Class 4A state championships stacking up in Arkadelphia

Donna Lampkin Stephens/Contributing Writer Published June 29, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Arkadelphia’s John Franklin Matros pitches in the 2013 Class 4A State Championship against the Stuttgart Ricebirds. The Badgers won that game and came back to the state title tilt in 2014 to win over Ashdown. Matros was among a group of seniors who led the Badgers on the diamond the last three-plus seasons. Other standouts were Jakahari Howell, the 2014 Class 4A State Tournament MVP; Austin White, Jacob Knight and Kris Oliver.

ARKADELPHIA — In 2013, Arkadelphia won its first state baseball title and the first major team state championship in any sport since 1987.

There won’t be another 26-year drought.

Brant Matros’ Badgers were even more impressive in 2014, winning a school-record 27 games against five losses and recording wins over fellow state champions Russellville (Class 6A), White Hall (Class 5A) and Genoa Central (Class 3A).

In the postseason, the Badgers were absolutely dominant.

Arkadelphia won the Class 4A South regional and state tournaments by a combined 69-12.

“We peaked at a great time,” Matros said. “We went through a period of about two weeks when we lost two conference games, and that woke us up. But once tournament play started, we found a different level.”

Senior center fielder Jakahari Howell agreed.

“I think we got ahead of ourselves a little bit and expected everybody to lay down,” he said. “Those were pretty close games, but we came out flat. We had a team meeting after that and started practicing a little harder. It kind of motivated us.”

Indeed.

Those two conference losses — to Ashdown (1-0) and to Malvern (2-1 in 10 innings) — sealed the Badgers’ conference runner-up finish. But they made up for it with district, regional and state tournament championship victories over the Ashdown Panthers, by 12-4, 14-4 and 15-1 respectively, the last at the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium.

The only other losses came to Class 7A Little Rock Catholic, Class 6A Benton and Class 5A Jacksonville.

As the reigning state champions, the Badgers faced pressure they hadn’t had since 1987, but Matros said they handled it well.

“Our guys felt a sense that they should win it, that they needed to win it,” he said. “That’s what got hold of us in the middle of the year. We played good early, against Cabot, Russellville — higher-classification teams. We had some tight games early.

“I think the pressure was that we want to do this. They did want to do it. I told them all along, that’s what it takes; you’ve got to be willing to play that far into the year, through prom, through graduation, all those things. And we had good leadership from our seniors.”

The roster included nine seniors, including five three- and four-year starters — center fielder Howell, pitcher

John Franklin Matros, catcher Austin White, first baseman Jacob Knight and outfielder Kris Oliver.

After receiving their diplomas at Baum Stadium prior to the state championship game (which was the same day as Arkadelphia’s commencement), all three will be Ouachita Baptist Tigers in the fall. Howell will play football and baseball; Matros, White and Knight will play baseball; and Oliver will play football.

In the regional, which the Badgers won by an overall 32-6, they knocked off Monticello, 11-1; Hamburg, 7-1; and Ashdown.

In the state tournament, which they won even easier (a combined 37-6), they beat Dover, 12-2; Hamburg, 10-3; and Ashdown again, 15-1, in five innings.

In the championship game, John Franklin Matros allowed 4 hits and struck out 6 for the win. Howell went 4-for-4 with 4 runs scored and was named MVP.

“That’s the best I’ve played since probably spring break,” Howell said. “Graduating earlier that day and playing my last baseball game would’ve been exciting enough, but getting MVP on top of that was great.”

Brant Matros said he was probably more nervous heading into this championship game than he was last year.

“But the players weren’t,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect the first time, and this time I understood the magnitude. I was pretty nervous, but they told me they felt pretty comfortable, and it showed on the field.”

Howell said it was special for his class to break the long championship drought.

“It feels good to bring excitement back to the city,”

he said. “Mostly, our parents remembered that last one.”

And despite losing such a large senior class and more than half of his starting lineup, Matros said he doesn’t think the Badgers will be rebuilding in 2015.

“We return our best statistical pitcher, (junior-to-be) Brayden Bebee; and (rising junior) Brandon Matros, a left-handed pitcher; and senior Dylan Weems, a right-handed pitcher who closed a lot last year,” he said. “We’ll have our starting left fielder (senior JBrooks Burnham), second baseman (senior Clay Wilson), and shortstop (Cutter Jester). [Jester] led us in average as a freshman. Ty Kosters hit eight home runs for us, and Brandon Matros started the state championship game at first base last year as a freshman. We’ve got a catcher back who had Tommy John surgery last year (junior Danny Spradlin).

“So I don’t think about rebuilding. We feel like we’ve put ourselves in a position where we’ve got the next class ready. We played a lot of games with those young guys, some JV games, and we feel like they’re ready to step in and take on that role. We feel good about how we’ve prepared them and put them in situations as young ballplayers to continue on.

“We’re excited and want to do it again.”

Obviously, the Badgers are on a roll.

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