Extremely young with sporadic talent, the Post 64 Panthers of Heber Springs entered last week's Zone 3 Tournament looking to improve. They did just that by beating Morrilton 9-6 for their first win of the season on Tuesday before falling to a pair of experienced teams on Saturday and Sunday at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.
Heber lost to the River Valley Tropics based out Clarksville 12-2 on Saturday, dropping them into the losers' bracket, where they would face Stuttgart's Ricemen on Sunday in a sloppy but thrilling elimination game. The Ricemen scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to prevail, 15-14.
“Regardless of the 1-13 or 1-14 record we had this summer we played and we got better,” said Post 64 Coach BJ Greene. “They got reps, they got ground balls, fly-balls and that is the big key for us right now. We are trying to build our program back to what Heber Springs knows and we are doing that and we are doing it the right way.”
Clarksville 12, Heber 2
The top-seeded River Valley Tropics based out of Clarksville overpowered Heber Springs' young bunch on Saturday, banging out 8 hits in 5 innings while run-ruling the Panthers, 12-2.
River Valley (23-6), which fields players from Clarksville, Dover, Russellville, Subiaco Academy, Booneville and Danville, built a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning against Heber starting pitcher Andrew Bradshaw as Kamron Hurst and Brandon Wolski each walked and scored on a 2 RBI single off the bat of catcher Jace Hudson.
Enrique Maquado drove home Hudson while reaching on an error, which set up an RBI double by Brett Wilkins as River Valley posted four runs before Bradshaw pitched out of the jam.
Wilkins, who held the Panthers to only 2 hits in 3 innings of work while garnering the win, struck out 2 and only faced the minimum of 9 batters with the help of Hudson, who threw out two Heber runners trying to steal second.
Dillion Moore singled in the first inning off Wilkins and Chandler Jones singled in the third inning. But, both were caught trying to steal second.
River Valley added an unearned run in the second frame as Keeton Shaw reached on an error, stole second and scored on Hudson's bases-loaded walk.
Leading 5-0 entering the bottom half of the third, the Tropics added 4 runs on 3 hits as Wilkins and Chance Stires each walked to start the frame, then Shaw singled and scored, plus Hurst was hit-by-a-pitch, loading the bases for Wolski, who drove an RBI single to left field.
Hudson, a Clarksville High School standout who finished 3-for-3 with 5 RBI and 2 runs scored, followed with a 2 RBI single through the hole on right side as River Valley pushed its lead to 9-0 before Heber relief pitcher Sam Lee extinguished the red-hot Tropics by inducing a groundout to Jones at second base. Jacob Boss also pitched in relief for the Panthers.
Page 2 of 4 - Maquado relieved Wilkins to start the fourth and pitched around an infield single by Tyler Dennis with the help of a 4-6-3 double play.
River Valley added one run in the bottom of the fourth when Russellville's Jacob Boles led off with a triple to left field and scored on an RBI groundout from Shaw of Dover.
Down 10-0, Heber briefly extended the game by scoring 2 runs on 2 hits in the top of the fifth, beginning when Caleb Payton lined a single over shortstop.
Zach McCormick and Chase Gallaway each drew a walk, which loaded the bases for Chandler Marquardt, who was hit-by-a-pitch for an RBI that scored pinch-runner Slade Welch.
With two away, Dennis kept the Panthers' hopes alive with an RBI single through the hole on right side, scoring McCormick and leaving Heber with a 10-2 deficit entering the bottom half of the fifth.
The Tropics scored two runs to end the game in the fifth as Hudson doubled to left field before Maquado drilled an RBI double to left field. With one out, Wilkins laced an RBI single that scored Maquado and set the final at 12-2.
Stuttgart 15, Heber 14
Down 7-0, the Post 64 Panthers of Heber Springs fought back with 5 runs in the fourth inning and six more in the fifth frame to suddenly grab an 11-9 lead. After taking a 14-12 lead with 2 runs in the sixth and one more in the seventh, Stuttgart's Ricemen hung 3 runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull out the victory and stay alive in the zone tournament.
Facing Heber starting pitcher Hunter Chandler, the Ricemen scored 3 runs in the bottom of the first, highlighted by Lance Oltman's 2 RBI single up the middle.
Heber nearly responded in the top of the second as Chandler Marquardt singled then Slade Welch and Chase Gallaway each walked to load the bases.
But, on a 3-2 count with the runners moving, Chandler Jones sent a sharp ground ball up the middle that appeared to be trouble until Stuttgart shortstop Blake Marks made a tremendous diving play.
Marks' throw to first was late, but the umpire called Jones out, which cost the Panthers at least one run. Notably, the same umpire missed a couple more calls to even things out later in the game, making that blown call a little more tolerable for Post 64.
