It seemed as though BIC had everything working in its favor for Wednesday's 3AA Region 4 championship game. First, the Mustangs had the home field advantage with the game being played at Monette. Second, BIC was seeking revenge after losing the district tournament championship to the Bobcats a week earlier. And third, the Ponies won the coin toss gaining the last at bat for the game.
Even though BIC seemingly had everything going its way, the Bobcats scored one run in the first and the game winner in the seventh. The two runs combined with the strong pitching of Jeb Davis and Jeremy Hart were enough for the Bobcats to come away with a thrilling 2-1 victory over the Mustangs. With the victory, the Bobcats not only claimed the regional championship but also gained the region's number one seed in this week's state tournament.at Brockwell.
Walnut Ridge got on the board first as Jeremy Hart led off the game with a walk, advanced to second on a ground out by Andrew Ballard, and then rode home on an RBI single by winning pitcher Jeb Davis as the Bobcats took an early 1-0 lead.
BIC came right back in their half of the first inning when Brooks Taylor led off with a sinking line drive that eluded the left fielder as Taylor wound up at second base with a double. After a wild pitch advanced Taylor to third, Brandon Ballard scored Taylor with an RBI ground out, tying the game at 1-1.
After the first inning, pitching took over as both hurlers settled down and the score stayed even at 1-1 entering the decisive seventh inning.
Ballard led off the winning Bobcat rally with a single to right field, and was sacrificed to second on a perfect bunt by Cody Holland. Ballard then advanced to third on a wild pitch by hard luck loser Mark Hawkins, who up until the seventh, matched Davis pitch for pitch. Hawkins then unleashed another pitch that got by BIC catcher Jordan Phillips, allowing Ballard to scamper home with what turned out to be the winning run.
BIC argued that Ballard had missed home plate, but the home plate umpire disagreed as the Bobcats took a 2-1 lead.
BIC had one more chance in the last half of the seventh, as Hawkins led off the inning with a walk. Walnut Ridge coach Derek Bramlett then went to his bullpen and brought in right hander Jeremy Hart. The first batter Hart faced, Derek Rolland, put down what was supposed to be a sacrifice bunt, but the bunt was so good that Bobcat pitcher Hart couldn't make a play, giving Rolland a hit and putting runners on first and second. Chris Deeds attempted to sacrifice the runners to second and third, but bunted the ball too hard as Hart fielded the bunt and threw to third just ahead of the sliding Hawkins for the first out of the inning. BIC then surprised Walnut Ridge by pulling off a double steal, putting the tying run at third and the winning run at second with just one out.
Matthew Ibanez, who had homered in the semifinal victory over Marked Tree, then came to the plate. With two strikes, Ibanez attempted to squeeze home the tying run, but the bunted ball rolled foul for strike three, leaving the runners stranded at second and third with two away.
Jonas Rose came to the plate as the Mustangs' final hope, but Hart rose to the occasion, striking out the senior, ending the game and giving the Bobcats a 2-1 victory in the regional championship.
BIC, which was held to only three hits, was led at the plate by Taylor, who doubled and scored a run, Ballard, who singled and added an RBI, and Rolland, who singled.
Hawkins went the distance for the Mustangs, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out seven and walking five.
Walnut Ridge had six different players record hits while Davis threw six plus innings, allowing the only BIC run on two hits. Davis struck out seven while walking three to gain the victory. Hart came on in the seventh, giving up only a bunt single before retiring the last three batters he faced to gain the save. Hart fanned one batter in the inning.
"Both pitchers did a good job," said Walnut Ridge coach Derek Bramlett. "We're very tickled to win this game. Jeb (Davis) battled with his control but threw strikes when he needed to. To hold a team like BIC to one run is an outstanding job. Hart also pitched well in relief. We are very fortunate that we can put five or six different guys on the mound and still feel good about our chances of winning. Our first seven hitters are seniors, so this is sweet to get back to the state tournament after losing in the semifinals last season.
"We had our opportunities, more than just in the last inning," said BIC coach Todd Rhoades. "Mark (Hawkins) didn't deserve to lose the game. He pitched a great game. We didn't put the ball in play and that came back to haunt us. You have to give credit to their pitcher (Davis). But we are glad to be going to the state tournament. We feel like we can compete with anyone in the state," concluded Rhoades.
Walnut Ridge enters the state tourney with a 27-5 record, as they will face Conway St. Joseph on Tuesday while the 23-9 Mustangs must face a strong Southside Bee Branch team at noon on Monday. The Class AA tournament is being held in Brockwell.
BIC advanced to the championship game by knocking off the 3AA-South champion, Marked Tree, 11-3, assuring the Mustangs a state tournament berth.
Matthew Ibanez launched his first career home run, a solo shot in the second inning that tied the score at 2-2. After that, the Mustangs rolled to the victory.
BIC was led at the plate by Mark Hawkins who had a double, a single, and four RBIs. Brett Sexton had a double, two singles, drove in a run and scored two runs. Preston Despain had two singles and three RBI(s while scoring three times. Brandon Ballard singled and scored four times while Brooks Taylor singled and scored once to round out the Pony express.
Ballard went all the way to pick up the victory for BIC. Ballard gave up three runs on 10 hits, while striking out nine.
Marked Tree was led at the plate by Jeffery Thompson, who had a two-run homer, a double and scored one run. Brayden Malone also homered for the Indians as well as lashing a single and scoring a run to pace the Indian attack.
Andy Lung suffered the loss for Marked Tree.
BIC defeated Cross County 10-1 in the first round of play. Derek Rolland pitched a complete game, allowing only four hits while striking out eight in gaining the victory for the Mustangs. Rolland gave up just one run and walked only one batter.
BIC was led at the plate by Brooks Taylor, who had three hits, two RBIs and scored two runs. Chris Deeds mashed a two-run homer high over the centerfield fence. Brandon Ballard added two doubles and three RBIs, while Brett Sexton had a single and an RBI. Mark Hawkins singled and scored two runs, Matthew Ibanez scored three runs, while Jonas Rose walked four times and scored one run. Rolland scored a run to help his own cause in the Mustang victory.