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Viola capitalizes on bevy of errors

by Erick Taylor | May 23, 2021 at 2:11 a.m.

BENTON -- Viola cleaned up a cluster of mistakes to make it a sweep of a conference rival Saturday night.

The Longhorns scored six runs off six Izard County errors and strolled to an 11-4 victory in the Class 1A state baseball championship game in front of a huge, spirited crowd at Everett Field.

Viola (28-1) put the finishing touches on its dominant season by beating its 1A-2 Conference foes for the fifth time this season. The Longhorns won their final 27 games and scored at least 10 runs 21 times. On Saturday, Viola recorded just seven hits but got plenty of help from the Cougars.

Izard County had four errors in the first inning alone, which single-handedly led to the Cougars wiping away a two-run deficit.

Gavin Blevins, Carter Graves, Andrew Cantway and Austin Luna all had two RBI for Viola, which won its second consecutive state title and fourth overall.

"We had a pretty good competitive group coming back from last year," Viola Coach Clayton Gardner said. "I think I started three or four guys in 2019 when we won it, but they're seniors now. We just won [state] in basketball, and coming off that, we wanted to really try to do something special."

Mason Luna picked up the victory on the mound by scattering 4 hits and striking out 9 in 6 1/3 innings. The Drury University baseball signee was selected as the game's MVP, the second such honor he's garnered in the past two months. The senior also was chosen as the MVP of the Class 1A state basketball title game in March.

"This one feels great, too," a smiling Luna said about winning both awards. "It was just a lot of hard work, and I love it. With the basketball one and the baseball one, there's no different feeling. It's just amazing."

Noah Everett went 2 for 3 for the Cougars, who were shut out 3-0 in the 1A-Region 2 final when the teams met May 8.

After the Cougars took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first when they scored off an error and a passed ball, the Longhorns answered by tallying two runs off Izard County's first two throwing miscues to tie the game. Bryson Luna later scored on a grounder by Austin Luna, and Blevins slashed a two-out, two-run single into right field to give Viola a 5-2 advantage.

"We're going to play the same way whether we're up 10 or down 10," Gardner said. "Our kids are really good at keeping their composure and handling adversity. It's not the first time we've been down early.

"But we're kind of late starters. Basketball was kind of that way, too, sometimes with this bunch, but when the switch flips, we roll."

Viola extended its edge to 6-2 in the second on Graves' RBI double and put up three more runs in the third, with Graves and Cantway accounting for an RBI each and Gage Harris scoring on a bases-loaded walk.

Izard County (19-6) mounted a charge in the fourth when it got an RBI double from Caleb Faulkner and an RBI single from Zach Simmons to trim its deficit to 9-4, but Viola got both of those runs back in the bottom of the frame by scoring off errors.

That was more than enough for Mason Luna, who gave way to his cousin Landon Luna with one out in the seventh. He got both of the final outs to pick up the save.

"The first [title] is always super special," Gardner said. "I'm not going to say one any more special than the other because each group has its own identity, and things happen throughout the year that determines that. But this one meant a lot to me for that group of seniors who really, really deserve it.

"So this one is very special."

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