NORTH LITTLE ROCK — For victory No. 600 at Conway High Saturday night, Conway coach Noel Boucher saw junior pitcher Bubba Carter throw a no-hitter to advance to the 7A state semifinals.
Win No. 601 will have to wait for next season, as the Cats lost to Bryant, 2-0, in Monday’s semifinal.
Conway ended the season a modest 18-9, but that belies the challenge. The Cats had a continuing rash of injuries and sickness of a variety not often encountered by baseball teams in one season.
“Patchwork all year long,” Boucher said.
Both Conway and Bryant have reached at least the state semifinals five straight years, with Conway winning the state title two years ago.
Under Boucher and assistant Barry Lueders, the Cats are almost always playing well this time of year. They always seem to get good pitching, timely hitting and they play sound, fundamental baseball down the stretch.
So do Bryant and Fayetteville and a half dozen or so other 7A teams that always seem to be there.
The frustration of Monday’s semifinal defeat can be tempered by the joy of what happened Saturday night when both Boucher and Carter, a junior, reached a milestone.
There were hugs and shouts from stadium to bus in the late evening at Burns Park.
“I thought it was one of the best performances we’ve had all year,” said Carter, who hit one batter and walked another, facing only two hitters above the minimum. “I knew I had a no-hitter going into the seventh, but I tried not to think too much about it and pysche myself out.”
The Charging Wildcats (15-11) committed six errors.
“We did a good job of putting the ball in play and we hit the ball enough to make us comfortable the way our guy was pitching,” Boucher said.
“Defensively, we were moving where we needed to move and got ourselves in the right position. We are doing what we need to do at this stage of the season.”
Carter faced only two batters above the minimum. He fielded a ground ball for the final out, then almost overthrew first before Carson Cook made a leaping grab and came down on the bag.
“I was real nervous [on that last out],” he said. “Luckily, our first baseman had my back.”
The Cats seemed to have each other’s backs all season.
Considering the hurdles, this was a satisfying year in spite of the final defeat.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)