On the eve of its biggest game of the season, one that would determine whether or not Pangburn would advance to this weekend's AA state tournament in Harrison, head coach Len Poe received word that his team would qualify for the tournament regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's game.
With pressure off its back, No. 2 seed Pangburn took the field with the intention of beating Clarksville's top-seeded River Valley Tropics in order to earn a better seed in the state tournament.
But, Clarksville (25-6) scored two runs in the top half of the first inning and relied on right-handed starting pitcher Korbin Polley thereafter. Polley, a Dover High School product, limited Pangburn to 5 hits while striking out 7 and only issuing 3 walks, including one hit batsman, as the Tropics claimed a 2-0 victory.
The River Valley Tropics, which fielded players from Clarksville, Subiaco Academy, Dover, Russellville and Charleston, defeated White Hall 8-2 later on Tuesday ¬ earning the third seed heading into state, which starts today.
The Heber Springs' coaches and city department workers prepared the field every day throughout the weekend, only to see rain wreak havoc on the original bracket. Unfortunately, with North Little Rock's Colts and Lonoke's Remington Bullets prepared to battle in the championship game Tuesday night, more rain drenched the field after two pitches, leaving a coin flip as the only solution to determine the champion. Lonoke won the coin flip and will represent Zone 3 as the top seed.
Poe said it seems fair to let his team, which consists of players from Pangburn, Midland, Rose Bud, Riverview, Searcy and Harding Academy, to advance to state.
“They decided since we were the No. 1 and 2 seeds … and the way the rain ended up playing the tournament out, we didn't get to finish the whole tournament so they decided to go back to what we did in conference. We split with Clarksville in the regular season and so they decided to take both teams in the tournament. So, it ended up working out.”
Pangburn has three strong starting pitchers, including ace JR Miller of Harding Academy, right-hander Sidney Owens of Riverview and southpaw Skylar Litaker of Midland.
“Our pitching is solid every night,” said Poe. “We've just got to get our hitting more consistent and string some hits together. You've got to hand it to their pitcher [Polley] today but we still didn't hit the ball like we are capable of hitting. As long as we can hit the ball in state I feel confident in our hitting and our defense. Our defense is one of the best in [AA] all the way around.”
Clarksville gave Polley all the run-support he would need in the top of the first, scoring two runs aided by an error, two walks and two hit batters.
Page 2 of 2 - Kamron Hurst reached by error to start the game and scored when Taylor Moudy was plunked with two out and the bases loaded. Enrique Magdaleno was hit-by-a-pitch moments later, scoring Jace Hudson, who worked a two-out walk.
From there, Litaker settled into a groove and only allowed 4 hits over the next three innings. Litaker, who struck out 6 in five innings of work, pitched out of trouble in the top of the fifth after David Johnson, Brandon Wolski and Hudson produced three consecutive singles.
Pangburn (22-8) threatened to score in the bottom of the first as Owens singled to right field, Litaker walked on four pitches, but Polley escaped with a strikeout.
Pangburn would stir up another potential rally in the bottom half of the fourth as Litaker singled through the hole on left side and Dalton Passmore worked a full-count walk, but Polley retaliated with three straight strikeouts.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Pangburn had another potential rally fall flat as pinch-hitter Brett Caples singled to left field and Passmore beat out an infield single before Polley retired two straight on a fly-out and groundout.
Miller pitched the final two frames for Pangburn, striking out two without giving up a hit. Pangburn catcher Alec Bourgeios helped Litaker and Miller by throwing out two runners attempting to steal second, including one in the fifth and another in the seventh.