BEE BRANCH — South Side Bee Branch had been aiming for the 2014 baseball season for some time, and although the road wasn’t as smooth as coach Tye Glover had anticipated, the result was.
The Hornets won just the second state baseball championship in school history, to match the one from 2007, with their 7-3 victory over Armorel in the Class 1A state final at the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium. They finished 26-6, also champions of the 1A-2 South Conference, district tournament and Class 1A Region 3.
But injuries and disciplinary issues forced the Hornets to do things the hard way.
“Going in, I thought we were going to be the best team [in the state] by far,” said Glover, 30, a South Side alumnus and former catcher/designated hitter for Southern Arkansas University. “But after everything happened, we had some guys step up and play who hadn’t even played before. It was a great team effort, kind of a storybook deal for the seniors and the whole program.
“We got better and better, and by the end of the year, we were a really, really good ball team.”
Several younger players wound up contributing more than anticipated, including junior outfielders Donovan Taylor and Luke Pennington and sophomore pitchers Colter Hinchey and Brian Dumas, who was named MVP of the state tournament after striking out five of 10 batters in the state final to pick up the save in relief of senior Mason Duncan (9-1).
“It turned out to be the best thing for our program because we had some kids who’d been sitting on the bench who stepped up and played big games for us,” Glover said. “Like Colter Hinchey hadn’t pitched much last year, but he pitched some huge games for us, including the first round of the state tournament. We didn’t have to use anybody but him. He stepped up big for us.”
Glover said Dumas played at his highest level at the end of the year.
“The MVP could’ve gone to any of our guys,” Glover said. “That’s what was so great about our team — it didn’t matter who got the glory. We’d been through so much; it was just, ‘Let’s get it done.’
“Everybody on our team had a hand in winning that championship. It was the utmost team effort. It was not a group dominated by seniors; we had to have help by the sophomores, the juniors and the seniors. It was a special group from top to bottom.”
The Hornets’ five seniors — Duncan, Will Pennington, Garrett Collums, Josh Payne and Zac Capps — were freshmen when the Hornets won the district tournament in 2011; sophomores when they won district, finished runner-up in the regional and reached the semifinals of the state tournament en route to a 23-11 finish in 2012; and juniors when they won conference, district and regional titles before falling in a heartbreaker of a state final to Taylor, 3-2, to finish 27-6.
A state championship was the only thing missing.
But Payne, the catcher, partially tore a tendon in his knee in the first game of the season, and John Hastings, the starting center fielder, pulled a quadriceps muscle and missed seven weeks.
“We were pieced together for a long time,” Glover said. “Josh didn’t catch again until the regional. We were plugging along, and he got back to where he could hit, but he still couldn’t squat to catch until then.
“But by the end of the year when we got all our guys back, we were playing our best ball.”
Payne and Collums each hit two-run singles in the state final.
In the regional, South Side beat Wonderview, 4-0; Midland in the semifinals, 9-5; and West Side Greers Ferry in the championship, 10-0.
In the state tournament, the Hornets rolled over Caddo Hills in the first round, 15-2, and Norfork in the quarterfinals, 10-0, and avenged last year’s championship loss to Taylor, 7-6, in the semis.
“That loss last year really hurt me,” Glover said, calling the rematch “an epic ballgame.”
“They were really, really good,” he said. “They’d won something like 21 games in a row, so it was a good deal we got to play them again.”
The 7-3 win over Armorel stood on its own. The Tigers, who had won state titles in 2006 and ’11, were playing in the state final for the fifth time since 2004.
Glover finished his fourth year at South Side after coaching two years at Lafayette County. Leading his alma mater to a state title was special, he said.
“I saw those guys playing when they were little,” he said. “I was playing in high school when they were in grade school, and I remember going back when I was working through college and umpiring baseball games and seeing them. To see them come from there and to succeed like they have as 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders is really special.”
He said Payne, Duncan and Capps plan to walk on at North Arkansas College in Harrison next year. Collums and Will Pennington had some opportunities to play collegiately but have chosen not to.
“That state championship sealed the deal for me,” Pennington said. “I’m satisfied to go out on top. It’s a good way to go out.”
He will head to Pensacola Christian College in the fall to major in business marketing.
“I wanted to do something different, to get away for a little bit and see what things are like somewhere other than Bee Branch,” he said.
Even without this senior class, the South Side Bee Branch Hornets should have good baseball for years to come.
“Everybody thought we were just going to fall off the world, but we’re going to be all right,” Glover said. “We’ll have to make some adjustments, but I think our program’s in as good a shape as it’s ever been in.”
After all, it would’ve been dull to do it the easy way.