Cole Morgan and Trevor Newkirk each walked and scored in the bottom of the second as Stuttgart pushed its lead to 5-0 before Chandler got out of the jam, leaving two runners stranded in scoring position.
Stuttgart starting pitcher Jack Morgan breezed through the third, retiring the Panthers in order and the Ricemen used more patience at the plate to add 2 more runs in the third frame as Derick Fletcher and Spencer Simpson each walked and scored.
Page 3 of 4 - Trailing 7-0, Heber battled back with 5 runs despite only 1 hit in the top of the fourth frame. Caleb Payton and Marquardt each reached by error to get the Panthers started, then following a wild pitch, Conner Lindsey drove home Payton while reaching on an error.
After Gallaway drew a walk, Jones knocked home Marquardt while reaching on the Ricemen's fourth error of the inning. Tyler Dennis scorched a ground ball to third that forced Gallaway but scored Lindsey as the Panthers crept within four at 7-3.
With two out and runners at first and second, Dillion Moore smoked a 2 RBI double to right center that plated Jones and Dennis, who hustled around from third and used a head-first dive to beat the throw to home plate.
Stuttgart relieved Morgan with Taylor Daniels, who induced a fly-out to help the Ricemen maintain a 7-5 advantage.
Pitching in relief, Pierce Mitchum gave up two runs in the bottom half of the fourth as Oltman, who was hit-by-a-pitch and Fletcher, who reached on an error, each scored before Heber escaped with the help of Marqaurdt, who gunned down Newkirk trying to swipe second.
Down 9-5 entering the top of the fifth, Post 64 scored 6 runs on 6 hits, sparked by Marquardt, who legged out an infield single. Chandler walked and Lindsey ripped a single to right field, loading the bases.
Daniels responded with a strikeout before Heber stirred up a two-out rally as Jones pulled a 2 RBI single through the hole on left side, Lindsey scored on a wild pitch and Dennis laced an RBI single back up the middle, scoring Jones and tying the score at 9-9.
Stuttgart replaced Daniels with Newkirk, who was greeted by Moore's single to right field. Mitchum scalded a 2 RBI single to center field that scored Dennis and Moore as Heber suddenly took an 11-9 lead before the Ricemen escaped more damage.
“It's a testament to the kids,” said Greene of battling back after being down early. “We try to push our kids and get them to work. They responded. They came back ready to compete. There have been times when we have questioned work ethic out here just like all coaches, but it's tough to question these kids because we have great kids here at Heber.”
The Ricemen jumped back on top with 3 runs in the bottom of the fifth as Daniels and Fletcher each walked and scored, while Simpson singled and scored on Cole Morgan's bases-loaded walk.
Gallaway relieved Mitchum with two out in the fifth and induced a fly-out, keeping the Panthers close.
Down 12-11, Heber regained the lead in the top of the sixth as Chandler drilled a single to left field and stole second, then Gallaway and Jones each walked on four pitches, causing Stuttgart to bring Dontrell Brown to the mound with runners at second and third and one out.
Page 4 of 4 - Dennis worked an RBI walk that scored Chandler then Moore drove home Gallaway with an RBI groundout, giving the Panthers a 13-12 lead before Brown retired Mitchum on a groundout to shortstop, stranding runners at the corners.
Gallaway pitched around an error in the sixth as Heber maintained its 13-12 lead. The Panthers added an insurance run in the seventh as Marqaurdt reached on dropped third strike and scored when Lindsey crushed an RBI single to center field.
With Heber leading 14-12 and three outs away from extending its season, Stuttgart struck with 3 runs despite only 1 hit. Simpson reached by error to start the inning and Marks added a one-out infield single.
Cole Morgan's sacrifice-bunt turned into a throwing error, which allowed pinch-runner Keenan Davis to score, pulling the Ricemen within one at 14-13.
Heber intentionally walked Brown to load the bases, setting up a force out at any base, but Daniels was hit-by-a-pitch for the game-tying RBI, which brought home Marks. Moments later Morgan scored on a wild pitch as Stuttgart pulled out a 15-14 victory in a game that lasted over three hours.
“All year we have been playing against 18 year old players with our 15 and 16-year old kids,” said Greene when asked about the age difference in many of the players. “Chase [Gallaway] is a competitor. Experience by playing time Chase is out-matched by Dontrell [Brown], but we were really impressed with Chase today. He gave us two good innings and he gave out there a little at the end but I thought he did a really good job for us. And Pierce [Mitchum] and Hunter [Chandler] did a good job but we struggled to hit that strike zone.”
Moore (2-for-5), Marquardt (2-for-5) and Lindsey (2-for-5) each collected two hits to pace Heber.
Lindsey, Jones and Dennis each recorded a team-high 3 RBI, while Marquardt led the Panthers with 3 runs.