a sports reporter at The Commercial. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.