Lions give Go-Devils all they can handle in 1-0 loss
"We played a heck of a game against a heck of a team," said coach Steven Milligan after his Manila Lions lost to Gurdon 1-0 in the Class 3A State Baseball Tournament at Searcy Friday afternoon. "They were near the top of the polls all season long and we gave them everything they could handle. They knew they had been in a ball game."
Lions senior pitcher Chad Nunnally took the loss while giving an outstanding effort, allowing only three hits in the one-run loss. To his credit, Nunnally gave up no walks while striking out four.
"Chad pitched a great game," Milligan added. "He's our senior ace and I couldn't have asked for him to do any more."
While Brady Vandiver, the Gurdon pitcher technically pitched a no-hitter, walks almost cost him the game as he gave up five. The Lions also stole five bases off of those walks, putting themselves into scoring position each time. Their best opportunity to tie and even go ahead in the game came in the top of the seventh inning.
First, catcher Luke McLaughlin got on first when Gurdon shortstop Wes Boulden bobbled the ball just long enough to let him make it to the base. Trey McCormick went in to pinch run for him and quickly stole second. However, he was thrown out at third when right fielder Ross Malloy hit to Vandiver, who made a fielder's choice on McCormick.
Malloy then stole second and a moment later went to third on a sacrifice line drive by second baseman Jace Elkins.
With two outs, Tracey Reinhart came to the plate hoping to drive in Malloy to tie the game. Unfortunately, Reinhart became Vandiver's ninth strike-out victim for the last out of the game.
From the score and the statistics, it is clear that the game was a defensive battle highlighted by excellent fielding from two very good teams. There were very few mistakes made by either squad. One of the biggest mistakes, though, kept the Go-Devils from making the game 2-0.
In the bottom of the third inning, Gurdon right fielder Jeff Henry slammed a massive shot which left no doubt it was going out of the park the instant it left his bat. Henry jogged around the bases to the cheers of his teammates and the crowd coming into home surrounded by those teammates.
Possibly distracted by hitting a homer in state competition, Henry stepped just to the side of the plate rather than on it. McLaughlin, holding the new ball from the umpire, saw the error and looked to his dugout in disbelief. Then after a moment, he went up to Henry and tagged him.
The plate umpire had also seen the mistake and instantly called him out. There was a considerable amount of disagreement from the Gurdon camp, including their coach John Pace trying to show the umpire a video of the play which someone had been shooting. However, the official would hear none of it and the call stood.
"I've been around baseball since I was five and I never saw anything like that happen," said Milligan. "He murdered the ball and then he let that happen."
Fortunately, for Henry and the Go-Devils, the run wasn't needed.
Also getting steals were Jacob Britt and Hunter Bryan, while McCormick also had a steal in the second.
After the game, Milligan was somewhat philosophical as he thought back on the year.
"We made it to the state tournament for the first time in 31 years and that is something we will all remember," the fourth-year coach said. "We won our district tournament in a tough district and went to the regional tournament for the fourth straight year. Our goal was to get here to the state tournament and we did. Hopefully, it won't be the last time we're here."
Milligan felt good about next year and beyond for his Lions. They will lose five senior starters from this year's team, but return "a bunch of talented kids."