Baseball season ended for Central Arkansas Christian last week, with the Mustangs one game short of qualifying for the Class 4A State Tournament.
Ryan Stauder’s Mustangs, who finished third in the 7-4A conference and district tournament, fell to Hamburg, the second seed from the 8-4A, in the Class 4A South Regional at Star City on Friday, 14-6.
The Mustangs picked the wrong time to have a bad day, Stauder said.
"We just did not play very well," he said. "The most runs we’d given up all year with Jack Thomas on the mound was six, and that was with three or four errors. I had to pull him after the fourth. We’d given up eight runs, but if we’d played defense behind him, it would’ve been different."
The Mustangs went up 2-0 in the first inning but were tied in the bottom half and were never in it after that. They committed seven errors.
"We had guys who hadn’t committed an error since the day after Spring Break, and they committed four in one game," Stauder said. "I don’t know why. When you get to the regional, everybody’s a good ball club, and when you don’t come close to playing your best game, it’s even worse."
The Mustangs closed a rebuilding year 13-11. They returned just two senior starters — Thomas, who will play baseball for Harding University next year, and Jack Partlow, who at press time was headed to Harding as a deferred walk-on for football.
"Regardless of the outcome, I’m proud of how far we’ve come this season," Stauder said. "It was tough to lose when you’re not playing your best, and it’s been killing me all weekend. But we continued to fight, scored late, never gave up, never quit. We just did not make the plays we needed to make to win."
The goal all season had been to be playing their best baseball at the end of the season, and despite the final bad loss, the Mustangs met that goal, Stauder said.
"Our young guys grew up a lot, and we started to come together as a team — not just how they played, but as a unit, the atmosphere around the team," he said. "It was a big, vast improvement throughout the entire year. We put ourselves in a good spot. I’m very proud of the guys, even if it didn’t end the way we wanted it to."
The 7-4A claimed three of the region’s four berths to the state tournament. Arkadelphia, Ashdown and Nashville will be joined by Hamburg as the South’s representatives in the field this week.
Besides Thomas and Partlow, the Mustangs will graduate Jacob Yount, Colby Richburg and Carter Hays.
"Colby and Carter didn’t play before this year, and for them to come together with the class, come to practice and work with a great attitude — they really did a good job bonding with the younger guys and building a good team atmosphere," Stauder said. "When you do that, things are more fun. That feeds into our success.
"This class probably provided some of the better leadership and treated (their teammates) better than any senior class I’ve had, and their legacy will affect these young guys’ legacy in the future. They will definitely be missed."
He said he expected to return eight or nine players with at least one varsity start next year, five or six of whom have significant starting experience.
"We should only have one senior next year, so we’ll still be young," Stauder said. "The main thing we need to do is to go and develop a go-to pitcher like Jack (Thomas), and we hope more than one.
"A lot of our production at the plate was the two Jacks. We stole 85 bases as a team, and they had 45 between them, and they were never thrown out. So 20 percent to half of our production in a lot of categories will graduate with them."
The Mustangs will play summer baseball from May 29-June 30.