Diamond Dogs falter down the stretch; miss playoffs

Diamond Dogs falter down the stretch; miss playoffs

It was a tale of multiple seasons this spring for the Greenwood High School varsity baseball team. They opened their 2024 campaign in early March by winning eight of their first nine games, then went on to win eight of their next eleven contests, including a 7-1 mark in 5A West conference play putting them in a first-place tie. Head Coach Brandon Brewer was no doubt pleased with his team’s strong start, and the future looked bright with just six games remaining on the league schedule.

The Bulldogs’ 16-4 overall mark was impressive, but that’s when things started to go south. The Diamond Dogs traveled to Mountain Home on April 16th and lost a pair of conference games to the Bombers, 7-3 and 5-4. Two days later they lost again in non-conference play to Bentonville, 18-3. They broke the losing streak with a win over league rival Alma, 11-8, but then lost the second game of that doubleheader, 4-3. That was followed by a twinbill loss at Greenbrier, 4-1 and 5-4, then a 2-1 loss at Springdale Har-Ber to close out the regular season.

That left the Diamond Dogs with a 17-11 overall mark and 8-6 in conference play, desperately clinging to the slim hope that Alma could somehow sweep Mountain Home in a makeup doubleheader, allowing Greenwood to slip in the back door to the playoffs. But the Airedales, who finished 4-10 in league play, lost twice to the Bombers, who earned the #4 seed to the state tournament, leaving the slumping Bulldogs sitting at home for the post-season. The GHS boys lost seven of their last eight games, including five of six in conference play.

“Our inability to close out games led to our demise,” offered Coach Brewer after his team was eliminated from postseason consideration. “Four of our six conference losses were by one run, and we had the lead late in all those games. When you miss advancing [to the playoffs] by one game, you look back at those losses and it stings. The ball bounced a lot in our favor last year, and this year it did not.

“Next year we must shore up our infield play and our timely hitting,” he continued. “[We had] too many guys left on base and too many free passes with walks and errors. [We just didn’t play] good baseball down the stretch. But I’m proud of our seniors. They carried themselves the right way, even through adversity. I will miss being around those four guys every day.”

The Diamond Dogs were a young, inexperienced team to start the season, with just four seniors on the roster. They were returning starters Braden Skaggs, Austin Bercher, Brady Pettigrew, and Austin Mitchell. That quartet lived up to Brewer’s expectations in the early going, helping the team get off to such a hot start.

“We’re a young bunch this year,” admitted the coach at the beginning of the season. “We’re going to have to cut our teeth early on some things, but the four [seniors] we have all started for us last year. They understand what we expect, and they’ve got to drag those young ones along with them.” And they did, but over two months a team’s weaknesses will usually get exposed, and the Bulldogs slumped at the wrong time, and it cost them.

Bentonville

After losing both ends of the doubleheader at Mountain Home on April 16th, the Bulldogs returned home and were pummeled by the Class 6A Tigers on the 18th, further dampening their spirits. The 18-3 non-conference beatdown didn’t change the league standings, but it was the first three-game losing streak of the spring. However, the season was still salvageable with four conference games remaining, two against Alma and two against Greenbrier.

Against Bentonville, the Diamond Dogs were in the game through three frames, trailing 2-1. The first two innings were scoreless before the Tigers scored twice in the top of the third and Greenwood responded with a solo run in the bottom half of the frame. GHS starter Brady Pettigrew and Bentonville’s Joey Manthe kept the lid on the opposing offense in the early going before the Tigers exploded for double-digit runs in the second half of the game.

Pettigrew pitched one out deep into the fifth inning and was charged with six runs on eight hits and three walks with three strikeouts. GHS errors led to a pair of unearned runs. He was relieved by a trio of hurlers, Aaron Taylor, Austin Mitchell, and Cooper Webb. Bentonville’s starter completed five frames of work, giving up just one run.

The Tigers added two more runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, then four more in the sixth and eight runs in the top of the seventh. The Bulldogs added their final two runs in the bottom of the seventh, dropping the lopsided 18-3 decision. The Tigers out-hit the Diamond Dogs by an 18-7 margin and outplayed Greenwood in the field, making just two errors to four for the home team. The visitors also had three homeruns and three doubles. Greenwood had two doubles and no homers.

At the plate, six GHS players accounted for seven hits and three runs. Austin Mitchell had two knocks, including a double. Ty Holt, Braden Skaggs, Brady Pettigrew, Austin Bercher, and Zack Zitzmann all had solo hits with Pettigrew picking up a two-bagger. Holt, Skaggs, and Grant Karnes all had solo RBIs in the loss. The Bulldogs put the ball in play, striking out just once in 29 plate appearances, but the Bentonville defense was mostly up to the task.

Alma game #1

Back to conference play on Tuesday, April 23rd, the Bulldogs hosted the Airedales and took game one, 11-8. Alma was held to six hits but scored eight runs with the help of four Greenwood walks and two fielding errors. Only three of the Airedales’ runs were earned. But the Bulldogs put the game away early with a seven-run outburst in the bottom of the first inning.

Grant Karnes started on the mound for Greenwood and went five innings, giving up six runs but only one earned on five hits. He also had five strikeouts and issued two walks. He was relieved by Austin Mitchell for the last two frames. The GHS reliever allowed two runs, both earned, on two walks and one hit with one strikeout.

