The journey to the Class AA (19-and-under) American Legion state tournament was powered by a mixture of intense Conway high school rivals.
Conway Nabholz Building and Management Corporation, which came out of the losers bracket to finish second in the Zone 3 tournament in Heber Springs last weekend, is composed of players from St. Joseph and Conway Christian High Schools, both among the top Class AA teams in the state last season.
"We joke about the rivalry from time to time, but these kids saw the situation for what it is and they have a job to do," said Glenn Hogue, manager of the NBMC team. "During the spring season, they are rivals, but in the summer, they are teammates. No matter which side of the plate they’re on, they want to win. I’d think most of these players would agree that they would rather play with these guys than against them.
"A lot of these guys go at it pretty hard in basketball and baseball during the winter and spring, but they play together really well during the summer."
The team, sponsored by Ray Nabholz, who coached the first Conway Christian baseball teams, has been together three years.
"The first year, we won four games," Hogue said. "Last year, we were a couple of plays away from reaching state, and we were disappointed. This year, we took a long road out of the losers bracket around to get there, but the guys stepped up to the challenge. The Heber Springs coach (whose team won the zone title) told me afterwards that this is their first trip to state, and they’ve been together seven years. That speaks a lot for the progress we have made."
Conway will play either Hot Springs Lakeside or Lake Hamilton at 5 p.m. Friday in the first round of the double-elimination state tournament at Harrison.
NABC was the No. 2 seed going into the zone tournament with an 8-3 mark. It defeated the Conway Cougars, 3-1, in the first round, then was sent to the losers bracket with a 13-4 loss to Brinkley. The team played fought through the losers bracket, downing Rose Bud, the Cougars and Brinkley to reach the finals. Heber Springs won 8-5 in the championship game.
Lance Nail had two wins during the tournament. Wade Beck added a win and a save, and Andrew Beck had a win. Jacob Callaway provided some quality innings in relief.
"We had injuries with our pitchers this year, but we got into a good rotation and maximized our innings," Hogue said, noting the staff consisted of the above four plus Jackson Hogue and Andrew Dather.
Most of the players have been together all three years. Other coaches are Chris Powell and Damon Smith, who serves as head coach.
"We didn’t so anything fancy during the zone tournament; it was very much a team effort," Hogue said. "Our pitching was excellent, our defense was good. Our hitting wasn’t as good as it’s been but we did a good job on the bases of making things happen. We played our last four games of the tournament as well as we’ve played all year."
In the state tournament, the NBMC players (all 17 and under) will be facing some teams with players two years older.
"We’ll be playing some college kids and we know that," Hogue said. "We’ve been doing that all year, so we’re used to it. We’re starting to play baseball at a very high level and hope to make the most of it.
"After that loss in the zone tournament, we challenged the players. We told them in baseball, like in life, everyone has good days and bad days. In a tournament, you can’t have two bad days. I think it’s starting to sink into the players the significance of what we have accomplished. We know it will be tough in state, but in baseball, anything can happen. We are excited to go compete and see how it goes."
Team members are Ashton Robinson, Jacob Callaway, Jackson Hogue, Kirby Powell, Andrew Dather, Hunter Treece, Chris Rega, Andrew Beck, Lance Nail, Wade Beck and Tyler Ratliff. The coaches are Damon Smith, Chris Powell and Glenn Hogue.