After dropping a tough 3-0 loss to Bay in the finals of the Craighead County Baseball Tournament last Saturday at Lake City, the Buffalo Island Central Mustangs bounced back big time last week with two huge wins over Walnut Ridge and Nettleton in high school baseball action.
The Mustangs first handed a very tough Walnut Ridge team a 6-2 defeat Wednesday afternoon at Monette, avenging an earlier season loss, and then traveled to Nettleton and knocked off a red hot Raider team 7-5 on Thursday to improve to 20-7 on the year entering the upcoming district tournament at Rector.
Brandon Ballard blasted a three run homer and drove in five runs while also pitching the Mustangs to the victory over the 21-5 Bobcats. Ballard went the distance, striking out seven, while scattering nine hits and allowing only two runs. Ballard also exhibited excellent control by only walking one batter, which enabled him to pitch out of several jams in the game.
"The last time we played, Walnut Ridge hit Brandon pretty good at their place," said Buffalo Island Coach Todd Rhoades, describing the Bobcats 6-0 defeat of the Ponies earlier in the season. "I think he took it as a challenge and was determined to redeem himself this time around," said Rhoades.
Walnut Ridge scratched out a first inning run to grab a 1-0 lead before the Mustangs came back in their half of the inning when Ballard mashed his home run off Walnut Ridge starter Jeb Davis. Ballard's homer scored Brett Sexton and Preston Despain who had reached base with back to back two-out singles.
Walnut Ridge fought back in the fourth inning when Jud McNeal laced a double off the leftfield wall and scored two outs later on an RBI single by Jeremy Hart to make it a one run game, 3-2.
Ballard then helped himself at the plate once again by rapping a two-run single, giving the Mustangs a 5-2 lead after five innings of play. Ballard got his chance when Walnut Ridge Coach Derek Bramlett elected to intentionally walk Despain to load the bases and Ballard came through with the hit that took put the bite out of the Bobcats.
Brett Sexton, who had four hits on the game, added an RBI double in the sixth inning that scored Josh Shepard to make the score 6-2 and give Ballard all the runs he needed in gaining the victory.
Bramlett was discouraged by his team's inability to drive in runners when they got in scoring position. The Bobcats stranded runners in the first, third, and fourth innings, while leaving two runners on in both the fifth and sixth innings and stranding three more in the second.
Walnut Ridge was led at the plate by Davis and Cody Holland who each went 2-4 in the game. Davis, 2-2, suffered the loss, giving up all six runs, five earned, on nine hits. Davis struck out six while walking two.
The Mustangs then took on one of the hottest teams in Northeast Arkansas, the Nettleton Raiders, and came away with a 7-5 victory Thursday at Raider Field.
BIC jumped on Nettleton with a five run first inning, taking advantage of several Nettleton errors, while starting pitcher Josh Shepard combined with reliever Derek Rolland to secure the victory.
"I honestly feel like we are starting to come together," said Rhoades. "Things are starting to fall in place for us. This couldn't come at a better time with district and regionals coming up in the next two weeks," added Rhoades.
Shepard picked up the win, going five and 1/3 innings, before Rolland came on with one out in the sixth to shut the door and gain the save for BIC. Rolland came on with the bases loaded and immediately gave up a run scoring single by Jason Dillon and an RBI double by Justin McGarity as the Raiders cut the BIC lead to 7-5. But the sophomore settled down and shut the door, preserving the win.
Nettleton was their own worst enemy as they stranded 11 men, including leaving the bases loaded in the sixth. Jeremy Howard, 3-2, suffered the loss, giving up five runs on four hits and a walk in only two innings of work. Three of the runs were unearned.
After Nettleton scored a run in the second to make the score 5-1, the Mustangs came back in the fifth when Despain doubled in a run and later scored to give BIC a 7-1 lead. From then on, it was just a matter of whether the Mustangs could hang on, and they did.
Sexton led the Mustangs at the plate with two hits while Dillon, McGarity, Cooper Holmes, and Daniel Mullis all had two hits for the Raiders.
"That's two big wins this week," said Rhoades. "Hopefully we can build on this for district and regional and then hopefully the state tournament," added the BIC Head Coach.
The Mustangs will enter district tournament play as the number two seed and will await the winner of Monday(s early game between Marmaduke and Maynard. BIC will play at 4 Monday afternoon. If the Mustangs win, they will advance to Tuesday's 5 p.m. championship game. If they lose, they will play a 3 p.m. consolation game on Tuesday.