Baseball season ended for Central Arkansas Christian on Saturday in the semifinals of the Class 4A State Tournament at Harrison.
Ryan Stauder’s Mustangs closed 15-13 following the 13-5 loss to Arkadelphia, their second of the week to the Badgers. Arkadelphia had beaten CAC in the Class 4A South Regional championship, 7-5, five days earlier.
That regional loss proved to be consequential. Since Arkadelphia, as the No. 1 seed from the South, earned a first-round bye, the Badgers had to play one fewer game than CAC.
"We had our chances, but honestly, it just came down to them hitting the baseball," Stauder said. "We played about as good a defense as we could. I threw four different pitchers and we just couldn’t stop them.
"State semifinals is nothing to be disappointed in; we just came up a little bit short. They’re disappointed, but I’m proud of them."
Arkadelphia will face Stuttgart, top seed from the East, in Saturday’s 3 p.m. championship at the University of Arkansas’s Baum Stadium.
As the No. 2 seed from the South, CAC opened with a 5-0 win over Cave City, fourth seed from the East, and followed with a 9-3 quarterfinal win over Farmington, No. 2 from the North.
But in an all-South semifinal, Arkadelphia ultimately had the upper hand.
"They’ve been solid all year, but they’ve gotten a little hot swinging the bats," Stauder said of the Badgers. "They’ve peaked at the right time. They had a couple of freshmen who contributed at the end. They were a pretty young team, with a lot of juniors and a couple of freshmen, so with the youth they got better as the year went on."
CAC went ahead 3-0 in the first inning on two hits and two errors. Jack Partlow walked and scored on Jack Thomas’ groundout. Travis Byrne and Joey Pinney boarded with singles, and each scored on an error.
Arkadelphia pulled within 3-1 in the bottom of the first on John Franklin Matros’ RBI double and took the lead for good in the bottom of the second on consecutive two-out RBI hits: a two-run double by Jakahari Howell, a double by Ty Kosters and a triple by Matros, 5-3.
The Badgers scored four more in the bottom of the third for a 9-3 lead. CAC got two back in the top of the fifth on Pinney doubled and later scored on Chase Dowell’s home run, 9-5, but Arkadelphia scored one more in the fifth and three in the sixth.
"We were playing well; we didn’t necessarily play that poorly," Stauder said. "They still had their No. 1 throwing. We still scored five and did a decent job hitting the ball, but it’s hard to win when a team scores 13 on you.
"We felt good that if we could get to that next game we’d have Joey (Pinney), one of the best pitchers in the state."
Against Cave City, Thomas threw a complete game, garnering a one-hit shutout. Pinney threw the complete game against Farmington, giving up five hits, two earned runs, two walks and striking out 10.
"Farmington and Prairie Grove were ranked 1 and 2 all year, so a lot of people had them and penciled in for the state finals from Day 1," Stauder said. "We played really well against Farmington. They threw their No. 1."
Landon Hearnes drew the start against Arkadelphia. He had thrown the complete game in the Mustangs’ 12-2 district championship win over the Badgers two weeks prior and saw half the action in last week’s regional final. He got relief from Zak Kellerman, Ryan Faulkner and Reece Ware, but the Mustangs couldn’t find the answer.
The Mustangs will graduate 11 seniors: Hearnes, Aidan Overgaard, Turner McDaniel, Byrne, Faulkner, Kellerman, Dylan Huckaby, BJ Bull, Dowell, Michael Foster and Pinney.
"They were sophomores when I came in (as head coach)," Stauder said. "Byrne, Pinney and Dowell have been starting since they were freshmen; a lot of them had started as sophomores, and this year we started seven seniors. At one point, all 11 had started a ball game for us, and nine played regularly throughout the whole season.
"They were very integral, obviously, to this season, but they’ve been a big part of the team all three years I’ve been here."
Pinney and Byrne will play for the University of Central Arkansas next year. Dowell, Hearnes and McDaniel hit home runs during the state tournament.
"They played their hearts out and gave the program everything they had," Stauder said.