Offensively, Greenwood had 13 hits and received eight walks and benefitted from three Alma errors and one unearned run. Freshman catcher Ty Holt led the way with three hits, including a double and an RBI. Brady Pettigrew had two hits, two RBIs, and scored a run. Zack Zitzmann also had two knocks, including a triple, with two RBIs and two runs scored. Likewise, Austin Bercher had two hits, a double and triple, plus two RBIs and a run scored. Finally, Austin Mitchell added a pair of knocks, including a triple, with an RBI and a run scored. Grant Karnes and Jackson Cole had solo hits, and both had an RBI and a run scored.

Alma game #2

In the nightcap, the Bulldogs led 3-1 after five innings behind the stellar mound work of Mason Moore but were unable to add on offensively against Alma reliever Piercen Howell, who entered the game with two outs in the second inning. He allowed just three hits and one run over 5.1 frames of work. Alma then scored twice in the sixth and once more in the seventh for the 4-3 conference victory, a serious blow to Greenwood’s playoff hopes. Alma out-hit the Bulldogs six to four and the home team made an unsightly five errors, allowing one unearned run.

Moore went 6.1 innings before being relieved by Austin Mitchell, who finished the game, but Moore took the hard-luck loss. He allowed all four Alma runs, three of them earned, on six hits and two walks with seven Ks. Greenwood scored twice in the bottom of the second and once more in the third before being shut out the rest of the way, mustering just four hits. Those knocks came off the bats of Grant Karnes, Brady Pettigrew, Jackson Cole, and Brady Morgan. Pettigrew and Cole both had doubles and Karnes had a triple. Pettigrew, Morgan, and Austin Bercher had solo RBIs.

Greenbrier game #1

Still in the hunt for a postseason berth, the Bulldogs traveled to Central Arkansas on the last day of April to take on the Panthers in a critical conference doubleheader for both teams. Each squad hoped for a sweep but needed at least a split of the two games to keep their playoff hopes alive. Starting pitchers Mason Moore and Carson Zachary kept the game scoreless until Greenbrier broke through with three runs off Mason in the bottom of the third inning. The Panthers plated their fourth run in the next frame, and two of their four tallies was unearned. Continuing a disturbing trend, the Greenwood defense made four costly errors.

Greenwood’s lone run came in the top of the fourth, scored by Brady Pettigrew. Grant Karnes, Jackson Cole, Austin Mitchell (2), and Zack Zitzmann all had hits for the Bulldogs. Karnes’ knock was a double. However, the Diamond Dogs received four walks, had three hit batsmen, and a Greenbrier error, but left 11 runners stranded. The 4-3 loss in the opener made the second game of the twinbill even more critical for the visitors.

Greenbrier game #2

GHS senior Brady Pettigrew toed the rubber for the Bulldogs in the nightcap and did a magnificent job for six innings, throwing 99 pitches, 60 of them strikes. But he took the loss when the Panthers scored four unearned runs in the seventh inning when Pettigrew was relieved by Austin Mitchell. A GHS error kept the inning alive, allowing Greenbrier to come from behind to steal a huge conference win in walk-off fashion, securing their place in the postseason and putting the Bulldogs’ season in jeopardy.

Greenwood scored once in the second inning and led 1-0 through five frames before scoring three additional runs in the top of the sixth, for a 4-0 lead. Greenbrier scored a run in the bottom of the sixth before its winning outburst in the seventh. The two teams combined for just nine hits in the pitcher’s duel between Pettigrew and Greenbrier starter Kane Griffin, who also went six innings. The Panthers won the game, 5-4.

At the plate, the Bulldogs got solo hits from Grant Karnes, Jackson Cole, Austin Mitchell, and Zack Zitzmann, the latter of which had two RBIs. Mitchell and Austin Bercher also had solo RBIs. The Bulldogs had four hits and received three walks plus two hitters plunked by Greenbrier pitching and left five runners stranded.

Springdale Har-Ber

With their conference schedule completed, finishing 8-6 in league play, the Bulldogs remained hopeful of qualifying for the postseason, however slim the odds. On Wednesday, May 1st, they traveled to Northwest Arkansas to take on the Class 6A Wildcats of Springdale Har-Ber. In what turned out to be their last game of the season, the Bulldogs lost a 2-1 pitching duel behind GHS starter Aaron Taylor, who went 5.1 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and two walks. Taylor was relieved by Cooper Webb, who recorded the last two outs of the Springdale sixth inning.

Har-Ber scored solo runs in the second and third innings, but only one of those runs was earned. Once again, the GHS defense was leaky and made three errors in the game. The Bulldogs scored their lone tally in the top of the fifth and had just five hits in the contest. They received a pair of walks and left five baserunners stranded in the non-conference loss.

Ty Holt, Jackson Cole, Brady Pettigrew, Braden Skaggs, and Zack Zitzmann all had solo hits in the contest, with Pettigrew and Cole stroking doubles. Holt had Greenwood’s only RBI. Zitzmann had a stolen base and scored the lone run. All that remained for the Bulldogs was to sit back and hope for a miracle in the makeup doubleheader between Alma and Mountain Home, a miracle that never happened.

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