FAYETTEVILLE – History repeated itself Friday at Baum Stadium on the University of Arkansas campus in the 5A baseball state championship game.
It just didn’t work out in Watson Chapel’s favor as Sylvan Hills won, 1-0, in a 7 inning game.
The loss overshadowed an absolute gem by Watson Chapel pitcher Kaleb Hill, who had a no-hitter going into the bottom of the seventh.
Hill, a lanky left-hander, had shut down the Sylvan Hills offense with a mix of fastballs and changeups but it was Nick Fakouri, who also had a game going on the mound for Sylvan Hills, that proved to be the difference.
Fakouri, who has signed to play baseball for Ouachita Baptist next season, held Watson Chapel to a single hit in the game.
“You really have to tip your cap to the kid,” Watson Chapel coach Chad Cope said after the game. “We just couldn’t get anything going against him.”
Watson Chapel (23-8) had scored 31 runs combined in its three previous state tournament games.
“We couldn’t get runners on,” Cope said, and noted his team had combined for 20 steals in those same three previous games.
The game came down to a wild, bottom of the seventh inning, when Sylvan Hills came up to bat.
Chaz Poppy led off the inning with a double, to break up the no-hitter. Poppy, who had a hit a grand slam in the semifinals, was just the third base runner for Sylvan Hills.
That was followed by Fakouri single that sent Poppy to third base and Fakouri as Stone Stanley went to first as a courtesy runner. Ray Young was next up, and the bases were loaded on an intentional walk.
Hill then struck out Jason Neeley as junior Gage Taylor came to the plate. Taylor worked the at-bat to a full count and Hill was on his 106th pitch of the game.
It was that pitch that decided the game, as Taylor’s check swing was ruled a ball, and the game-winner as Poppy trotted home after the ruling and a wild celebration ensured.
“He’s the best pitcher we’ve faced this season,” Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton said. “But this game, you have a guy with a one-hitter and another guy with a two-hitter. Pitching was strong all the way around.”
Hill has committed to play at Ole Miss next season.
“You know, we weren’t expecting a high-scoring game,” Tipton said. “We had seen Hill, and we knew that runs were going to be hard to come by.”
Sylvan Hills finished the season 25-12 in its second state title game appearance in three seasons.
Tipton also noted that Fakouri, named the game’s Most Valuable Player, had set a school record with his 13th post-season start in four seasons for Sylvan Hills.
The teams played each other in 2008, in the Class 6A title game, which was won by Sylvan Hills.
Tipton, now in his 21st season with Sylvan Hills, said, “It is hard to compare teams. Each year, each team is so different.”
This is Tipton’s fourth state title at Sylvan Hills as the Bears also won in 2003 and 2005, in addition to 2008, along with this season’s.