Baseball season ended for Central Arkansas Christian’s Mustangs on Saturday with a 7-4 loss to Shiloh Christian in the Class 4A state quarterfinals at Lonoke.
After the Saints ended the Mustangs’ season for the second consecutive year, this CAC squad settled at 22-8. The Mustangs were co-champions with Lonoke of their combined conference and 2-4A District Tournament and Class 4A East Regional champions.
Hayden Cruce’s first Mustang squad last year finished 17-7, falling to Shiloh in the state semifinals.
“I’m tremendously proud of everything we accomplished,” Cruce said Sunday. “This group of seniors — they’re tremendous leaders. They bought in and did everything we asked them to do the last two years. A lot of them played key roles last year.
“To win 39 games over the past two years, back-to-back conference and regional championships — that’s a tremendous accomplishment. They’re a special group, and I hope that their leadership and the things they’ve done have set the tone for the whole program going forward.”
Against Shiloh, the Mustangs fell behind 2-0 on a first-inning two-RBI blooper to shallow right field, but they tied the game in the bottom of the inning on Austin Holley’s two-out double to right. But the Saints took control with a four-run second resulting from four hits and a Mustang error. CAC pulled within 6-3 in the bottom of the second when Grant Wood belted a two-out double to deep left, stole third and scored on a wild pitch.
After the best defensive effort of the game thus far, the Mustangs added another run in the bottom of the third and came close to several more. Holley walked and stole second. With two outs, Rhett James beat out a dropped third strike. Hugh Miller singled Holley home, and Wood walked to load the bases, bringing up lead-off batter Hunter Corbell. He battled to a full count but struck out swinging to leave the difference 6-4.
The Saints added a run in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly after a lead-off single and a double to left. The Mustangs stranded two each in the fourth and fifth but couldn’t get any more runs home.
It was a disappointing loss.
“I always felt like we were in the game,” Cruce said. “At this time of year when you’re down to the last eight teams in the state, you’ve got to play your best game every day. And I thought we played well, but we didn’t play our best game. And that wasn’t good enough that day.
“We had several opportunities to get back in the game. Twice we had the bases loaded with two of our best guys up. Most times this year, we get hits in that situation. But we just didn’t get them (Saturday).”
The Mustangs finished with four runs on six hits with three errors. The Saints had seven runs, nine hits and two errors. Corbell led the Mustangs with two hits; Holley had the only two RBIs. Braden Quesinberry allowed seven runs and nine hits, struck out three and walked one in 5 1-3 innings for the loss.
As the top seed from the East, CAC had a bye for Thursday’s First round. Shiloh Christian beat Arkadelphia then, 3-0.Friday’s quarterfinals were pushed to Saturday because of rain.
“There’s pros and cons to the bye,” Cruce said. “I think there is something to be said for getting that first game in the state tournament and playing and getting those nerves knocked off. I think we had some of those Saturday.”
The Mustangs graduated seniors Corbell, Wood, Holley, Quesinberry, Tanner Weber, Ethan Weiner and Cade Huckaby.
Quesinberry will play for Harding University next year.
“The rest of them don’t have plans to play at this time,” Cruce said. “The thing that was special about this group was there weren’t any superstars. Everybody knew their role and played their role. They were just really good teammates.”
Blake Fairchild and Callum Hathcock were the only juniors on the roster.
“The rest of the guys were freshmen and sophomores, so we have a lot of guys with experience returning,” Cruce said. “Obviously, there are some really key guys we have to replace, but we have some young guys who are really good who can fill those roles. I feel like we have a lot of talent in those younger classes who can step in and play key roles.”