NORTH LITTLE ROCK — The 7A state baseball state semifinal between Bryant and Conway followed the form chart.
After Saturday night’s 6-0 victory over North Little Rock, Conway coach Noel Boucher said the showdown between two old rivals for a state championship berth could come down to one inning and one play.
On Monday, the Hornets (32-2) sandwiched doubles by Dalton Holt and Trevor Ezell, while a throwing error by Conway reliever Connor Williams in the fifth made the resulting two runs stand, eliminating the Wampus Cats (18-9), 2-0, at Vince DeSalvo Stadium.
Bryant advanced to the state championship game for the fourth time in five years, losing to the Cats in the title game two years ago. Both teams have reached at least the state semifinals the past five years.
"I knew it would probably come down to this kind of game," said Conway coach Noel Boucher, who won his 600th game with the Wampus Cats on Saturday night. "With these teams, it always is. Sometimes it’s just one inning. That’s how baseball is."
Holt began the fifth with a sharp double down the left field line. Boucher then relieved starter Matt Strickland with Williams. Korey Thompson bunted a blooper in front of the mound and Williams, attempting to make a play at third, threw the ball into left field, scoring Holt. Brandon Ezell then doubled off the wall in left to drive in the only other run of the game.
The tone was set in the first inning when Bryant’s Zack Jackson walked the bases loaded with two outs but retired Carson Cook on a comeback to the pitcher to end the inning.
Conway’s Kyle Alexander singled in the second with one out, then Jackson retired the next two batters.
Jackson got into a rhythm and retired 16 of 17 batters on the way to a four-hitter.
"We missed some opportunities early when their pitcher was wild, then we shot ourselves in the foot with the error," Boucher said. "When you get the bases loaded in a game like this, you need to score."
Alexander got two of the Cats’ four hits. Bryant also had four hits.
Despite the loss, Boucher was proud of the way the Cats won a conference championship and reached the semifinals despite an onslaught of injuries.
"We were piecing together this team all season," he said. "I filled out 17 injury reports for insurance this year and I have done that in some years combined. One game, we had to start two freshmen. It was everything from pulled hamstrings to sickness to broken fingers to a concussion. Just a little bit of everything. You’d come out to the practice field and wonder who was next.
"And it was not a bunch of things crammed together, which would have been more manageable. It was spread out over the entire year, patchwork all the time. Our seniors did a good job holding things together, and it’s a tribute to this team to get this far and this close to playing for a state title considering all the things we went through."