SPORTS>> Sylvan Hills All-Stars capture state
Leader sports editor
The spray from a dozen root beer bottles wasn’t going to be enough for this moment.
This one would require an entire bucket of ice water, too.
Gerry Eddlemon received the dousing of his players and coaches with glee after his Sylvan Hills Razorback All-Stars took home the Cal Ripken 7-8-year-old state championship on Tuesday night at the Sylvan Hills Sports Complex with a 9-7 win over Bryant.
The title came a little more than three months after tornadoes ripped apart the Razorbacks’ home ballpark and less than two months after the Sylvan Hills Bears won the 6A state high school championship.
“One thing we told our kids is, the Sylvan Hills sign meant a little more this year than ever because of the tornado,” Eddlemon said. “We got a great bunch of kids and parents. The kids have worked hard. Last week, we really, really pushed them. They came through and we’re proud of them.”
The Razorbacks went undefeated through a bracket featuring 48 teams when the tournament began on July 4. They beat Bryant twice in two nights to win the title, taking an 11-6 win in the winner’s bracket finals on Monday.
On Tuesday night, as on Monday, the Razorbacks jumped to a big lead early. They put up five runs in the first inning, which included an RBI double by Justin Glasco and a 2-run single by Brandon LeDoux.
But Bryant rallied for four in the bottom half, then tied the game in the third. Sylvan Hills had base runners throughout the early innings, but lost two on the base paths on one play in the third, and another one at the plate in the fifth. But the fifth inning is when the Razorbacks took the lead for good, scoring a run on Xavier Roberson’s line drive single to left to bring in Ryan Lumpkin with the go-ahead run.
Sylvan Hills used its solid defense to set down Bryant in order in the fifth, putting them within three outs of the title. The Razorbacks, though, set about getting some insurance in the sixth, which turned out to be critical. Glasco and ZachDouglass singled and Nick Fakouri was safe on a fielder’s choice to load the bases with no outs.
Christian Hendrickson lined a 2-run single to the fence in left. Fakouri made it 9-5 when he scored on Austin Hess’ bunt single.
The final out didn’t come easy for the Razorbacks after Bryant put a runner at first with two outs. For the second straight night, Larry Thompson homered, making it 9-7. An infield single brought the tying run to the plate, but shortstop Douglass fielded a grounder and flipped to second baseman Glasco for the force and the win.
“The middle infield has done a great job for us,” Eddlemon said. “We knew if we hit the ball, we felt there was nobody that could touch us because our defense is so solid.”
Anchoring that defense was third baseman Nick Fakouri, who made several outstanding plays in the final two games, as well as catcher Christian Hendrickson.
“Christian is a solid catcher,” Eddlemon said. “I promise you this, all the teams are scared to steal because of Christian. He does an excellent job. And Fakouri at third has made the throws when we needed them.”
That just left hitting, which Eddlemon admitted was a concern coming into the tournament. He said the coaches focused on hitting, and it appeared to pay off. Roberson, Glasco, Douglass, Hendrickson and Hess each picked up two hits on Tuesday. Hendrickson drove in three runs, while LeDoux brought home two more.
Eddlemon said coming up short in two previous tournaments might have been the springboard to this week’s success.
“We played in Lonoke a couple of weeks ago and lost to Bryant and took third place,” he said. “Then we took second in the Rose City tournament. Those tournaments helped us build as a better team because we knew what we needed to do to win.
“We figured we had a chance to win this. We pretty much knew the top five teams and we knew we could compete with them.”
In Monday night’s winner’s bracket finals, Sylvan Hills got RBIs from Fakouri, Hess and Nick Wenger to score four in the first inning. The Razorbacks added two more in the second. Lumpkin and Hayden Seward scored on RBIs from Brody Johnson and Roberson.
But Bryant scored three in the third and added two more in the fifth to narrow the margin to 6-5. Sylvan Hills erupted for five big insurance runs in the fifth, getting an RBI from Roberson, an RBI single from Douglass and a 2-run single from Hess as the Razorbacks went on to past an 11-6 win.
Roberson led the way with two hits, two runs and two RBI, while Wenger added a pair of hits. Hess drove in three runs.
The Razorbacks got more great defense in the contest, including a falling-down catch of a popup by Fakouri to end the first inning. He also made a long throw across to end a bases-loaded threat in the third. Douglass picked off a sharp grounder to record the first out of the fifth, while Glasco made a falling-down catch of a pop up to end the inning.