Isaac Dulaney knew he had something special in his 2019-20 Joe T. Robinson baseball team. He just didn’t get a chance to see how special.
The coronavirus wiped out the Senators’ season after seven games a year ago, depriving a strong senior class of a chance to capture a state title. Dulaney believes those circumstances made this year’s Senators hungrier, even if it meant taking some losses along the way.
“Everybody has high hopes,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty good track record the last five years, but the thing is, we built so much around that 2020 class. I told everybody that this year, we were going to be young, we were going to be inexperienced, and we’ll be playing a lot of competition above our heads.
“I told people we were going to get thumped early, would take some on the chin and get our noses busted. But I felt like eventually it’d all pay off for us.” After losing six of their first eight games, the Senators are starting to cash in. Robinson (17-7, 11-1 4A-5) has won 15 of its past 16 games going into today’s doubleheader at Forrest City. The Senators also have locked up the top seed from their conference ahead of the 4A-East Regional that begins May 6.
Dulaney said the overall leadership from his coaches and upperclassmen has been a huge plus for his group.
“It’s been phenomenal,” noted Dulaney, who in November had six players sign to play college baseball. “My assistant coaches have done a great job of getting their position groups to be better. The kids work hard, and they play for each other. I’ve not really had a team in a long time that just has so much chemistry amongst themselves.
“They’re just so willing to do something against their own success for the betterment of the team. That’s a rare quality to have with a team of 35 people sometimes.” Another key attribute that Robinson enjoys revolves around their capability to adjust in the batter’s box.
“Coming into Tuesday’s game [vs. Stuttgart], we were hitting .363 as a team, with about a .478 on-base percentage,” Dulaney said. “I think we’ve hit about 15 or 16 home runs, and I wasn’t expecting us to have that ability. We didn’t get to play the full season last year, and I would’ve really liked to have seen how we would’ve fared.
“But we’ve hit more home runs, more triples and more doubles this year than we did during that 2020 class’ junior season. We had a really intense offseason program, and the kids were dedicated and bought into it.”
Brookland Coach Karen Sanders admitted that there are times throughout the year where there may be some occasional unrest within her household, which has almost certainly made led to some interesting conversations.
“My husband is a Dallas Cowboys fan and I’m a Washington, use to be Redskins, fan,” she explained. “He likes the Chicago Cubs, and I’m a St. Louis Cards fan. He teaches at Valley View, and I’m here at Brookland. How’s that for in-house rivals?” But on the softball field, Sanders’ Lady Bearcats haven’t had many equals lately.
Brookland (18-6, 10-0 4A-3) has won nine in a row and finished off a two-day, two-game sweep of Southside Batesville with an 11-7 victory on Wednesday. The Lady Bearcats, who lost to Class 6A teams Rogers (2-0), Bentonville West (10-7) and Benton-ville (7-0) in succession prior to going on their current winning streak, are alone in first place in the conference.
Brookland, which is looking to win its first state title since 2014, lost just one senior from last year’s team, but Sanders felt her team needed to experience some “bumps in the road” in order to get better.
The Lady Bearcats also play doubleheaders in league play, but the team, led by seniors Keirstin Hammett and Helena Garcia, is playing well at the right time.
“We finally have convinced [the team] to quit trying to hit the ball to Jesus,” Sanders stated. “They’ve started to come around, though. And then, they usually make the routine plays, which is what you’ve got to do. Sometimes you’re gifted enough to make these outstanding extra plays, but they don’t do anything fancy.
“But for us, I think we’re starting to find our groove, starting to trust. With any team, whether it’s softball, baseball, soccer, whatever. Once you get to know one another and realize what each person can do, then you can grow and do some exciting things for your season.”
BAPTIST PREP BASEBALL
Just a swingin’
Baptist Prep’s strength hasn’t been in numbers this season. It’s the Eagles’ quality that’s got them putting up numbers.
Despite having just 10 players on its roster, Baptist Prep (11-8, 7-0 3A-5) is banging out hits and putting up runs at a pace that’s been stunning to Coach Eddie Stephenson.
“It’s been amazing because we’re really hitting it,” he said. “We’ve got a really good approach at the plate, and the kids are doing a good job of locking in on it. When we get good pitches to hit, we’re just barreling balls up right now.
“We’re scoring runs, playing good defense and the pitching has been better. But the main thing has been that we’ve just been pounding the ball.” The Eagles are averaging nine hits and nine runs per game. Prior to Thursday’s game against Maumelle, Baptist Prep had scored 110 runs in its past eight victories, including 20 against Perryville on April 6, and is batting .353 as a team, with five players swinging .303 or better. Junior Jackson Mullen is batting .569 with 33 hits, 31 runs scored and 30 RBI – all team-highs. Fellow junior Cooper West is hitting .547 while senior Cole Somers has belted five home runs.
The productivity from that trio, along with notable outputs from their teammates, are a major reason why the Eagles have already wrapped up their second conference title since 2018.
“When you’re putting up runs, that takes the pressure off your defense a little bit,” Stephenson said. “Your pitchers have a little more room for error, too. So it’s really nice to see us doing what we’re doing right now.
Baptist Prep won for seventh time in eight games when it beat Maumelle 10-9.
On a roll
There may not be a team in Arkansas that’s playing better than Benton right now.
The Lady Panthers (20-0, 8-0 5A-Central) have rarely been tested this year and recently ran their unbeaten streak to 20 games after taking a doubleheader from Maumelle on Tuesday.
Benton owns victories over usual powers Bryant, North Little Rock, Sheridan, Marion and Cabot by a combined 54-4 and has outscored its eight conference opponents 108-6. The Lady Panthers, who’ve lost in the semifinals of the state tournament in each of the past three seasons, are scheduled to face Greenwood today barring any weather issues.
Tuckerman (21-2, 11-1 2A-2) hasn’t lost a baseball game since April 2. The Bulldogs won their 10th consecutive game Thursday by beating Sloan-Hendrix 7-3 behind a three-run home run from Jayden Shannon. The senior also struck out 13 batters on the mound to pick up the win. … Booneville freshman pitcher Lexi Franklin hasn’t given up a run in 39 of the last 40 innings she’s pitched. The Lady Bearcats are 20-2 on the season. … Smackover (22-2, 10-0 3A-8) won its 14th consecutive softball game with a 6-0 victory over McGehee on Tuesday. The Lady Buckaroos shut out nine of their opponents during that stretch.