Today's Paper News Sports Features Business Opinion LEARNS Guide Newsletters Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

OPINION| RICK FIRES: Booneville goes on a magic ride to win Class 3A state championship with Franklin leading the way

by Rick Fires | May 28, 2023 at 1:00 a.m.

"I'm going to Disney World" is a comment we've heard many times following the Super Bowl, usually from the game's MVP.

Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is where Booneville softball coach Chad Simpson is spending time with family that included his parents and daughter Mayleigh, 5, who is mesmerized by the sights. Simpson didn't win a Super Bowl but he had more pep in his step as he entered the Magic Kingdom and exchanged high-fives with Goofy and Mickey after leading Booneville to the Class 3A state championship in softball.

Booneville was a longshot that hadn't won a state championship in softball since 2004 and the Lady Bearcats stood 14-13 on May 5 after losing 8-0 to Lincoln in the semifinals of the 3A-1 Regional Tournament at Harrison. That was the last defeat for Booneville, which turned a ho-hum season into a magical ride that included a five-game winning streak and a 4-3 victory over Atkins that secured the school's second state championship in fast-pitch softball.

"We played a really tough schedule and I think you learn more from the losses sometimes," said Simpson, who booked the trip with his family to Disney World last November. "We tweaked the lineup several times during the year and finally settled on something that clicked. The last few games, we cut down on our strikeouts and played really good defense."

Booneville's defense was flawless behind pitcher Lexi Franklin during a 5-0 win over Hackett, which had beaten the Lady Bearcats twice this season. Franklin pitched a two-hit shutout and went 4-for-4 at the plate. But the junior right-hander will long be remembered not only for her skill as an athlete but for her toughness after she was accidentally hit in the head with a bat before the championship game in Conway.

On the morning before the game, Booneville stopped to take batting practice and Franklin was accidentally hit above her right eye by a teammate swinging a bat. But that didn't stop Franklin, who entered the circle bandaged up and with six stitches over her right eye following a quick stop to a nearby clinic.

"I was so numb at that point," said Franklin, who arrived 20 minutes before the game. "I can't worry about myself. I've got to get my team that win."

Franklin contributed a double at the plate and retired 12 of the final 14 batters she faced to capture the MVP award for Booneville, a football-crazy town that is now home to the Class 3A championship in softball.

"When we got to the (Logan) county line, there were three sheriff cars there to escort us in," Simpson said of the team's homecoming. "When we got to the city limits, there were two city cop cars there to meet us. My assistant, Bailey Stringer, and I, we've received like 65 messages from people congratulating us on winning the state championship. It's been great, especially for the kids. We tried all year to make them believe they could do it and they went out and got it done."

Booneville wasn't the only team in the 12-county coverage area for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to return home with championship plaques. The Bentonville girls won their eighth state championship in soccer and Springdale Har-Ber won its second state championship and first since 2018 in baseball. Gravette won the state championship in Class 4A softball while the Green Forest boys won in Class 3A soccer and Harrison girls won in Class 5A soccer. But nowhere in the region were the odds stacked against them more than Booneville with 13 losses and only one state championship in softball on its resume.

Yet, the Lady Bearcats went on their own magic ride and won it all with Franklin, the toughest athlete in Arkansas this spring, leading the way.

Print Headline: Booneville beats odds with Franklin


Sponsor Content