Central Arkansas Christian had its four-game baseball winning streak stopped Monday in the Class 4A South Regional championship, falling to Arkadelphia at Ashdown, 7-5.
Ryan Stauder’s Mustangs will enter the Class 4A State Tournament this week at Harrison Parks and Recreation as the No. 2 seed from the South. They are seeking their first state title since 2009, when Stauder was an assistant under Doug Gunselman.
"The main thing is the 1 seed gets a bye," a disappointed Stauder said Monday night. "You can look at everything two ways: either you’d rather stay on that roll, or it can be a wake-up call. It’s all in how you respond, and I think we’ll respond well."
CAC will open the state tournament at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against the fourth seed from the East, either Cave City or Valley View. A win there would put the Mustangs in Friday’s 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal against the second seed from the North. Stauder guessed that would be Prairie Grove or Farmington. Should they survive that, the Mustangs would advance to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal and could see Arkadelphia again there.
The state championship will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 18 at the University of Arkansas’s Baum Stadium.
CAC had survived a couple of one-run games to reach the regional final.
"We had our chances to win today, but we left 10 or 12 runners on base," Stauder said. "We left the bases loaded a couple of times; we hit it hard several times but right at them."
The Mustangs faced a bit of adversity early when Joey Pinney’s home run scored two instead of three after a runner was called out for passing another runner.
"That killed a rally real quick," Stauder said. "We had little stuff like that that didn’t go our way. We didn’t play a bad ball game. Arkadelphia hit the ball well and got the clutch hits when they needed them and had just enough defense to keep us down.
"We knew it’d be hard to beat them three times."
CAC led 2-0 after the first inning. The Badgers scored three to take the lead in the top of the second. The Mustangs retook the lead, 4-3, in the bottom of the third when Travis Byrne’s sacrifice fly scored Jack Thomas and Jack Partlow scored on an error. Arkadelphia tied it in the top of the fourth and took a 7-4 lead in the top of the fifth. The Mustangs were able to answer one with Dylan Huckaby’s RBI in the bottom of the fifth but couldn’t get closer.
"Sometimes when you have something early go against you, it can get you off your game a little," Stauder said. "It rattles you. That’s why you’ve got to do a good job of keeping your composure, making adjustments and doing something about what you’ve got control over. We bounced back today; they just made a few more plays and had a few more timely hits."
CAC (13-12) had beaten Arkadelphia a week earlier, 12-2 — also at Ashdown — for the 7-4A District Tournament championship.
In the regional semifinal, CAC outscored the host Panthers, 14-13, to beat them for the third time this season.
A 13-run second inning happened thanks to doubles by Pinney, Partlow, Byrne and Landon Hearnes. The Panthers rallied with an eight-run fifth, but Thomas in relief shut down Ashdown, giving up no earned runs the rest of the way. Huckaby went 2-for-3 with three RBIs; Hearnes and Pinney were also 2-for-3.
In the opening round of the regional, the Mustangs slipped past Crossett, the fourth seed from the 8-4A, 5-4.
Thomas’ sixth-inning sacrifice fly proved to be the difference in a close game. Turner McDaniel had doubled and stolen third to set up Thomas. Huckaby had delivered an RBI triple earlier. Thomas, who went 3-for-3 at the plate, also took the win on the mound.