SPORTS >> Abundant Life State Champions
Leader sports editor
Owls defeat conference rival Arkansas Baptist 10-7 in AA state title game.
Abundant Life made it 3-2 in five games against its most bitter rival, and won the class AA state baseball championship in the process, beating Arkansas Baptist 10-7 in the championship game Saturday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
The Owls used timely hitting and took advantage of some costly Baptist errors to seal the victory and the state title.
“I knew this team could hit the ball, we’d played them four times,” Abundant Life head coach Wes Johnson said. “I knew we’d have to score runs, so I told them before we started that 10 runs wins this ballgame, and look what they did.”
The Owls got on the board in the top of the first inning. Leadoff hitter Josh Cantrell reached on an infield single, which was followed by two fly outs to centerfield. But the third fly ball to the same spot was mishandled and dropped, allowing a hustling Cantrell to score all the way from first base.
Cantrell’s infield hit was the only Owl hit through the first 12 batters of the game. Meanwhile, Arkansas Baptist was touching Owl starting pitcher Jake Chambers a bit more.
Baptist tied the game in the bottom of the first inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Eagle third baseman Drew Vaden hit an RBI grounder to shortstop to tie the game.
The Owls went three and out in the second and third innings, and the Eagles took the lead in the bottom of the third.
Leadoff hitter Drew Sullivan singled to start things off, but got caught stealing during the next at bat. It was a costly out too. Two-hole hitter Jason Lewis ripped a triple down the right field line on the very next pitch. Andrew Hopkins then singled to score Lewis and give the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
The Owls answered with a big fourth. After struggling to get on base in the first three innings, the first five batters of the fourth reached safely, and accounted for three runs.
Jerry Lawson started it off with a one-out triple, and scored on a passed ball. David Simpson then walked and Nathan McDonald was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Austin Crabill ran for McDonald, and scored on a single by Josh Selby.
Selby then made it 4-2 Owls when Trey Moss got an RBI single.
Chambers gave up one hit and on runs in the bottom of the fourth, and Abundant Life appeared to blow open the game in the fifth with four more runs.
After Cantrell struck out to start the inning, Chambers reached on an error at third base that got the owls rolling. Justin Treece hit an RBI single to right field and Lawson followed with another single. Simpson made it three in a row, and his hit scored Treece for a 6-2 Owl lead.
McDonald made it four straight, and his shot scored Lawson. Simpson then scored on a sacrifice fly by Josh Selby, but a base-running blunder by Mc-Donald ended the inning. Mc-Donald, who was on first when Selby made contact, rounded second base while the ball was in the air. After the catch, he ran back to first without touching second base and was called out when the Eagles threw to second on appeal.
Still, the Owl lead was up to 8-2 with only two innings remaining, but it almost wasn’t enough.
Baptist scored two runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to cut its deficit to 8-7, but the Owls added two insurance runs in the seventh, and Cantrell was solid in relief work on the mound to preserve the victory.
Most of the players say they never doubted they would win, despite the fact that they were playing a team that they had lost to twice.
“With Jake on the mound, I was never worried about it,” Lawson said. “I had complete confidence in this whole team. Jake had only pitched against them once, and we beat them that game. So I felt comfortable the whole time.”
As for the feeling after the game, Lawson was less confident putting it into words.
“I don’t know, amazing I guess. Words can’t really describe it. I still haven’t taken in the full effect, just knowing that we’re state champs, we’re the best in the state.”
Simpson, a senior who caught the ball for the last out, said it was bittersweet for him.
“It was awesome,” Simpson said. “I caught the last out, but it was also like, now it’s all over. It was almost like a letdown. After a buildup for three years, it was over. But I was excited, and am still excited. It was fun.”
Treece, a freshman who played shortstop and hit in the three hole, got off to a slow start at the plate, but handled it like an upperclassmen. He came through with two hits, two runs and an RBI in his final two at bats.
“I maybe pressed a little bit,” Treece said of his early plate appearances. “I just decided to relax. The third time up I just decided to relax, just try to get on base and go to the opposite field. I was feeling good all day, I just wasn’t getting on base. I knew it would come.”
Cantrell, another senior, finally admitted that the thought of playing Baptist a fifth time didn’t thrill him.
“I would have almost rather played Greenland,” Cantrell said. “We know most of the guys at Baptist, and we know how good they are and how well they hit the ball, but I wasn’t really worried. I felt like all the hard work would finally pay off, and it did.”