ROGERS -- North Little Rock baseball Coach Randy Sandefur said his team adapted a lunch-pail mentality in the middle of the season that carried the Charging Wildcats all the way to the Class 6A state finals.
The Wildcats took advantage of some early Bentonville West miscues and captured a 5-1 semifinal victory Saturday at Veterans Park state baseball tournament semifinals.
Charlie Warren's two-out, two-run bloop single in the bottom of the second gave North Little Rock a 3-0 lead. It was the Charging Wildcats' lone hit in the inning as they took advantage of three errors and a walk by the Wolverines (20-11).
Sandefur said it all goes back to a hardworking mindset.
"If we are gonna get beat, it's gonna be one of those all-day affairs, so they better bring a sack lunch," Sandefur said. "And our guys bought into that and respected that."
North Little Rock (14-18) came into the tournament as the No. 5 seed from the 6A-Central with a record of seven games under .500. That didn't matter to the Charging Wildcats, who won three games in three days to earn a spot in the finals at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville against defending champion Springdale Har-Ber.
Sandefur, a 35-year veteran of the school district and former head baseball coach, started the season as the assistant coach but took over as the head coach after spring break. Getting through that transition time wasn't easy, but he credited the players.
"When you lose your head coach who is a good coach and a good person, kids get a little confused," Sandefur said. "It took a little bit to get them going back the way we needed to go. But all the credit goes to our guys."
Bear Sparks drove in a run with a groundout in the third, and Lucas Rice added a run-scoring single in the fourth to push the North Little Rock lead to 5-0. Two Charging Wildcat pitchers combined to allow a run on five hits.
Wolverines Coach Chip Durham credited North Little Rock.
"They've had their backs against the wall since they arrived in the tournament," Durham said. "They found a way to win. I'm proud of my guys. Yeah, we made some mistakes early, but we had a lot of hard-hit balls right at them, and they made some great plays."
Hayden Givens-Craig picked up the win, allowing 1 run on 4 hits over 5 innings. He struck out one and walked one. Brody Bunting threw the final two innings, coming on after Bentonville West's Joey Aden led off the sixth inning with a double.
Zach Trammell drove in Aden with a sacrifice fly for the Wolverines' lone run.
SPRINGDALE HAR-BER 3, CABOT 2
Blake Adams has affected a number of games over his four-year varsity career with his arm and bat. On Saturday, it was his glove that made the difference.
Adams' catch in center field in the bottom of the sixth inning helped protect a precarious lead as the Wildcats advanced to the state championship game for the third consecutive year.
Cabot (23-6) had runners at second and first with two outs when Logan Bell crushed a fly to deep center. Adams raced near the fence and made a leaping catch before he hit the ground. He rolled over and held the ball over his head for the final out, saving what likely would have been two runs.
"My initial thought was, 'Oh no, it's over [the fence],' " Adams said. "I just kept trucking after it, and it was at the last chance where I thought I could get it. I just jumped up and fell. It was an awesome feeling because it was a 3-2 count and they were running, and the guy on first would have scored."
An inning earlier, Adams made another key play from the outfield when he raced hard to his left to snare a sinking liner and fired a laser to first base to double a Cabot runner off for an inning-ending double play.
Adams also scored the game-winning run as the Wildcats (25-7) gained a little revenge over Cabot after falling to the Panthers in the 2017 state title game.
Har-Ber, the No. 5 seed from the 6A-West Conference, managed just enough offense against Cabot to give starter Charlie Acuff a cushion, and the right-hander made the most of it.
Acuff threw 99 pitches in for the complete game.He faced his biggest challenge in the bottom of the seventh inning as Cabot loaded the bases with two outs. But Acuff induced a game-ending ground ball to second baseman Rally Miller.
Sports on 05/12/2019
Print Headline: Charging Wildcats carry attitude into title game