SPORTS EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of a series evaluating how local teams performed against top teams in the state. Prairie Grove reached the Class 4A State quarterfinal round in baseball before losing, 4-0, to eventual Class 4A State champion, Lonoke, while Dardanelle had a bye into the state quarterfinals and lost, 11-1, to Brookland, which reached the semifinals. The Tigers previously defeated Dardanelle, 10-1, in a nonconference game at home in Rieff Park on Friday, March 17.
GRAVETTE -- Both coaches expressed frustrations, some dating back to the 2021 and 2022 regionals as Dardanelle rallied to beat Prairie Grove, 6-5, in the 4A North Regional baseball tournament semifinals.
The Tigers lost a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, one out short of getting to the 4A North Regional baseball championship on Saturday, May 6, at Gravette.
Some of the controversy involved one pitch during an at-bat with Dardanelle's Drew Vega, who took a called strike, then watched ball-one and ball-two go by.
Prairie Grove coach Mitch Cameron thought the count should have been 1-2 instead of 2-1 at that juncture, and Drew Vega took another called strike which evened the count at 2-2 before on the next pitch he beat a throw to first to avoid the third out. Next, Chris Miller reached on an error. Those two miscues came back to haunt Prairie Grove because Robert Millard singled to drive in the tying run.
With two outs and the score deadlocked at 5-5, Prairie Grove replaced starter Ryder Orr, who was charged with the loss, allowing six runs on eight hits and hampered by two Tiger errors.
"Ryder threw outstanding. He came off after the third inning and he was like, 'What do you think we should do?' He felt like he couldn't get outs. We made some adjustments with him and he was able to grind through it and ended up throwing an outstanding game," Cameron said.
The next batter walked to load the bases and Dardanelle scored the game-winning run on Creed Vega's single to send the Tigers into the consolation game against Morrilton.
"They were hot and, man, we left a pitch out over the plate that they were able to hit. I thought that game should have been over before that. I thought we didn't get a [strike] call at the end of the game, which it is what it is. You got to keep playing. That gave them some momentum and we made the error up the middle, which prolonged it and plunked the pitch over the plate at the end to close it out," Cameron said.
In the opposite dugout, Dardanelle coach Phil Vega looked back even further, expressing frustration with what transpired in the 2021 and 2022 regionals that worked against the Sand Lizards.
"We had our nine hole up, which is a senior, then of course going back to the top of the order, 9-1-2-3-4 are all seniors, all four of them reached base safe and all four of them scored, which is huge. I've thought all along that bunch has been a really good bunch and we got a raw deal the last couple of years in regionals," Phil Vega said.
Prairie Grove trailed 2-0 going into the bottom of the third when Dardanelle doubled its lead.
Zane Rose singled into right center with one out. Two batters later, Miller belted a double. Prairie Grove held Rose at third, but Robert Millard walked to load the bases for the Sand Lizards.
Clayton Weatherford singled into right center to drive in a pair of runs and Dardanelle increased its cushion to 4-0.
Prairie Grove fought back in the top of the fourth. Orr hit a shot towards the shortstop, who bobbled the ball. A throwing error past first enabled Orr to go to second. He was replaced by a courtesy runner, who scored on Tate Benoit's single.
The Tigers proceeded to load the bases with one out. Asher Linn hit a single up the middle and Bryce Ledgerwood walked. Spencer Allen drove in a run when he was hit by a pitch, slicing Dardanelle's lead in half at 4-2.
Prairie Grove struck again in the top of the fifth. Conner Hubbs belted a leadoff stand-up double and Orr tripled to score Hubbs. Benoit knocked out a single to drive in the tying run, evening things up at four runs apiece.
Allen was back at it again in the top of the sixth. His leadoff single was followed by Tristan Hall's sacrifice bunt. Luke Vance singled into shallow right center to drive in the go-ahead run and Prairie Grove enjoyed a 5-4 lead.
The Tigers held onto their advantage for one inning but couldn't get through the seventh unscathed and absorbed the loss.
"I told our guys it was a well-fought game. It was competitive. We were in the game. It just didn't happen to go our way," Cameron said.
The Sand Lizards did the same thing a day earlier, in knocking off 4A-1 No. 2 seed, Farmington, 10-7, when they scored six runs in the top of the seventh.
"Today was not near as pretty. We played pretty good on Friday against Farmington, but the kids hung in there and as crazy as it was, it was the same exact situation today, same score, the only difference was we were the home team this time and we were able to scratch those two runs. Our seniors did a good job, stepped up and led our team and we came out victorious," Phil Vega said.