Vilonia, a relentless team of survivors who played with the mantra of “one more day,” earned the school one more championship Saturday in the Centennial Bank 5A baseball title game.
The upstart Eagles attacked Magnolia ace Matt Goodheart for seven runs in the first two innings, boldly rattling the 27-2 Panthers on the basepathsl, got out of three bases-loaded jams with spectacular defense and got a strong pitching from Cody Mitchell on the way to a 9-2 victory to claim the title at Baum Stadium at Fayetteville.
Vilonia (25-11), which last won a state baseball championship in 1998, won 11 of its last 12 games.
Ironically, Vilonia coach Brad Wallace remembers that last title for the Eagles — but with a different feeling. He played for Fordyce a team Vilonia beat in the semifinals.
“That’s the only thing I knew about Vilonia at the time,” he said.
His connection with Vilonia now is deep as he and the players exchanged back slaps and hugs and hoisted the trophy in front of their fans.
“We’re a team of huggers and lovers,” he said.
An emblematic embrace came from senior center fielder Chris Bass.
“I told him we’ve got no more days,” Wallace said. “He told me, ‘but coach we made the best of the one we had left.’”
After Bass singled sharply on the second pitch to open the game, Vilonia plated three runs in the first on a walk, a double steal, a wild pitch, and a throwing error by the catcher and a double by Zakery Whitis.
They drove Goodheart from the mound with four more runs in the second on an infield single by Jordan Chandler, an error, a sacrifice fly by Howard, a double by Luke Gordon and a single by Whitis.
“Aggressive is how we have played all season,” said Wallace. “I was surprised Chris Bass didn’t hit the first pitch instead of the second. That’s our persona. We had a strike-thrower (Goodheart) on the mound and that worked to our advantage.”
The Eagles added a run in the fifth on an error that allowed a run to score on a pickoff attempt and scored in the seventh when Magnolia reliever Jay French walked in a run with the bases loaded.
But the Eagle defense behind starter Cody Mitchell, the tourney MVP, who helped himself bigtime in the first.
Magnolia drew within 3-1 and had runner on second and third with no outs. Mitchell made a diving catch of a popup between the mound and first, then doubled up Nick Fletcher, who was headed home thinking the ball would drop.
The game probably psychologically turned in the third when the Panthers twice loaded the bases (once with no outs) and failed to score.
Magnolia loaded the bases on a double by Brooks Lynch and two walks. Chandler, the shortstop, made a diving stop of liner by Goodheart that appeared headed for the hole and then doubled up French on second. After Mitchell walked Parker Ribble to load the bases again, Dayton Dixon flew out to center to end the inning.
The Panthers drew within 8-2 in the fifth and loaded the bases with two outs before Michell retired Dixon on a grounder to third.
Mitchell allowed five hits and two runs against the high-powered Magnolia attack in 5.1 innings. Kory Wilson struck out three in closing the game.
On the way to the championship, the Eagles had six come-from-behind and six walkoff victories.
“This is the first time we came out and got the lead and kept the lead the whole game,” he said.