Bulldogs’ diamond title much awaited

By Donna Stephens Originally Published July 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 5, 2013 at 10:46 a.m.
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— Luke Davis is just 30, but he goes way back with the Conway St. Joseph baseball program.

So it was only fitting that Davis, a former Bulldog pitcher, was at the helm of a record-setting season for the St. Joseph program this spring.

The Bulldogs smashed the school record for wins — 25 versus a previous best 17 — and won the first state baseball championship in school history when they captured the Class 2A title, hammering Dierks at the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium, 13-3.

“We felt like we were cursed,” said Davis, who reached the state tournament as a freshman, sophomore and senior before graduating in 2001. “We’d been to the state tournament so many times and couldn’t get past the first round, and three years ago we made it to the semifinals and got past the first round for the first time in school history, so this was special.”

St. Joseph has now won state championships in every sport it currently offers except for volleyball and boys soccer. The school has trophies for baseball, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls golf, softball, girls soccer and bowling, as well as two titles in track and field, a sport the school dropped several years ago.

“Luke’s done a great job,” said Chris Kordsmeier, St. Joseph’s athletic director. “They keep getting better every year, and the kids seem like they’ve been progressing each year. We’re very proud of them.”

The Bulldogs won the 2A-4 East District Tournament and the Class 2A West Regional, where they dominated Union Christian, 13-1; Hector, 11-1; and Conway Christian, 8-0.

The state tournament proved to be tougher, although the scores were almost as impressive.

“Baseball’s kind of funny,” Davis said. “You’ve got to have a lot of luck when it comes to the state tournament. No. 1, you’ve got to get there, and the boys did a great job of doing what they had to do to get there.

“Once you get there, it doesn’t matter what seed you are. We got the 1 seed (from the regional), but we didn’t think we got the best draw.”

The Class 2A State Tournament was in deep-south Arkansas at Parkers Chapel near El Dorado. Woodlawn, the defending state champion, loomed in the first round and the host Trojans in the semifinals.

“At the regional, we looked at the [state] bracket and said, ‘Wow, we want to win the regional, but that’s a tough draw,’” Davis said. “But all you can do is take care of what you can do and let everything else fall into place. And it did.”

The Bulldogs beat Woodlawn in the opening round, 4-2; Hazen in the quarterfinals, 6-1; and Parkers Chapel, winner of the South Regional, 7-5, to qualify for a trip to Baum Stadium. There, they trounced Dierks for the championship, 13-3, to complete a 25-4 season.

The Bulldogs had previously won a school-record 17 games three times.

“I wouldn’t say we sailed,” Davis said of the state tournament. “In every game, we got down in the first inning at least 1-0 and had to battle back.”

Senior Andrew Beck, who missed last season while recovering from knee surgery after an injury during basketball, was named MVP of the state tournament. In the final, he was the winning pitcher and hit a two-run double to end the game with the 10-run rule.

“It means the world,” Beck said of his senior baseball season that ended with a championship, the only one of his multi-sport career. “That’s what you look for in high school, and there’s nothing better than to do it as a senior and set two records along the way.”

He will play baseball next year at University of the Ozarks in Clarksville.

Davis agreed that Beck was a big part of the march to the state title.

“With him back, his leadership was a big deal, but all the kids grew up a lot from the year before,” he said. “We had a lot of good leadership from Andrew and the other kids who played a lot last year.”

Beck, a shortstop/pitcher, was one of eight seniors on the 16-man roster. Others were Cole Schichtl, right fielder/pitcher; Drew Bates, catcher; Sam Massery, second baseman; Andrew Kordsmeier, third baseman; Joe Downey and Craig Yrle, outfielders; and Josh Antone, infielder.

This was Davis’ fifth season as head coach. Prior to that he was assistant coach for a year, and before going to work at his alma mater, he volunteered with the program after his playing career ended at North Arkansas College in Harrison.

Obviously, his baseball roots go deep.

And now he’ll get another chance to bring another first-time state championship trophy to St. Joseph as he prepares to start the coming school year as the Lady Bulldog volleyball coach.

“We had our chances,” he said, referring to back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 2008 and ’09. “We should have a pretty good year. We didn’t have any seniors in volleyball last year, and we’ve got all our starters coming back.”

Why not? After all, he and St. Joseph are on a roll in 2013.

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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