'Hounds make noise in state finals

Thursday, May 22, 2008
Trent Smith (second from right) accepts the runner-up trophy after the game (Photos for the Democrat/Tom Glave)

FAYETTEVILLE --- After making school history this season, nothing could get the Marmaduke baseball team down.

Not early errors, not an early deficit and not a stalled seventh-inning comeback.

The Greyhounds fell 8-4 to Harding Academy in the Class 3A state baseball championship game at Baum Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas but nothing could take away from the accomplishment of making it to the finals for the first time in school history.

"I'm tickled to death with them," Marmaduke coach Larry Willis said. "We came a long ways in the past few years. We've always had a good program but it seems like we always get stopped in the regionals.

"We beat a string of really good ball clubs and I couldn't be prouder of these guys."

It was Harding Academy's first-ever state baseball championship and the Greyhounds' first trip to the finals.

"After 99 years, it was worth it," junior third baseman Dexter Jordan said.

"We played two of the best teams in the state -- Lincoln and Pea Ridge -- to get here and we came to it. Today we just had the costly errors but we did everything we could."

It was the first baseball finals appearance in the school's 99-year history. Willis, who has coached the Greyhounds for 22 years, led the 1989 team to the semifinals and has been to the state tournament the past two years.

"He was speechless after the semifinal game against Lincoln," Jordan said. "I'm glad we could do it for him. It was one of the best groups to come through Marmaduke and we fought hard."

Willis called it an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play and coach at Baum Stadium and said he was proud of his team Saturday.

"I know they're disappointed today but we're sure not disappointed in the way the season went," he said.

The Greyhounds, who finish the season 16-10, fell behind early Saturday because of errors.

"We talked at the team meeting (Saturday) morning that the one thing we couldn't do is make a bunch of errors," Ellis said. "We've had a tendency sometimes to have games when we cough up some and I thought that was the difference in the game."

The Wildcats (29-3) scored a single run in the first three innings for a 3-0 lead.

Harding Academy lead-off batter J.T. Fisher, who was named the MVP of the game, reached on a first-inning single, advanced all the way to third on a stolen base and error before scoring on a passed ball.

Marmaduke senior starting pitcher Trent Smith got out of the inning without further damage by getting a grounder back to the mound and a strikeout.

Harding Academy's T.J. Thompson scored in the second, reaching on a fielder's choice and scoring on an error.

Wildcats' Ty Finley hit a two-out triple in the third and scored on Lance Carr's RBI double for the 3-0 lead.

Marmaduke had chances to score early but couldn't find a big hit.

Junior Jacob Mason was hit by a pitch to reach base in the first inning and moved to third on Jordan's single but wasn't able to score.

Junior Ray Taylor and Mason hit singles in the third inning but couldn't get home.

The Greyhounds got on the board in the fourth inning. Smith started the inning with a single, advanced on senior John Upchurch's sacrifice fly and a balk and scored on senior Andrew Dulaney's RBI single to right field.

Smith and the Greyhound defense quickly worked through the bottom of the fourth inning but Marmaduke couldn't get a hit in the fifth against reliever Matt Lincoln.

Harding Academy added to its lead with Ty Finley's RBI triple but Jordan cut the lead to 4-2 with a solo home run in the top of the sixth.

"It was one of the best feelings hitting it out of Baum Stadium," Jordan said. "You kind of dream of that -- hitting a home run at Arkansas."

It was Jordan's fifth home run of the year.

"He's got a tremendous amount of power," Willis said.

The Wildcats put the game out of reach with four runs on three hits in the bottom of the sixth.

James Dillard and Matt Calhoun had RBI hits and two more runs scored on Marmaduke errors.

But the Greyhounds didn't quit as a seventh-inning rally cut into Harding Academy's lead.

"We've got a bunch that don't quit," Willis said. "We're going to fight you to the end and I was proud we came back and make the game look better."

Dulaney and junior Dane Barnum drew walks to start the inning and senior designated hitter Dustin Ellis loaded the bases with a single.

A double play ball slowed the comeback but senior Kyle Huckabay dropped in a double to score the final two runs.

Jordan led the Marmaduke offense with two hits as the Greyhounds pounded out eight total hits.

Smith was solid on the mound in the complete-game loss.

He scattered nine hits and struck out five batters.

"It was like nothing else," Smith said of playing in the finals. "I was happy to be here. Nobody expected us to be here. We were the only ones that believed we could do it.

"It felt really really good to pitch on that mound at the Razorbacks' stadium. It's one of the best stadiums in college."

Smith finished the year with a 7-2 record.

"He's been strong all year for us," Willis said. "It's been a pleasure to coach him. We're sure going to miss him next year."

The Greyhounds say goodbye to five seniors that led the team to the state championship game.

Marmaduke had a special graduation ceremony for Huckabay, Smith, Upchurch, Dulaney and Ellis on Thursday before the team left for Fayetteville.

"It was a five-man graduation so they could come on down early," Ellis said. "That was pretty special."

The rest of the senior class graduated Friday.

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