McCollum’s Column: Sunny skies belie a flood of emotions (with video)

SHERWOOD — Monday was one of the hottest, sunniest days of the year, a contrast to the cloudiness and monsoons that hit Thursday and Friday that caused logistical havoc at state baseball, softball and soccer tournaments throughout the state.

 

How hot was it?


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By mid-afternoon Monday, you could grill burgers on the metal door that opened to the baseball press box at the Sherwood Sports Complex.

Figuratively, as hot as the temperatures were, baseball and softball teams from Greenbrier and Vilonia began the day with realistic possibilities to play each other in both sports for state championships this weekend at Fayetteville.

The schedule was arranged to accommodate fans of both Faulkner schools. Greenbrier’s baseball team and Vilonia’s softball team played at noon. Vilonia’s baseball team and Greenbrier’s softball team played at 2:30. The diamonds were about 400 yards apart up a wooded hillside.

Already, other Faulkner teams had pulled some surprises and flexed some county muscle. Conway Christian, one of the strongest baseball teams in Class 2A all season, lost a close game to Palestine Wheatley in the quarterfinals at Lepanto. But less-heralded St. Joseph hit stride at the right time by reeling off four straight victories to gain the state championship game against Spring Hill.

Mount Vernon-Enola baseball and softball teams each reached the 1A semifinals at Pine Bluff before having their successful seasons ended.

The tone of a season can change in a hurry in single-elimination state tournaments.

What happenedon a crazy, challenging day here is exhibit A.

We witnessed a season of emotions that sports offers, often within minutes of each other— sunny, stormy, cloudy, sudden lightning-like strikes and a rain of tears.

Many Faulkner fans brought coolers, umbrellas and sunscreen to take in the action.

The afternoon began with a dandy of a baseball game between Greenbrier and Magnolia, which entered the game with 57 wins and five losses between them. Magnolia prevailed, 5-4, in a game decided by one big hit (a three-run home run by Magnolia’s Payton Campbell), a pickup play that suddenly quelled a bases-loaded rally with one of Greenbrier’s best hitters at the plate and a wild pitch that produced what proved to be the wining run.

Greenbrier’s baseball team finished the season with a school-record 31 victories. The Panthers needed 32 to play for a state title, losing a game punctuated by “what ifs?”

The hurt among the Greenbrier players, who played well enough to win, was obvious.

“Baseball can tough,” said Greenbrier coach Tye Glover. “If you can’t handle that, you might as well get out. It should take away from a season with a school-record number of wins and how hard this team played.”

Concurrently, up the hillside, Vilonia’s softball team faced a different kind of emotion against DeQueen.

DeQueen was playing for more than a chance at at state championship. The Lady Leopards had an addition mission that gave them a key boost of passion and confidence as the Lady Leopards went against a Vilonia team trying for a third straight state 5A title.

The Lady Leopards were playing for their coach, Rick Nealy, who has had a series of tragedies this year, including the death of his 28-year-old daughter to a seizure this spring.

Afterwards, there was a strange and appropriate mix of smiles and tears among the DeQueen players and coaches, many with voices breaking in postgame interviews. They felt something deeper than just the joy of winning a key ballgame.

Greenbrier’s girls followed that by experiencing one of the greatest agonies of defeat that ended one of their successful seasons in history.

The Lady Panthers led Valley View, 3-1, with two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth.

Then, the sudden jolt.

Kaylea Rothelisberger hit a three-run homer run to give the Lady Blazers the lead. Three outs later, Greenbrier, which held the advantage most of the game, had its season end.

Back down the hillside, the Vilonia softball team gathered on a berm to watch the baseball team continue its stirring run under the radar in the semifinal against Little Rock Christian.

The Eagles, one of the scrappiest and most resilient teams you’ll find, trailed 5-1 early. They inched their way back with clutch hits, gutsy plays (including a steal of home by Nick Howard) and taking advantage of five LRC errors and overcoming three of their own.

Luke Gordon’s single in the bottom of the eighth gave the Eagles their second straight, extra-inning walkoff victory. Zakery Whitis’ three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth produced a 10-7 victory over White Hall of Saturday.

Monday, the Vilonia fans went from subdued to tense to hopeful to joyous capped by thunderous cheers as Gordon drove in the winning run.

Afterwards, players and fans hugged each other, crying and laughing and reveling in a comeback victory that put the Eagles in the state championship game.

Fans grabbed their phones and took pictures of the the team, each other and the scoreboard — an outburst of many emotions.

So appropriate on an afternoon that was stable as far as weather but volatile as far as feeling.

Vilonia gains 5A state baseball title game on dramatic afternoon in Sherwood (with video)
St. Joseph uses 10-hit attack to gain title game

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