Bulldogs fall to Sheridan in semi-finals, 1-0
By Richard White
The Greenwood Bulldogs fell one win short of their goal of reaching the 6A state tournament finals in baseball. The Diamond ‘Dogs lost a 1-0 heartbreaker to the Sheridan Yellowjackets last Monday afternoon in one of two semi-final contests.
Sheridan (32-5) will now face Jonesboro (29-3) next Saturday morning at Baum Stadium on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville to determine the 6A state champion.
Head Coach Trey Holloway and his Bulldogs ended their 2017 season with a superlative 26-7 record. The loss to Sheridan snapped the team’s 18-game winning streak that started, ironically enough, with a 1-0 victory over Fort Smith Southside on March 27th.
Following their spring break trip to Georgia for the prestigious Rawlings Select Classic Perfect Game tournament, the Bulldogs were 8-6 overall before beginning their unbeaten run.
The semi-final contest with Sheridan featured the pitching artistry of two of the top high school juniors in the state with Greenwood’s Connor Noland facing Sheridan’s Tyler Cleveland.
Both righthanders were stellar, each hurling six scoreless innings until the ‘Jackets pushed across the decisive winning run in the top of the seventh. Noland allowed just five hits and one walk, while striking out seven Sheridan hitters.
But Cleveland was slightly better, limiting the Bulldogs to a lone single by Ryan Daggs in the third inning. He also issued just one base-on-balls and fanned eight Greenwood batters. Sheridan made the game’s only defensive error.
Cleveland retired the GHS lineup in order over the first two frames, but ran into trouble in the third after the lead-off hit by Daggs. He moved to second on a walk to Jake Smith, then Ronnie Berg was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs and the top of the order coming to bat.
But Cleveland induced a pair of fielder’s choice groundball outs and got a strikeout to wriggle off the hook. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it would be their one and only scoring opportunity, as Cleveland retired the next twelve batters in a row to end the game.
For his part, Noland allowed base runners in just three of seven innings, including a leadoff hit in the first, a single and a walk in the fourth, before yielding three consecutive hits in the seventh to the heart of the Sheridan batting order, resulting in the game’s only run.
The Bulldogs began state tournament play at Benton High School with a narrow 4-3 extra-inning win over the Marion Patriots last Saturday. Originally slated for Friday, the game was pushed back due to stormy weather. Cooper Van Kooten earned the pitching victory, his 10th of the season.
The GHS senior went all eight innings, giving just three hits and two walks while striking out 12 Patriots. Only one of Marion’s three runs were earned, with the Bulldogs making two errors, one of which led to a pair of unearned runs in the top of the sixth inning.
The game was 0-0 into the bottom half of the fifth, when the Bulldogs scored twice. The frame began with a single by catcher Jake Smith, who moved to second on a sac bunt by Ronnie Berg. After Smith advanced to third on a passed ball, freshman Colton Sagely drove him home with an RBI single.
Sagely then put himself in scoring position by stealing second base with one out. Van Kooten aided his own cause by making it 2-0 with an RBI single before a crazy 6-2-5-1-4 double play ended the inning.
But Marion responded with a trio of one-out hits in the sixth, followed by a Greenwood error to extend the inning, allowing a total of three runs to cross the plate for a 3-2 Patriots’ lead.
Greenwood put a runner on in the bottom of the frame, but did not score, while Van Kooten pitched out of a two-out jam in the top of the seventh to keep it a one-run game.
Ronnie Berg led off the home half of the seventh inning with a single to right center, and advanced to third on a hit by Sagely. Van Kooten then tied the score with a sac fly to centerfield, forcing extra innings.
In the eighth the Patriots went quietly on a popup and two strikeouts, setting the stage for a dramatic finish in the bottom half of the frame.
Senior designated hitter Cody Smith led off with a hit and stole second to put himself in scoring position with no outs. Dylan Montgomery then walked before pinch hitter Cameron Pugh singled to load the bases. After a popup to second, Jake Smith drove home the winner with a sac fly to center.
Despite the close score, the Bulldogs dominated the game offensively, stroking 13 hits to just three for Marion. Sagely and Cody Smith had three hits each and Peyton Holt added two hits, including a triple. Van Kooten led the team with two runs batted in.
Greenwood earned a first-round bye in the state tournament by winning the 6A West conference tournament, the last victory of which came at the expense of the Benton Panthers on Saturday, May 6th.
The Bulldogs plated a solo run in the first inning, two more in both the third and fifth innings, and a single tally in the sixth for a 6-3 victory behind the pitching of Cooper Van Kooten. He kept the Panthers in check, allowing just one earned run on eight hits and two walks, while fanning five.
A GHS error helped the visitors score twice in the second inning, both unearned runs. Benton then added another tally in the third to briefly tie the game at 3-3.
Offensively, the Bulldogs had 10 hits in the contest, led by sophomore shortstop Peyton Holt with three, two singles, a double, and two RBIs. Junior Connor Noland added two hits and two RBIs. Cooper Van Kooten added a triple and a pair of walks.
The Diamond ‘Dogs made it 16 wins in a row with a 3-1 victory over the Cyclones on Thursday, May 4th, also in 6A West conference tournament play.
The game was scoreless through 3½ frames, but Greenwood plated one in the fourth and two more in the fifth. Russellville scored a meaningless tally in the top of the seventh.
Connor Noland got the win for Greenwood, pitching a complete game, allowing one run (unearned) on five hits, while striking out eight Cyclones and walking none. The GHS defense made one error in the field.
The Bulldogs had only six hits themselves, with seniors Dylan Montgomery and Cooper Van Kooten accounting for two hits each. Van Kooten, Connor Noland, and Ronnie Berg had the team’s only RBIs.