The Greenwood Bulldogs varsity baseball team, along with Head Coach Chad Mercado and his staff, are angling to make the cut for the 2022 postseason that begins in less than a month, and right now they are on the outside looking in, holding down fifth place in the league standings with time running out. The top four conference teams qualify for the playoffs.
Coach Mercado offered the following comments about his players as they continue to strive for a state tournament bid. “We've gotten really consistent play from Braden Skaggs, Austin Mitchell, and Grant Karnes,” said the coach. “They've formed a really nice young core and have contributed every day. Austin and Grant both pitching and as position players and Braden being our leadoff [hitter].” Mitchell and Skaggs are both sophomores while Karnes is a freshman.
“Overall, our pitching staff has done a fine job challenging hitters and keeping us in games, which is evident by their staff 2.91 ERA. Opponents are hitting [just] .242 against us, which is excellent,” the coach added.
“We've grown offensively this year and added some dynamics to our baserunning and our approach at the plate. We've already surpassed last year's stolen base totals by 10, and we'll continue to add to that. We have several guys in new positions or come in and out based on pitching. Going forward our mission is to tighten up defensively and battle our way into the state tournament,” he concluded.
The Diamond ‘Dogs started the month of April with a non-conference game on the road at Springdale, one of many 6A schools Greenwood has faced this season. In fact, it was the second time the two schools had faced off this spring. On March 7th Springdale traveled to Greenwood, earning a 4-2 victory. On April Fool’s Day they completed a season sweep of the Bulldogs with another narrow victory, scoring a pair of late runs in a 5-4 win.
Aiden Sockey was the GHS starting pitcher and went the distance, throwing all seven innings, taking the loss. The sophomore hurler retired the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the first inning before his control deserted him, walking the bases loaded with two outs. An error, another walk, and a base hit followed, plating three unearned runs, giving the visitors an early 3-0 lead. Sockey then settled down and did not allow another run until the seventh inning.
Offensively, the visitors didn’t do much with the bats until the top of the fifth when the Diamond ‘Dogs knotted the score at 3-3. Sophomore Austin Mitchell led off the frame with a single and stole second base. With one out, Mitchell scored on an RBI single by Sockey, batting ninth. Leadoff hitter Braden Skaggs then reached by catcher’s interference, putting two runners on with senior Bryce Morgan coming to the dish. Morgan singled home Sockey and Skaggs later scored on a passed ball, tying the game.
Greenwood then took the lead with a solo run in the sixth inning with the help of two Springdale errors and a couple stolen bases. Sophomore Brady Pettigrew scored the go ahead run for a 4-3 GHS lead. Springdale left two runners stranded in the fifth and went down 1-2-3 in the sixth before a hit batsman opened the door for them in the seventh inning. The home team then got an RBI double to tie the score at 4-4 before loading the bases on walks. The game ended with a Greenwood error with two outs, allowing the winning run to score.
On April 5th the Bulldogs traveled to Central Arkansas to take on the Vilonia Eagles in a 5A West conference doubleheader, winning the first game, 10-2, then took the nightcap, 4-2, to even their league record at 3-3. Austin Mitchell manned the mound in the opener for Greenwood, going the distance for the pitching victory, allowing just two runs on four hits.
One of those runs was scored in the bottom of the first inning, giving the home team an early 1-0 lead. But the Diamond ‘Dogs tied the game in the second inning, taking advantage of an error, a hit batsman, a stolen base, and a passed ball. Junior Dawson Holt crossed the plate when the ball eluded the Vilonia catcher.
The Eagles scored their second and final run in the third inning and led 2-1 until the fifth when Greenwood pushed across a pair of runs without the benefit of a hit. Braden Skaggs and Bryce Morgan both scored to put the Bulldogs on top for good at 3-2. Greenwood scored three more insurance runs in the sixth on hits by senior Jay Wright, Aiden Sockey, and Braden Skaggs, then added four more tallies in the seventh on back-to-back hits by Skaggs, Morgan, and junior Harrison Adams after a walk and some sloppy defense by Vilonia allowed two runners to reach to lead off the frame. Braden Skaggs had two hits for the Bulldogs, as did Adams, who picked up two RBIs, along with Bryce Morgan.
