Central Arkansas Christian is seeded third for its final run through the 7-4A District Baseball Tournament later this week.
Ryan Stauder’s Mustangs, who started the week 10-9 overall with a pair of non-conference games with North Pulaski and Mayflower scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, earned the third seed with a 4-3 finish in the conference and were helped by Pulaski Robinson’s 2-1 win over Arkansas Baptist. Malvern also finished 4-3, but CAC held the tiebreaker over the Leopards after a 9-7 win during the regular season.
The third seed gives the Mustangs a first-round bye. They must win their opening match-up against the first-round survivor of Baptist-Robinson in order to advance to the Class 4A South Regional next week.
“(Baptist and Robinson) just played, and Baptist losing helps us,” Stauder said. “Not having to use pitching in the first game is huge. We lost to Baptist (in the conference opener, 6-5), but we feel like it’s one of those games we want back.
“Jack Thomas wants to throw against Baptist.”
Ashdown won the conference championship at 7-0 and thus has the top seed for the district tournament, ahead of Arkadelphia, the defending state champion, which finished 5-2 (losing to Ashdown and Malvern). The top two seeds have a bye to the semifinals and thus an automatic berth to the regional.
CAC and Malvern are seeded third and fourth, respectively, followed by Nashville, Baptist, Robinson and Bauxite.
No. 5 Nashville will play No. 8 Bauxite in one first-round game Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Henderson State University; Baptist-Robinson will play at the same time across Highway 67 at Ouachita Baptist University. Malvern will then get the winner of Nashville-Bauxite at 4 p.m. Friday at OBU; CAC will get the winner of Baptist-Robinson at 4 p.m. at HSU.
Should CAC win that one, the Mustangs would advance to Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. semifinal at OBU against top-seeded Ashdown. Arkadelphia will face the other second-round winner at 3, also at OBU. Winners will play for the district championship at 4 p.m. Monday at OBU; losers will play for third place at HSU, also at 4.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Stauder said. “With everything we lost (to graduation last year), it’s been a building process throughout this season, and we’ve put ourselves in about as good a position as you could ask for. We’ll win or lose with our best guy on the mound and our best lineup and go from there.”
The top four teams from the district tournament will advance to the Class 4A South Regional at Star City against the top four from the 8-4A, with the top four from the regional then moving on to the Class 4A State Tournament.
Last week, CAC resumed play against Nashville on Tuesday after rain interrupted Monday’s contest in the bottom of the second inning. The Mustangs trailed, 1-0, when the game was postponed, but they made up for it in the resumption to take a 5-1 win.
“We came back and played really good defense Tuesday,” Stauder said. “Out of the five at-bats, we scored in four of those innings. Jack Thomas threw two innings the first day (30 pitches) and five innings the second, and he only needed 85 pitches total.”
Thomas allowed four hits, one run and no walks while striking out six.
“We played good defense behind him, error-free,” Stauder said. “A lot of times, we’ve been giving too many outs away.”
Jack Partlow went two-for-three at the plate with two runs and two doubles. He also scored the fifth run in the bottom of the sixth by stealing home. Braden Quesinberry went one-for-two with a walk and two RBIs.
But the Mustangs regressed in the conference finale at Ashdown on Friday, Stauder said, as they got run-ruled, 10-0, in six innings.
“We did not play well,” he said. “It was a long bus ride, and our young guys didn’t handle it well. They didn’t come ready to play.”
Ashdown scored 10 runs off five hits.
“We committed four errors, and that’s not counting mental mistakes,” Stauder said. “We just gave them way too much, and it ended up hurting us. That’s part of the learning process. We’ve been run-ruled five times this year by quality opponents, and we really shouldn’t get run-ruled that often.”