BY DAVID MCCOLLUM
LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER
Little brother got the big one.
The hugs and smiles and "atta boys" Aaron Boucher got from his older brothers, Jacob and Adam and the warm embrace by his dad painted a glorious family picture Sunday night as the Conway baseball team won its first state title since 1989 with a 12-3 victory over Bryant.
The Wampus Cats were making their sixth appearance in a state championship game but hadn’t won one in 22 years — when older brother Jacob Boucher was a 4-year old marveling at all the celebrations at Pulaski County Field in Little Rock. Jacob Boucher played on a team that lost to Fayetteville in the semifinals. Aaron Boucher played on a team that lost to Fayetteville in the finals.
Both were on hand to watch the Cats (25-7) put away their 7A Central rivals and regular-season champions with a 15-hit attack, a seven-run inning and a seven-hit, seven-strikeout complete game from Connor McClain, the MVP of the tournament, whose was pitching on his home-field-to-be at Bear Stadium.
"It’s just a great feeling," said Aaron Boucher between hugs. "Both of my brothers told me to just go out and play my game."
Boucher, the youngest son of Conway coach Noel Boucher, had two hits and three RBI and was part of a key assist in a rundown that took the Hornets out of their only major threat.
"We won with a great team and lost with some great teams; it’s just tough to do (win a state title) in a one-and-done tournament," Noel Boucher said. "I’m proud of Aaron for stepping up and making some big plays. I’m proud of this whole team. We got a well-pitched game from McClain, made some plays on defense and got some big hits."
McClain, who threw 110 pitches in the quarterfinal win over North Little Rock, threw 121 Sunday and struggled only in two innings when Bryant got all its runs.
"He’s been a strong pitcher and has been able to throw a lot of pitches all year," Boucher said. "We thought about taking him out before the seventh (after Bryant avoided a mercy rule by scoring a run on two hits in the bottom of the sixth). But he still had good rhythm and good velocity and we decided to let him go ahead and finish it."
"I felt strong all game," said McClain. "When you offense gives you a seven-run lead so early and gets 15 hits, it gives you a lot of energy on the mound."
The Wampus Cats broke things open with seven runs on seven hits in the second inning.
Tyler Langley led off witha single to left, then J.T. Blackwell found the hole between short and second to put runners on first and second. On Collin Fluesmeier’s sacrifice bunt attempt, Taylor thew the ball over first baseman’s Landon Pickett’s head and it bounded over the retaining wall in right, scoring Langley. Cole Anderson drove in two runs with a single up the middle.
With two outs, Aaron Boucher slashed a high fly to right that fell a foot inside the foul line for a double, landing softly like a wonderful golf approach shot about 5 yards from the fence, driving in another run.
"We worked around the weather to get ready and we came out and hit the ball well early and that gave us a lot of confidence," Noel Boucher said.
The Cats added three more runs in the fifth on an infield hit by Wesley Hoover, an RBI single by McClain and a two-run single to deep short, which glanced into the outfield, the second hit of the inning by Langley.
The Hornets used two walks, a single, a fielder’s choice, a hit batsman and a base-loaded single by Chris Joiner to score twice in the third but the Cats used an alert fielding play to get out of the inning. On Taylor Jordan’s RBI single to center, first baseman Reid Blaylock cut off the throw from Hoover in right and found Bryant with two runners on third base. Cross headed by to second and was cut off by Boucher in a rundown. The Conway shortstop then threw to catcher Cody Rhoades, who brushed a tag on Pickett for the third out.
"We practice that rundown all the time but you never know how you will pull it off in a game, but we did," Noel Boucher said.
"We’ve done it hundreds of times, every day," said Aaron Boucher.
The Cats stretched their lead to 10-2 in the fifth on a walk to Fluesmeier, a single by Anderson, a two RBI single by Boucher up the middle and an RBI double by Hoover after Pultro, the Bryant center fielder, lost a high fly ball in the twilight sky.
Conway scored twie more in the sixth on a double by Fluesmeier and a two-run single by Rhoades.
Bryant avoided the mercy-rule in the sixth with a run but McClain retired the Hornets in order in the seventh.
The Cats were making their 23rd appearance in the state tournament and had reached the semifinals nine times and the finals six. Bryant had had 20 tournament appearances, making the semifinals six times and the finals three times.
The victory marked Conway’s second state title in fewer than 24 hours. The Lady Cats soccer team won the 7A championship in Fayetteville on Saturday night.