Game two was much more of a pitcher’s duel with Brady Pettigrew making the start for Greenwood, going four innings before being relieved by freshman Grant Karnes. The GHS starter gave up single runs in the first and third innings, but allowed just four hits in the game. Karnes fanned six batters and walked only one, giving no hits while earning the save.
The Diamond ‘Dogs scored solo runs in the second, third, fifth, and seventh innings. Harrison Adams singled and later scored on a hit by Braden Skaggs in the second. Karnes doubled in the third inning, moved to third base on a wild pitch, and scored on a sac fly by Dawson Holt. The dynamic freshman then homered in the fifth, adding another hit in the seventh, advancing Bryce Morgan, who later scored to make the final, 4-2. Besides Karnes’ team high four hits, Braden Skaggs had two hits.
Fayetteville Purple Dogs
On April 8th the Diamond ‘Dogs hosted another non-conference 6A foe in the Purple Dogs after losing 6-1 at Fayetteville in early March. But Greenwood turned the tables the second time around, winning a close one, 8-6, behind starting pitcher Jay Wright, who went five frames for the win, allowing three hits and two runs. Junior Aiden Kennon relieved and pitched two innings, allowing four runs, but only two earned. Several errors by both teams allowed numerous runs to score in a sloppy defensive game. The Diamond ‘Dogs did manage to get nine hits in the contest.
Leadoff batter Braden Skaggs was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the first, then stole second and moved to third on an error before scoring on a single by Dawson Holt. After Fayetteville tied the score in the third, the home team pushed across two runs in the fourth with Austin Mitchell and Dylan Strozier both singling and scoring for a 3-1 GHS lead.
After the Purple Dogs plated a run in the top of the fifth, Greenwood appeared to put the game away in the bottom of the frame with four more runs, getting a walk and five of their nine hits in the game. Skaggs, Karnes, Holt, Harrison, and Mitchell had the hits sandwiched around a walk to Morgan, putting the Diamond ‘Dogs ahead, 7-2. But Fayetteville wasn’t done.
With two outs, the Purple Dogs rallied in the sixth inning to push across three runs, benefitting from one hit, a walk, a passed ball, and a pair of GHS errors. The Bulldogs added their eighth run in the sixth inning, scored by Grant Karnes, who singled and stole a base to put himself in scoring position, later reaching home on a passed ball. Fayetteville then scored its last run in the top of the seventh on a pair of base hits. Karnes, Holt, and Mitchell had two hits each in the GHS victory, with Holt driving in two teammates.
Siloam Springs Panthers
On Tuesday, April 12th, the Diamond ‘Dogs returned to conference play by hosting the Panthers of Siloam Springs in a 5A West doubleheader, splitting the two contests. The Bulldogs survived a sloppy defensive performance for a 5-4 victory in game one, while the Panthers won 7-5 in game two. The split made the Bulldogs 4-4 in league play at the time.
In the afternoon opener Austin Mitchell got the start for Greenwood but not much defensive support. The GHS defense was charged with four errors in the game, starting in the top of the first inning when the Panthers scored all four of their runs, every one of them unearned. Mitchell was perfect thereafter, hurling six shutout innings, allowing just six hits.
Down by four runs early, the Bulldogs responded with a pair of runs of their own in the bottom of the first, then added another tally in the second, but still trailed 4-3 over the next four innings until the bottom of the seventh when they plated the tying and winning runs for a walk-off victory. Greenwood finished with seven hits and took advantage of four walks and two Siloam Springs errors, though four of their five runs were earned.
