The opportunity Friday was 17 years in the making for St. Joseph baseball coach Luke Davis and Brent Bruich, his assistant.
The school revived its baseball program when Davis was in the eighth grade. He played for Bruich, the first coach for the Bulldogs. Years later, Davis became a fulltime teacher at St. Joseph and eventually took over the main baseball duties with Bruich, the boys basketball coach, assisting him.
Both will lead the Bulldogs (24-4) into their first state baseball title game at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Fayetteville’s Baum Stadium, home of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
"It’s a thrill for the players, but it’s a thrill for me," said Davis, whose team has won conference and regional titles. "This (a state championship appearance) is something Brent and I have been waiting for for 17 years. We’ve gotten close, but we’ve never gotten there. So, this is big for us. We’re just as excited as the players."
Because of weather delays, the Bulldogs had to win six games in six days to get to the championship game against Dierks. That included district play at Hector and the regional tournament at Parkers Chapel, defeating Parkers Chapel on its home field to get to the state final.
"It was a lot of work, but I’m proud of how the kids responded," Davis said. "To win six games in six days, you have to have good pitching and our whole staff stepped up."
Andrew Beck and Nash Nichols are the main go-to pitchers. "But when we had to have it, Britt Stroth and Cole Schichtl came in and threw some excellent games for us," Davis said.
Offensively, the Bulldogs have had balance and key hits up and down the lineup.
St. Joseph lost to Conway Christian in conference play, once early in the season to Class 4A Maumelle and went 2-1 against Class 3A Mayflower, which finished 29-3 and reached the regional finals.
"We’ve just gotten a little better as we’ve gone along," said Davis. "Our games against Mayflower made us better. We played three games that were decided by a total of four runs. We learned a lot from those games.
"We don’t have a lot of spectacular playmakers. We’ve got good players but not what you would call a superstar. But as a whole, we are pretty good."
The Bulldogs got a look at Dierks early in the season when each participated in the Bauxite tournament although they didn’t play each other. They also got glimpses of the Outlaws in the state tournament.
"They’re scrappy, just like us," Davis said. "They’re also fast. Other than being really fast, they’re a lot like us. They are one of the two teams left in the state. That tells me enough."