CONWAY -- The expectations prior to the start of the baseball season weren't anything out of the ordinary for Taylor.
So the way the Tigers finished the year off Thursday shouldn't have been much of a surprise either.
A monster outing from Waylon Woodell and consistent pitching from Peyton Smith and Jessie Umphries allowed Taylor to streak past Mount Ida 9-3 and capture the Class 1A state baseball title at Bear Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas.
Taylor (24-4) roared back from an early deficit to outlast the Lions and polish off another overwhelming run for a program that's been one of the state's best for more than two decades.
The victory handed the Tigers their seventh state championship. It was also the third time Taylor has won back-to-back titles since 2005.
"To get back [to the state final] last year when nobody thought much of us, that one was definitely special," Taylor Coach Brian Fowler said. "But this year, it was harder on the guys. They came in preseason No. 1, had expectations out the roof, which is nothing new at Taylor. But statewide, they had a lot of pressure on them from the outside.
"But they just came to work every day, just got better and better, and they competed their tails off. Adversity didn't bother them as much, and I think that made a difference."
Woodall and his cohorts certainly were difference-makers for the Tigers in their biggest game of the season.
The junior shortstop went 2 for 2 with 5 runs batted in for Taylor, which won its final 18 games. He also scored three times and was named the game's Most Valuable Player, but he got assistance from others, particularly Smith and Umphries.
The duo allowed 4 hits total and combined to strike out 3 in 7 innings. Those totals weren't eye-popping, but they were impressive against a team that had scored 32 runs during last week's state tournament.
"[Taylor] is a great team, great program," Mount Ida Coach T.J. Wilson said. "We knew we were going to have to hit the ball because they weren't going to beat themselves. We were going to have to beat them.
"Just couldn't quite get a couple of those timely hits when we needed them, especially early in the ballgame. If we could've gotten one or two big timely hits, that would've put us in a good spot. But that's baseball."
Mount Ida (17-9) did get a critical hit in the first inning to put the defending champs on their heels. Karter Rowton, who had reached base after being hit by a pitch from Smith, scored on a bases-loaded, two-out single by Albert Petty to put the Lions up 1-0.
Taylor would tie it in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice grounder from Jasper Jones that allowed Waylon Woodell to score. But the Tigers opened things up in the third.
An intentional walk to Preston Smith was followed by a two-run double from Woodell with the bases loaded, scoring both Peyton Smith and Mason Lindsey to stake the Tigers to a 3-1 lead.
"If we don't have guys getting on in front of him, if we don't have guys that threaten behind him ... he saw pitches to hit," Fowler said of Woodell. "Waylon had some good at-bats, had some good swings and took advantage of it. A lot of times, those things don't pan out. We've done it several times where we'll put guys on, and the next guy beats us.
"But Waylon did what he was supposed to do. It was big time."
Umphries drew a walk one batter later before a throwing error to home plate led to both Woodell and Preston Smith scoring.
After both teams pushed across single runs in the fourth, the Lions cut their deficit to 6-3 in the fifth on Ramsey Gilbert's sacrifice fly. But Taylor separated itself in the sixth on another two-run double from Woodell and a run-scoring single by Umphries.
"For most of our win streak, we haven't trailed a lot," Fowler said. "They got up on us early, and we had to fight through a little bit there. Last weekend we were behind so we've had to claw back before, even though we'd won several in a row. I really think that helped us [Thursday].
"The kids just knew they had a shot of doing it, they had a little bit of belief."