SPORTS>>Owls dominate semifinal
Harrison – The Abundant Life Owls will make their second consecutive trip to the state baseball finals in Fayetteville this weekend after routing Harding Academy 14-0 in the Class 3A semifinals at Jack Williams Field in Harrison Monday night. The Owls went up by eight in the bottom of the second inning when a rainstorm hit, delaying the game for over two hours.
Abundant Life pitcher D. J. Baxendale ended up only two batters away from a perfect game, striking two HA players with pitches in the top of the first inning. J. T. Fisher also reached after a passed ball on his third strike in the first inning, but the Wildcats’ early threat faded, and they would not find their way to the bag for the remainder of the game.
The Wildcats held Abundant Life in the first inning, but the Owls got busy in the bottom of the second inning. The entire order was run through before Harding Academy could even get the first out of the frame, as they went from Chris Cain on the mound to a brief stint for Braxton Bennett before putting Matt Lincoln on to finish things off.
Owls coach Wes Johnson says that seeing the Wildcats on two previous occasions was beneficial in preparing for the showdown.
“We had seen every arm they had,” Johnson said. “And we were able to come up with a good plan on how to attack them. We just relied on the kids to understand the count and know where to put it. That sounds easy, but we actually talked about it a lot. The guys were just focused; they really executed out there.”
As for Baxendale’s performance at the mound, Johnson said the rain delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise. “He was electric tonight,” Johnson said. “If anything, that rain delay helped him out. Before the delay, he had only thrown 31 pitches. He even told me later that he thought being able to loosen up all over again made the difference, it made him able to throw his slider better when he came back.”
The Owls scored every way imaginable in the second inning. RBIs, fielding errors, passed balls and aggressive base running led to an 8-0 lead before the skies opened up, but once play resumed, Abundant Life still had two runners on with only one out.
The bottom of the second started out with a single for Jerry Lawson, but an error in center allowed Lawson to take three to put a score in position. He came in on a single grounder by Thomas Garrick for the first run of the game, but the Owls were far from done.
Colby Woolverton reached with an error, and helped the second run score when he conned the HA infield into trying to pick him off at second, allowing the courtesy runner home. Woolverton then scored on a single by Seelinger, prompting the Wildcats to pull starting hurler Cain for Bennett.
Bennett was soon in even more hot water, with a 5-0 deficit and bases loaded with no outs. A single for DH Josh Selby scored two more, and Lawson’s second trip to the plate in the inning generated run number eight.
A two-hour break did little to slow the Owls’ momentum once the game resumed. New pitcher Lincoln did finally manage to get two outs on Abundant Life, but the Owls still came away with a hit by Justin Treece that scored Garrick and 12, with another run scoring on a passed ball for an 11-run lead after two innings.
Jake Chambers added another run in the bottom of the third when he came in on an error at shortstop, and Lawson scored on a passed ball. Treece added the final run for Abundant Life in the bottom of the fourth inning on a hit by Austin Crabill.
Baxendale ensured there would be no late Harding comeback this time, striking out five of the final nine batters he faced. A pop up to right field by Lincoln was the Wildcats’ final opportunity to stay alive, but the catch was made, and the celebration began for the Owls.
Lawson, Baxendale and Lawson all finished 2 for 3 at the plate. Treece was 2 for 3 with a triple, and Crabill finished 3 for 4. The Owls will play for the 3A state championship Friday at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville against Horatio, an 8-7 winner over Pea Ridge in the late semifinal game Monday.