Diamond ‘Dogs are off to winning start

Diamond ‘Dogs are off to winning start

Not counting their season-opening scrimmage in late February, the Greenwood Bulldogs are off to a solid 4-2 start after the first three weeks of the 2021 season. Considering last year’s Covid-19 debacle, for Head Coach Chad Mercado, his staff and players, it’s just great to be back on the field. Mercado was hired in June of 2019, but this spring will be his first full season with the Bulldogs after moving to Greenwood from Beebe, where he served as an assistant coach.

The Diamond ‘Dogs host Russellville this week (Tuesday) and Fort Smith Northside (Thursday) before the start of spring break, during which they will participate in a tournament in Central Arkansas, March 25-27. The Russellville date is scheduled as a 5A West varsity doubleheader, while Northside’s visit will feature both varsity and junior varsity non-conference games.

Greenwood is already 1-1 in league play after last week’s doubleheader split with the Greenbrier Panthers. They resume conference play after spring break with a road doubleheader at Van Buren on March 30th. The Pointers are joining the 5A West this season after reclassification dropped the school from 6A to 5A.

The Bulldogs broke out the bats in a big way in their February 25th scrimmage at home against Booneville. The Diamond ‘Dogs clobbered the Class 3A Bearcats, 20-2. Due to the lopsided nature of the score, the game was called early, and no official stats were kept.

The “official” season opener was played on March 2nd when the Class 4A Gravette Lions came calling in what turned out to be a low-scoring pitcher’s duel. Greenwood won 2-0 behind the strong mound tandem of senior starter Reed Carroll and junior Matthew Munday in relief.

Both righthanders, Carroll allowed one hit and zero runs over five innings striking out 11, while Munday threw two innings out of the bullpen for the save. But the pitching was solid on both sides. Greenwood’s duo struck out 16 Lions’ hitters, while Gravette pitching sat down ten Bulldogs on strikes. Greenwood held Gravette to just one hit in the contest.

The Bulldogs scored single runs in the third and the sixth innings, but had only three hits for the game, while taking advantage of three Gravette errors. A one-out single by senior Caden Brown set up the first run. Greenwood’s fastest player then stole both second and third base, then scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Chance Eoff.

The second run was aided by the Lions, starting with a walk to Reed Carroll leading off the sixth. A passed ball followed, advancing Carroll to second. Then with two outs an error allowed the Bulldogs to score their final run. Brown had two hits in the game, both singles, and Eoff had the other.

Two days later Greenwood hosted Fayetteville in a “Battle of the Bulldogs”, defeating the Class 6A Purple ‘Dogs, 3-0, despite getting only two hits in the game. Matt Munday and Bryce Morgan both had singles, but Munday’s hit drove home two runs in the third inning. The game’s first run scored in the second without the benefit of a hit. Reed Carroll was hit by a pitch, then advanced to third after another hit batsman and a wild pitch. Luke Brewer then sent a fly ball to right field for the run.

The Bulldogs held on to their lead behind another stellar pitching performance, this time employing the one-two punch of senior hurlers Chance Eoff, the team’s only lefthander, and Landry Jurecka, the team’s righthanded ace. Jurecka started and hurled four frames with one walk and five Ks on 59 pitches. Eoff then tossed three innings and threw 48 pitches with two walks and four strikeouts for the save.

Greenwood’s first loss occurred March 6th on the road at Owasso, Oklahoma, a 3-1 setback. The host Rams scored all their runs in their half of the first inning, and the Bulldogs got their only tally in the seventh. Senior Andrew Elliott had a single and double in the game and was the only Bulldog to cross the plate, driven home by Dylan Strozier, who also had two hits, both singles. Senior Hayden Weaver also had a two-bagger in the contest.

On the pitching side, Matt Munday started the contest and went six innings, taking the tough-luck loss for the Bulldogs. A leadoff double by Owasso in the first led to all three runs. It was the only hit in the frame, but was followed by a pair of walks, an error, and a couple wild pitches. Afterward, Munday settled in and gave up just five total hits, striking out four. But of his five walks issued, the first two crossed the plate. Two of Owasso’s three runs were earned.

Last Tuesday, March 9th, the Diamond ‘Dogs hosted Greenbrier for a conference doubleheader, winning the first game and dropping the second. Greenwood won the opener, 3-2, behind a complete game pitching performance by Landry Jurecka, but the Panthers rallied to win the nightcap, 6-2, to earn a split.

In game one the Bulldogs scored solo runs in the bottom of the first, third, and fourth innings. Greenbrier also scored twice in the top of the second, taking a brief 2-1 lead. Jurecka struck out nine Panthers over seven innings and issued just one walk. Both Greenbrier runs were earned. Jurecka finished at 104 pitches, 71 of which were strikes.

At the plate, the Bulldogs had four singles and three doubles to go along with a pair of walks, getting help from four Panthers’ errors. Munday, Elliott, and Brewer were all credited with RBIs. Munday, Elliott, and Reed Carroll all had doubles in the contest. Seniors Caden Brown and Chance Eoff both had singles and Bryce Morgan had a pair of one-baggers.

In game two, the visiting Panthers plated a three-spot in the fourth inning, one more run in the fifth, and two more in the seventh. Greenwood’s only runs came in their last at bat in the seventh. Starter Reed Carroll (3.2 innings) and Chance Eoff (3 innings) split the pitching duties with junior Jake Baxley recording one out in relief. Carroll gave up three earned runs and took the loss.

With the bat the Bulldogs didn’t have much to show, with only two extra-base hits, doubles by Caden Brown and Bryce Morgan. Brown also added a single as did Reed Carroll, and Eoff (2). As a team, the starting lineup fanned eight times. With two outs in the seventh, Morgan doubled and Brown singled in front of Eoff’s two-RBI hit.

Last Thursday Greenwood welcomed the Red Oak Eagles from Oklahoma and earned their fourth win of the season, 7-4, behind the combined pitching efforts of starter Matthew Munday (59 pitches) and a bevy of relievers. Lefty Chance Eoff threw 16 pitches, Jake Baxley 15 pitches, Hunter Houston 24 pitches, and Coleton Payton 12 pitches. Offensive stats were not available for the game, but Head Coach Chad Mercado later offered his take on his team’s start.

“We've played fairly well so far, but we definitely still have more gears to get to,” said the coach. “We've [mostly] pitched well and thrown strikes, which is our number one goal as a pitching staff. The defense has been fairly sound and will continue to improve, and our offense will continue to grow.

“We've had glimpses of what our offensive identity will be, so we're excited about growing throughout the season and peaking at the right time as we continue to get at-bats under our belts,” added Mercado. The new coach has high hopes for his 2021 Bulldogs who are just three years removed from winning a state championship in 2018.

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