The North Little Rock Colts could have coasted, with their state-tourney berth a lock.
But they didn’t.
After losing their first game in the Area American Legion Tournament on Friday, the Colts rallied and won six straight, including two from Sylvan Hills on Monday to win the title.
As the host team, North Little Rock (30-10) was assured of a spot in this week’s state tournament at Burns Park.
“Our approach is if we are playing we want to win,” said Colts manager Robert Hopkins. “That was not in our mindset at all. If we have a game to play, we want to win.”
And that is what they did.
After losing to Cabot in the first round, the Colts defeated Conway, Jacksonville and Cabot to reach the finals where they topped Sylvan Hills 9-6 and 9-8. Jack Partlow, who had not played much with the older team this year, had a two-run single to break a 7-7 tie in the clincher. Jack Hopkins, who played at Arkansas Baptist, closed out both of the wins on Monday.
“One thing that made a big difference was we moved Ryan Johnson to the leadoff spot because of John Chapman’s injury,” he said. “Ryan has been hitting down in the order and we moved him to the top and he was on fire. He really sparked the offense.”
Johnson played high school baseball at Abundant Life School and was a redshirt freshmen at Dallas Baptist this spring. A second baseman, Johnson was moved to the top of the batting order when Chapman tore ligaments in his wrists during the final week of the regular season.
“He really took off,” said Hopkins.
North Little Rock, which did not practice Tuesday and Wednesday, opens play in the state tourney at 7 p.m. Friday against Blytheville, the runner-up from northeast Arkansas. Other teams in the tournament are Paragould, Bryant, Texarkana, Sylvan Hills, Rogers and Bentonville. Sylvan Hills open state-tourney play at 11 a.m. Friday vs. Paragould.
“We played 36 innings in two days and we used a lot of pitching,” Colts manager Robert Hopkins said. “You hear a lot of coaches say this, but it really was a team effort. We had a lot of guys come through for us.”
Landon Hearnes, Randy Freeland and Jack Hopkins were solid on the mound. Dillon Richardson, Gunner Allen and Johnson carried a lot of the weight offensively, he said.
Jacob Stripling, from Central Arkansas Christian, likely will be the starter in the first game.
“I threw him some early, but he will have about five days’ rest,’’ Hopkins said.