Lonoke is the second seed for this week’s Class 4A East Regional Baseball Tournament, and the Jackrabbits must beat Brookland in the Thursday’s 5:30 p.m. opener to return to the Class 4A State Tournament.
Chris Foor’s first Jackrabbit squad entered the regional 18-11 overall after tying Central Arkansas Christian in combined conference play at 12-2 and falling to the Mustangs in last week’s 2-4A District Tournament final, 6-5.
Brookland’s. Bearcats are 15-10.
First-round regional winners will move on to next week’s Class 4A State Tournament at Lonoke.
“I feel like if we play our game and stay fundamentally sound, we’re tough to beat,” Foor said. “Brookland’s No. 1 pitcher is a soft-throwing lefty, but he’s a true pitcher. He’ll throw 75, 76 mph, but he’ll change speed and change location. He can beat anybody.”
The winner will get the survivor of Jonesboro Westside, top-seeded from the 3, against Southside Batesville, fourth from the 2, in Friday’s 2:30 p.m. semifinal.
The top half of the bracket includes CAC, first from the 2, against Highland, fourth from the 3; and Heber Springs, third from the 2; against Harrisburg, second from the 3.
The regional championship is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday with the third-place game to precede the final at noon.
Last year, Lonoke lost to Hamburg in the opening round of the state tournament, 10-0.
“Five or six years ago, they made it to the finals, but since then whenever they’ve qualified for the state tournament, they’ve lost in the first round,” Foor said.
He said he had talked to a friend who coaches at Nettleton about the 3-4A competition.
“He said a lot of those teams are just solid hitting, solid defense, solid pitching,” Foor said. “They don’t have that one D-1 player that stands out, but they’re solid teams, and they can beat anybody.”
In the district tournament last week, the Jackrabbits pummeled Baptist Prep in the opening round, 18-1 in five innings.
“That was the one draw I truly didn’t want,” Foor said. “Eddie Stephenson is a heck of a coach; I respect that guy very much. We beat them the first time, 8-7, but we had to come back to do it, and we won the second one, 15-7, but they were leading going into the bottom of the sixth.
“So I called in some former players of mine who are left-handed, so we were seeing lefties all week, and my boys went in with a great approach and a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They felt like people were overlooking them all year.”
Kade Stuart picked up the win, throwing just 70 pitches in five innings. The Jackrabbits used an eight-run second inning to set the tone and added three runs in the third and seven more in the fourth. They finished with 11 hits and one error to the Eagles’ three hits and four errors.
Lonoke got off to another quick start in the semifinals in a 9-0 win over Heber Springs, starting with a three-run first. The Jackrabbits kept the offensive pressure on with two runs in the third, one in the fourth and three more in the sixth.
“They have a standout player, Pierce Mitchum, who leads the state in home runs, and the only hit Casey Martin gives up the whole night was one to him in the first inning,” Foor said. “He doesn’t allow another hit, strikes out six and only threw 85 pitches in seven innings. It was a really good performance. He also hit a homerun.”
The district final was the rubber match with the Mustangs. Lonoke won the first of the doubleheader, 2-1, with CAC taking the second, 6-2. This time, the game was tied 3-3 after six innings. In the top of the seventh, Martin belted a two-run home run, but in the bottom of the inning, CAC’s Braden Quesinberry delivered a one-out, three-run run for the game-winner.
CAC coach Hayden Cruce called it “a great high school baseball game.”
“They played really well; we played well; they made some plays; we made some plays, and we just happened to make the play when we needed it to end the ballgame,” he said.
Added Foor: “It’s a dogfight every time we play.”