Centerfielder Grant Karnes led the ‘Dogs with two hits. Braden Skaggs, Austin Mitchell, Harrison Adams, Dylan Strozier, and sophomore Austin Bercher all had solo hits. Bryce Morgan, Mitchell, and Strozier had one RBI each while Skaggs, Morgan, Strozier, Bercher, and senior pinch runner Sam Forbus all scored a run each.
In the nightcap, Coach Mercado employed four hurlers and the GHS defense allowed the Panthers to score three unearned runs in the 7-5 loss. The Bulldogs made two errors at critical moments in the game, but so did Siloam Springs. The Panthers’ three errors led to two unearned runs for Greenwood. Brady Pettigrew opened on the mound for the Diamond ‘Dogs, followed by junior Aiden Kennon, Grant Karnes, and Aiden Sockey.
Pettigrew went three frames and was charged with three runs, all earned. Kennon pitched 1.2 innings, allowing no runs. In one inning Karnes gave up four hits and four runs but only one earned, before Sockey finished the game retiring four of the five batters he faced. Pettigrew took the pitching loss.
The Diamond ‘Dogs scored first with a run in the bottom of the opening frame, only to see the visitors plate three runs in the top of the second. Another GHS run in the bottom half of the second made it 3-2 before the ‘Dogs tied it at 3-3 in the fourth. But after a scoreless fifth for both squads, Siloam Springs pushed across four runs in the top of the sixth off Karnes with the help from some poor defense by the home team. Trailing 7-3, the Bulldogs then scored single runs in the sixth and seventh innings but still came up short.
Both teams reached double digits in hits with Siloam Springs out-hitting Greenwood 12-10. Braden Skaggs had a stellar game, going 4-for-4 while scoring two runs and driving home two more. Harrison Adams also had multiple hits (2) and scored a run. The other hits were by Dawson Holt, who also had an RBI, and Aiden Kennon, Dylan Strozier, and Austin Bercher. Senior Jake Baxley also scored two runs.
Last Thursday, April 14th, the Bulldogs traveled to Northwest Arkansas to take on Class 6A Bentonville, but the return trip was less pleasant after suffering a 14-3 thumping by the Tigers. Greenwood had just three hits in the contest against Bentonville pitching while the GHS combination of starter Jay Wright and relievers Aiden Kennon and Brady Pettigrew gave up 12 hits and six walks, made even worse by two Bulldogs’ errors.
The game began in typical fashion, with a scoreless first inning. Both squads scored a single run in the second inning and Bentonville led 3-2 after three frames. Greenwood then tied the score in the top of the fourth, but Bentonville broke through with five tallies in the bottom half of the inning. They added six more runs in the fifth to invoke the mercy rule and end the game with an 11-run non-conference victory. The Tigers also out-hit Greenwood by a 13-3 margin. Bryce Morgan, Harrison Adams, and freshman Isaiah Arrington had the knocks for the Bulldogs.
Schedule and standings
The Bulldogs are in the homestretch of their schedule with only three more conference doubleheaders remaining, including this past Tuesday at Mountain Home. They were also slated to travel to Rogers-Heritage on Thursday of this week. Results of those games will be published in a subsequent article.
Greenwood will host the Alma Airedales next Tuesday in a 4:30 p.m. start. It will be their only scheduled action of the week. The following Tuesday they will travel to Greenbrier to close out the conference season before hosting Rogers-Heritage on Monday, May 9th, just prior to the start of the 5A state tournament on May 12th at Hot Springs Lakeside High School.
The Bulldogs are presently battling for the fourth and final playoff slot awarded to the 5A West. Greenbrier and Van Buren are currently tied for first place, followed by Mountain Home, two games back. Greenwood and Russellville are vying for fourth place with the Cyclones holding a one game edge over the Diamond ‘Dogs.
Alma is seventh in the league standings and Greenwood needs to win both games over the Airedales next week before taking on first-place Greenbrier the following week. Likewise, Russellville is playing last place Vilonia next week before traveling to first place Van Buren to close out their conference slate. Whichever team fares better in those four games will likely earn the league’s final playoff spot, though the standings and schedule favor the Cyclones at present.