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Never-say-die Lions pounce on opportunity

Gravette wins 4A North Regional baseball tourney by Mark Humphrey | May 16, 2023 at 6:30 a.m.
Mark Humphrey/Enterprise-Leader Gravette's baseball team celebrates a hard-fought, suspenseful, 6-5, win over Dardanelle in the 4A North Regional championship hosted by Gravette on Saturday, May 6, 2023. Both teams played double headers on that day, winning semifinals to advance. The Sand Lizards broke a 3-3 tie by scoring two runs in the top of the seventh before the Lions sustained a two-out rally to win on Isaiah Larson's walkoff RBI single.

GRAVETTE -- Bryan Bearden didn't mind taking an ice bath when a bucket got dumped over his shoulders in the postgame celebration following the Lions' spellbinding rally to beat Dardanelle, 6-5.

Gravette's head baseball coach could finally exhale with the conclusion of the 4A North Regional tournament hosted by the Lions. The Sand Lizards pushed the 4A-1 District champions to the limit to conclude a thrilling game on Saturday, May 6.

"I needed to cool off right there. The boys knew my blood pressure was up. They cooled me off and I appreciated it," Bearden said.

Gravette Flips Script

The Lions were down to their last out and got clutch hits to pull off a two-out rally to cap the ultimate baseball drama.

"We've got a bunch of young men who just don't quit, and they've done that all year. It was nothing different today. I knew coming into it, it was going to be a tough game because we had to play a doubleheader in the heat. I knew my guys were going to play the game the right way, and they did and it shows, coming out and getting a win. It's absolutely amazing. I'm super proud of those guys," Bearden said.

Gravette flipped the script, denying Dardanelle a third straight seventh-inning rally by scoring three runs in its last at-bat to win 6-5 and claim the regional title.

The Sand Lizards defeated Farmington (10-7) and Prairie Grove (6-5) by engineering seventh-inning comebacks to reach the 4A North Regional championship game on Saturday, May 6. In both contests, Dardanelle trailed going into the seventh but, in this game, Gravette incorporated that same formula -- although the Sand Lizards appeared poised to pull out a third straight regional win by scoring two runs in the top of the seventh to jump ahead, 5-3.

Dardanelle coach Phil Vega feels like his team may be better postured on the state tournament bracket as a No. 2 seed.

"We were able to plate two runs in the top of the seventh to take the lead. Anyway, we just didn't come up with a play or two short there in the bottom of the seventh to win the thing. But looking at the bracket, we're not in a bad spot. The two seed is a good spot; we get a bye to Friday and so I think we're going to be alright," Phil Vega said.

Dardanelle Takes Lead

Colvy Holt led off with a walk and advanced when Drew Vega bunted and reached on an error. Bearden opted to give Chris Miller an intentional walk, loading the bases and playing for a force-out.

Gravette reliever Hunter Roughton struck out Robert Millard on three straight pitches but gave up a 2-run single into left-center by Clayton Weatherford that put the Lions in a 5-3 hole.

"We competed our tails off. That's what I told our guys. It's nothing to be upset about and I've never seen anything like it, but three games in a row up here in the regional tournament when it came to the seventh inning, we had 9-1-2-3-4-5, which is all of our seniors, and those guys came through," Phil Vega said.

Roughton got out of the inning by striking out Creed Vega. He pitched two innings, allowing three hits and three runs while striking out five.

"He's done that all year and absolutely hasn't changed. He came to me before the game. He said, 'Coach, if you need me, I want the ball,' and I knew I could trust him with it. I continue to trust him with it at state when we get to go to Lonoke," Bearden said.

Lions Engineer Rally

The Lions went to work to make up the 5-3 deficit.

Hunter Robbins singled into right field with one out and Gunnar Woolard singled into right center.

Rhett Hilger hit a fly ball that was caught in left-center for the second out, but the never-say-die Lions pounced on an opportunity with two runners in scoring position.

Gravette tied the game at 5-5 when McCoy Kildow reached on an error when the throw went past first and both runs scored.

The Sand Lizards pitched around Justin Trucks, who was intentionally walked, but couldn't contain the next man, Isaiah Larson.

Larson became the hero, saving the day for Gravette when he singled on a grounder to center field, plating Kildow for the game-winning run.

Woolard started the game for the Lions, pitching five innings, allowing two runs on two hits and striking out nine.

Gravette scored six runs on nine hits, helped by three Dardanelle errors. Larson and Woolard each had multiple hits for Gravette, with Larson going 3-for-4 at the plate to lead the Lions in hits.

Team unity stood out in Bearden's memory.

"Just their togetherness. They're willing to play for each other. There's not a selfish kid on that team. If you play selfish baseball, you lose these type of games, and right there nobody was selfish, everybody was a team guy. They played for themselves and they played for each other, and that's good for me to see and I hope we continue that," Bearden said.

Successful Tournament

Dardanelle scored five runs on five hits in the game. Coming into the contest on Gravette's home field, Phil Vega said his team needed to execute the fundamentals.

"We're going to have to throw strikes, make the routine play and put the ball on the bat at the plate. The wind's kind of played a factor. Against Prairie Grove we had a couple of errors late in the game that resulted in a couple of runs," Phil Vega said.

Bearden expressed gratitude for community support in hosting the three-day regional tournament.

"I can't give you a list of names, but there's everybody who stepped up, all the way from our hospitality room to everybody making sure these kids were fed, making sure we have water and the stands were filled up tonight which was absolutely amazing and pinning it together with what our softball team did just shows you how tight-knit a community Gravette is, and it's amazing to see and hopefully we can do it for many more years to come," Bearden said.

The Lady Lions won the 4A North Regional softball championship, shaking Pea Ridge in the latter stages to win 3-0.

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