Manila was its own worst enemy in Friday night's heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Magnet Cove in the first round of the Class 3A State Tournament at Parkers Chapel High School in El Dorado.
The Lions left the bases loaded on two different occasions without scoring a run, and stranded 11 runners on the night. Manila also committed three crucial errors that led directly to Magnet Cove runs.
"We just could not get the big hit to open the game up," said Lion coach Steve Milligan. "We left 11 runners on base and had the bases loaded twice and just couldn't get them in. The three errors we made were huge. They came at times in the game when we had all the momentum and then we gave it back to them."
The Lions scored two runs in the top of the first inning. Magnet Cove pitcher Gene Duncan issued a bases loaded walk to Manila shortstop Kyle Evans, forcing in the game's first run. The Lions picked up another run on Luke McLaughlin's RBI groundout.
Magnet Cove came back with a run of its own in the bottom of the first inning when Trevor Stone scored on a two-base error to cut the Lion lead to 2-1.
Magnet Cove took the lead with a pair of controversial runs in the bottom of the second inning. Tyler Austin drew a walk before Lion hurler Tray Malone plucked Blake Henson with a pitch, putting runners at first and second. Jake Stevens drilled what appeared to be a three run homer, but Stevens missed first base and was called out. By rule, neither Austin nor Henson's runs should have counted, but the umpire allowed the runs to score, giving the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Manila could not protest because of a rule by the Arkansas Activities Association.
The Lions tied the score in the top of the fifth inning. Third baseman Michael Shedd led off the inning with a ringing double, and advanced to third on a base hit by Hunter Bryan. After a base on balls loaded the bases, McLaughlin also drew a walk, forcing in the tying run. Manila could not score again, leaving the bases loaded for the second time in the game.
Magnet Cove pushed across the winning run in the bottom of the sixth inning, when winning pitcher Gene Duncan reached on an error and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Dillon Stevens, giving the Panthers a 4-3 lead.
Duncan picked up the victory for Magnet Cove, going the distance, allowing three runs, two of which were earned. Duncan gave up four hits, issued five walks and struck out nine Lions.
Malone took the loss for Manila, despite yielding just three hits and no earned runs. The junior right hander walked just one batter while striking out nine.
Shedd led the Lions at the plate, going 2-4 with a pair of runs scored. Tracey Reinhart had a triple while Evans drilled a double and Bryan had a single. McLaughlin drove in two runs for Manila.
"It was a great season," said Milligan. "We were co-conference champs, district champs, and it's the first time ever in the history of Manila baseball we went to the state tournament in back to back years. Our goal from day one was to get to the state tournament and give ourselves a chance to advance. We just came up a little short. We lose nine seniors, six who start, and they will be hard to replace both on and off the field. I have no doubt that we will be able to put a good baseball team on the field next year, but it will be a lot different than this year's team. We will have three starters coming back in Malone, Reinhart and Zach Birmingham, plus three others, Jared Hembrey, Jeremy Goff and Dillon Burrow, who have played some this year, so we have plenty of quality kids coming back. I look forward to the challenge of winning the district tournament for the third year in a row, and reaching the state tournament again. I want the state tournament to be the goal for all of our teams, and it certainly will be ours next year. We will work hard to get back again."
Manila took third place in last week's 3A Regional Tournament at Tuckerman. The Lions dropped a 14-2 decision in the second round to rival Rivercrest. The two teams split four games on the season. The Colts led 6-2 entering the bottom of the sixth inning, but broke the game open by scoring eight runs.
Manila was held to just two hits. Frankie Cowgill rapped a home run while Tray Malone had an RBI single. Cowgill took the loss, giving up five runs in two innings of work. The right hander yielded three hits, but walked five while striking out two. Hunter Bryan pitched the final four innings, allowing nine runs, three of which were earned. Bryan surrendered 10 hits, walked two and struck out a pair.
Manila came back to take the third place game with a 9-0 whitewash of Corning. The Lions scored two runs in the first and third innings, and put the game away with a five run sixth.
Tray Malone went 1-4 with a home run and four RBIs. Tracey Reinhart had a two-run double, Kyle Evans had an RBI double while Luke McLaughlin laced an RBI single. Jacob Britt and Michael Shedd also had base hits for the Lions.
Malone picked up the win with two innings of one hit shut-out ball. Malone fanned two and walked one. Shedd finished the game, going five innings without allowing a run. The senior right hander allowed four hits, walked two and struck out three.
Manila finishes the season with an 18-4 record.