SHERWOOD — Vilonia and Greenbrier began a hot, sunny day Monday with a chance to play each other for the 5A baseball and softball championships.
Vilonia’s baseball team continued to relish its underdog role and made the finals on its second straight, walkoff victory at the Sherwood Parks Complex.
Luke Gordon’s single in the bottom of the eighth gave the Eagles a stirring, come-from-behind victory over Little Rock Christian to gain the baseball title game against Magnolia, which edged Greenbrier, 5-4. The 5A championship game will be at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Baum Stadium at the University of Arkansas.
On diamonds 40 yards away and up a hill, Vilonia and Greenbrier’s softball team met similar fates. DeQueen denied Vilonia a chance at its third straight state title with a 12-7 victory in one semifinal. Valley Springs scored three runs late for a 4-3 victory over Greenbrier.
Friday night, Zachery Whitis’ three-run, walkoff home run gave the Eagles a 10-7 victory over White Hall in the quarterfinals.
Monday, Gordon, who had three hits and was walked intentionally twice, singled sharply to right to drive in winning pitcher Chris Babb with the winning run in the Eagles’ 7-6 victory in a game they trailed 5-1 after two innings.
“Our kids don’t believe they are ever out of a game,” said Vilonia coach Brad Wallace, whose team gained a No. 1 seed (and the home team in the title game) by defeated Greenbrier two out of three games to win the 5A-West title. “And it has been different people who have come through every game.”
The game was sloppy with each team committing five errors.
Vilonia starter Nate Norman threw two strikes in his first 19 pitches before yielding to Cody Mitchell and Caden Raeburn, who helped keep the Warriors within striking distance.
To start the eighth, Raeburn walked and Nick Howard followed with a single, setting up the game-winning hit by Gordon.
The Eagles got out of a seventh-inning jam when a squeeze bunt with straight to Raeburn, who had an easy flip for an out at home that thwarted the rally.
Vilonia got to within 5-4 in the fifth when Howard stole home. Raeburn’s infield single drove in one run in the sixth and Howard’s single tied the game at six.
“Howard stole on his own,” Wallace said. “I expected our guys to try to steal to put runners on second and third when Luke got his hit. “We play with reckless abandon. When Howard broke for home, I wasn’t surprised.”
A tight battle between teams with two of the best records in the state was decided by two pitches — a pickoff and a wild pitch.
Magnolia pitcher Matt Goodheart picked Paxton Wallace off a second to end a bases-loaded rally by Greenbrier with Hunter Millikin, one of the Panthers’ leading hitters at the plate. Magnolia (27-1) scored the game-winner on a wild pitch by Spencer Sutterfield after the Panthers kept two runners on and survived a rundown on a missed tag and a throwing error in the fifth.
“A wild pitch and a pickoff, that’s pretty much it came down to,” said Greenbrier coach Tye Glover, whose Panthers finished their best season in history at 31-5.
“Magnolia made less mistakes and got more timely hits,” said Glover. Payton Campbell had a three-run home run for Magnolia. Wallace had a solo home run for Greenbrier.
“The pickoff play has been good to us all year and it paid dividends today,” said Goodheart, who struck out the side in the seventh. There is not greater feeling than this. The adrenaline was really kicking in in the seventh.”
Glover, who grew up in Magnolia and played for Southern Arkansas, knew what his team would be facing.
“I’ve known him since he was 5 years old,” Glover said. “He was my neighbor. I know what a competitor he is and I knew he would get stronger as the game went along.
“… To win 31 games considering the injuries we had and fall short, it’s tough, but baseball is a tough game. If you can’t handle that you might as well get out. We had guys step up and we competed 100 percent. That’s all you can ask.”
Vilonia coach Kevin Sullivan knew DeQueen was on a mission. DeQueen coach Tracy Nealy’s 28-year-old daughter died in the spring after a seizure and the Lady Leopards had dedicated the season in her memory.
“You could tell they were an inspired team,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes, a tragedy like that makes a team play better and with a purpose.”
The Lady Eagles took an early, 4-0 lead, then DeQueen scored three runs in the second and had five- and four-run innings to break the game open.
“They hit the ball as well against us as anybody we played with the exception of Greenbrier,” Sullivan said. “But to get to the semifinals after losing six position players and returning no pitching wins is a good achievement. It’s tough to get back to the finals.”
The Lady Panthers lost a tough one to Valley View.
They were up 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, then Valley View took the lead with a two-out, three run home run by Kaylea Rothelisberger.
Greenbrier was retired without any hits in the top of the seventh.