Central Arkansas Christian will enter the Class 4A State Baseball Tournament at Lonoke this week 22-7 and the top seed from the East Regional.
Hayden Cruce’s team, semifinalist last year, earned a bye to Friday’s 3 p.m. quarterfinal, where the Mustangs await the winner of the first-round game between Shiloh Christian, second from the North, and Arkadelphia fourth from the South.
The winner of that game will face the survivor of Malvern and the winner of Westside and Pea Ridge.
“At this point in the year, when you get down to 12 and 16 teams, everybody’s good,” Cruce said. “And in baseball, anybody can get beat on any given day. It’s just up to us to play our game and be focused on what we can control. We have to play our game and focus on ourselves. We can’t worry about everybody else.”
The first-round bye, though, was important.
“Especially this year with the new pitch count rule and having to manage pitching like that, to have the advantage in that one game is huge,” Cruce said.
The championship will be held at the University of Arkansas’s Baum Stadium next week.
CAC, which won the 2-4A District Tournament, qualified for the state tournament by beating Highland, fourth seed from the 3-4A, in the East Regional at Trumann last week, 17-1 in five innings. The semifinals and championship were postponed until Monday because of wet conditions, and the Mustangs knocked off Heber Springs, third from the 2-4A, in the semifinals, 9-2; and Jonesboro Westside, first from the 3-4A, in the regional championship, 14-3 in five innings.
“We had a really good week,” Cruce said. “That’s the best three-game stretch we’ve had hitting the ball in at least two years. It really was up and down the lineup. We had guys in the 8 and 9 holes getting big hits for us. Our guys we rely on day-in and day-out continued to be hot. It was a good couple of days.
Against Jonesboro Westside, CAC led 3-0 after two innings, but Westside tied it in the top of the third. The Mustangs settled things with a seven-run third and a four-run fourth. They finished with nine hits and five errors; Westside had four hits and three errors.
Tanner Weber stroked a triple and a home run to account for seven RBIs. Hunter Corbell and Davis Gatling added two hits each. Corbell and Blake Fairchild combined to strike out eight while giving up four hits in five innings.
Against Heber Springs, the Mustangs took control early, scoring three runs in the second, two in the third, three in the fourth and one in the fifth before the Panthers pulled within 9-2. CAC finished with nine hits and two errors; Heber Springs had five hits and three errors.
Braden Quesinberry stroked a three-run home run. Gatling had three hits and Weber two. Rhett James got the win, allowing two hits and one walk while striking out eight in five innings.
Against Highland, the Mustangs went up 4-0 in the first inning, added 10 runs in the second and three in the third. They finished with 13 hits and no errors; Highland had two hits and three errors.
Corbell had a home run and a single en route to a four-RBI day; Quesinberry delivered five RBIs on two doubles. Quesinberry struck out five and didn’t allow a hit in three innings; Gatling got the save, giving up two hits and one run while striking out five in two innings.
“We played really well,” Cruce said. “We have a senior group that’s been here before. That makes a huge difference. They know how to win; they want to win, and they go about their business and do everything the right way. That makes a big difference.”