Heber Springs senior Clayton Cox, in his last home game as a Panther, hit a walk-off RBI single to clinch a thrilling, 2-1 comeback victory over Bald Knob on Wednesday.
The Panthers entered the bottom of the seventh inning trailing, 1-0, after struggling to generate hits against Bald Knob (14-5) pitcher Landon Jones. Heber Springs (18-5), which ends the regular season with an average of 9.5 runs per game, has only been shutout once this year, 6-0, in the opener against top-ranked Greenbrier and a pair Division-I pitchers. That fact wouldn't change on Wednesday.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, junior Seth Jenkins put the tying run on second after an error on a shot to left field, and junior Jacob Bremmon reached on a grounder when the home-plate umpire overruled a call at first, determining the basemen's foot came off the bag as Bremmon crossed.
Senior right-fielder Jordan Adkins stepped to the plate with one out and Jenkins on third base and held a brief conference with Heber Springs head coach Jeff Bise.
“Adkins has done a good job getting the bat on the ball for us this year, and he came to me and said 'Coach, let me bunt here,' and I said 'Bunt?'” said Bise. “He asked if I wanted it down the third-base line or first-base line, and I told him, if I had my druthers, he'd push it past the pitcher and first basemen and get it in that gap.”
That's exactly where Adkins' bunt fell, and the Panthers' typically boisterous dugout erupted for the first time all day as Jenkins tied the game, 1-1, after a Bald Knob error on a throw to the plate. Adkins advanced to second base on the error, and Bremmon moved the game-winning run to third.
Sophomore Nicholas Chaney, batting in the eight slot, loaded the bases on a fielder's choice, as Bremmon escaped a base-running pinch when he wisely decided to turn back from the plate and remain at third.
With one out, Cox, the designated hitter, made the most of a rare plate appearance, belting a walk-off, RBI single to the gap in center-field to cap an eight-game winning streak to close out the season for the Panthers.
Cox was batting in place of freshman Fate Berry, who got the start at catcher due to a concussion suffered by senior Brandon Loethen last week against Mountain View.
“With what we went through today with Loethen being out, Fate Berry stepping up and catching [Andrew] Bradshaw in a varsity game, this is big,” said an emotional Bise after the game. “Bradshaw had another phenomenal game on the mound. Jordan Adkins, a senior, getting a bunt down, and Clayton Cox, who has hardly played all year except to pitch, getting the base hit to win it...phenomenal.”
Bald Knob scored its lone run in the top of the fourth inning on an RBI single from junior Chase Martin, who battled out of an 0-2 count. The Bulldogs went on to load the bases with one out, but Heber Springs ace Andrew Bradshaw turned a critical 1-3 double play to escape the inning, catching a line drive up the middle and making the throw to first for the final out.
Bradshaw remains undefeated in his last four outings, giving up only one earned run in the process. The senior ended Wednesday's game against Bald Knob with six strikeouts, five hits allowed, and no walks (one HBP).
Jones pitched a complete game for Bald Knob, striking out one batter while allowing four hits (one HBP), no walks, and two runs (one earned).
“I told their coach that they beat us everywhere except on the scoreboard,” said Bise. “They out-hit us, out-hustled us, and their kid out-pitched us. And Bradshaw threw a heck of a ballgame. It's baseball, and you've got to play all seven innings, and we got lucky at the end.”
After opening the season 2-3, Heber Springs closed out the year 16-2, including a 12-1 record in blended conference play.
Heber Springs earned a two-seed at next week's district tournament at Southside. The Panthers will play the Riverview Raiders on Monday at 4:30 p.m.