As 1A-2 Conference rivals, it was a given that Izard County and Viola would see each other twice during the regular season. There was also the chance they would play in the district tournament and possibly in a regional tournament, which they did.
Today, the teams will hook up for a fifth time with a little more at stake.
"We know a lot about them, and they know a lot about us," said Izard County Coach Billy McBride, whose Cougars will battle the Longhorns for the Class 1A state baseball title at Everett Field in Benton. "We're certainly familiar with each other, but we're kind of looking at it as it being no pressure on us. We're going down there to try to win a championship and a ring.
"It's all positives, and we're going to give it our best shot."
Viola (27-1), the defending state champions, had a counter for everything Izard County (19-5) dished out in the earlier meetings. The Longhorns won all four games, but Izard County can take solace that three of those four games were close encounters.
The Longhorns won 3-0 on May 8. A week prior to that, Viola eked out a 9-8 victory.
"We know we can play with them because we have," McBride said. "We went 12 innings with them in the district finals, and in that last one, we just couldn't get the bats going. But we're going to take some confidence out of that. This same group, two years ago in the last season we got to play before covid hit, beat [Viola] in the regional finals the same year they won state.
"We're confident, though. And of course, anything can happen in baseball."
The Cougars blasted their way into their first state final by knocking off West Side Greers Ferry 12-5 in the semifinals. Senior Coby Everett and junior Landon McBride combined for nine RBI in that game, which was also the fourth time Izard County had beaten the Eagles.
It may take a little more than that for the Cougars to dethrone a Viola team that's won 26 games in a row. The Longhorns returned four players who started on the team that beat Taylor 6-5 in the 2019 final, but they got reinforcements when triplets Bryson Luna, Auston Luna and Mason Luna transferred in from Dora, Mo., after their dad, Rick, took over the boys basketball team last summer. All three of those players were selected to Missouri's Class 1A all-state team two years ago.
Those additions made an already strong team even better.
"Just the overall depth of their lineup is tough, especially for a Class 1A school," McBride said. "One through nine, they're really good. They've got five or six kids already signed to go play college ball. That also goes into their pitching staff and their defense.
"They're just really, really solid everywhere."
McBride isn't expecting his Cougars to back down.
"We've got to worry about us and not worry about the team we're playing," McBride said. "We have to throw strikes, mix it up, hit the ball and play good defense. In baseball, a lot of times it's who makes the fewest mistakes that wins the ballgame. That's what we're looking for."