Tribe Advances to Regional Final
For the second year in a row, the Piggott Mohawk baseball team is set for state tournament play. The Tribe advanced out of the 3A Region 3 tournament at Palestine-Wheatley last week as the two-seed, and they're scheduled to take on the DeWitt Dragons Thursday afternoon at Harrison.
The Tribe had advanced deeper into the postseason in the 3A-3 district at Rivercrest with wins over highly ranked Gosnell (13 to 6) and cross-county rival Corning (15 to 9), but fell in the semi-finals to Walnut Ridge (8 to 3). Lacking a third-fourth place seeding game, the Mohawks were the lower seed as they entered the regional bracket as fourth.
But, in the first round the Mohawks shocked the highly ranked Tuckerman Bulldogs, beating them 4-3 in a 13 inning marathon contest which took over three hours to play.
“You know Tuckerman came in as the one seed, and we're the four, so we were coming in here with our backs against the wall,” Mohawk Head Coach Alan Rabjohn said of the win. “I think there were a few of our fans, and a few of us guys on the bus, that felt we could win that game.”
Rabjohn noted he felt the squad was finally living up to their potential, adding “they came in and played like I have known they could all year. I finally got them to believe in what kind of a team we can be and we made some believers out of some folks with that game.”
Despite playing nearly two complete games, the Piggott pitching staff rose to the occasion.
“We got an outstanding performance from Dylan Bellers, he threw six innings and then Holden Tarno came in,” Coach Rabjohn offered. “Then we pitched a freshman, Brandon Palmer and I can't say enough about how he battled and came through it.”
The coach also had high praise for the way the team responded in the field.
“Hey, it was probably the best Mohawk baseball game I've been a part of in my three years as head coach. We made play after play, Clayton Kemp came up huge, and (Trey) Gossett, and I just can't say enough about our defense,” he added. “We won that game 4-3 and there were 206 pitches thrown in that game and only seven runs put up between two teams that usually put up a lot of runs. Our defense was excellent.”
For the Tribe's path to state things didn't get any easier in the second round, as they followed that up with another win over the talented Pirates, taking the contest over Gosnell 5-3.
“Then we draw another top 10 team in the state. We had Tuckerman first, and they were ranked sixth, then Gosnell at 10,” Rabjohn explained. “You know they beat us in a close game in the first of the double-header, then the second game was like a men's softball score. But, again we come in as the underdog but we were believers, we'd just come off our best game of the year and that's become our motto these days, just believe.”
Needing a good start to have a chance in the final, Rabjohn turned to junior right-hander Michael Palmer, who closed out the regular season with a no-hitter over Trumann.
“We came in and had an outstanding performance by Michael Palmer on the mound. We needed Michael to go five or six innings to give us a chance in this championship game, to have a chance to win. And, he threw a great game,” he offered. “Dylan Bellers also had two big home runs, one to put us up a run and the other to give us a little insurance. You got a kid like Dylan Bellers at the plate, a senior that's proven himself, he only sees a couple of good pitches a game and he found both those and was able to drive them out of the park.”
The victory over the Pirates earned the Tribe a spot in Friday afternoon's regional final, and a contest with the talented Manila Lions. With Tarno on the mound, the Mohawks battled but came up on the short end of a 9-2 decision.
“Manila is a heck of a team and my hat's off to them. They made all the plays, we hit ball after ball hard, we hit two or three really hard at their third baseman and we hit two or three really hard at Birmingham, their short stop, and he's a heck of a player,” Rabjohn said of the contest. “We had one inning where we had a couple of blunders and errors and they took advantage of it. But when you get to this level, to the championship level of tournaments, that's what baseball teams do-they take advantage of a couple of errors and that's how they came out on top. Hats off to them, they're a good club.”
Tarno took the loss, with Gossett coming on late in relief. One bright spot in the contest was a late homerun by Michael Palmer, accounting for one of the Mohawk runs.
The loss to Manila earned the Tribe a two-seed, and a first round contest with DeWitt at Harrison.
“We'll be the two seed, and we've set ourselves up to be successful, and we're playing the best baseball we've played all year right now and it's the perfect time for it,” the coach concluded.
Weather permitting, the Mohawks will take on the Dragons at 5:30 on Thursday at Harrison. DeWitt sports a record of 19-7 and they were 7-0 in conference this year, although they fell to Ashdown in the district tourney semi-finals. Later, they beat Fouke to gain the three seed entering this week's state tournament.