Baseball season ended for Lonoke on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Class 4A State Tournament.
After the 4-2 loss to Nashville at City Ball Park in Lonoke, Chris Foor’s first Jackrabbit squad finished 21-13. With its 5-1 first-round win over Pottsville, Lonoke won the school’s first state tournament game since 2012.
“It was definitely a very good year,” Foor said. “It’s not how we saw it ending, but that’s just how the ball bounces.”
Lonoke, third seed from the East, beat Pottsville, third from the North, in the first round, 5-1.
“We had a great outing from Kade Stuart,” Foor said of the opening round. “He threw 65 pitches over 6 1-3 innings. He epitomized what we believe as a pitching philosophy — throw strikes, get ahead and make them hit your pitches.”
The Jackrabbits went up 3-1, helped by a big Kameron Cole hit. In the sixth, Casey Martin added a two-run home run — his 10th of the season — to seal the win.
“I thought at 3-1 we were pretty secure,” Foor said. “Right before Casey hit his home run, their best hitter had come to the plate and hit a double down the left-field line. Kam gets the ball and throws a perfect relay to Casey. Casey then threw probably the best relay I’ve ever seen. It came back up with so much backspin, and we got the guy out by two feet. You could just see their dugout die.”
The Jackrabbits had previously last won a state tournament game in the 2012 semifinals against Pulaski Academy, 8-7 in 12 innings. They went on to fall in the championship game to Shiloh Christian, 4-0.
Foor said the Jackrabbits were in a great situation after the first round with their top three pitchers — Martin, Stuart and Haven Hunter — set.
“Then the monsoon came,” Foor said, referring to the washout of Friday’s quarterfinals, moving them to Saturday. “We had our three front-line pitchers all ready to go in back-to-back innings. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
Against Nashville, top seed from the South, the Jackrabbits went up 1-0 in the top of the first inning when Tallon Swint’s RBI single scored Dalton Smith, who had reached on an error. But they stranded two runners. After the Scrappers put their first two batters on base in the bottom of the first, they got both home on a groundout and a single for a 2-1 lead.
The Jackrabbits loaded the bases in the second but hit into a double play.
Lonoke left the bases loaded in the fourth and tied the game at 2-2 in the top of the fifth. Haven Hunter reached on an error; Keith Lingo followed with a two-out RBI single to left. The Jackrabbits stranded two more. Nashville took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth thanks to a double and an error. After the Jackrabbits went down in order in the top of the sixth, the Scrappers added another run with a two-out triple, walk and RBI single. In the top of the seventh, the Jackrabbits got Hunter on base with a single and Stuart with a walk, but Swint hit into a 6-4-3 double play, and the game ended with an infield pop-up to the pitcher, 4-2.
“We left 10 runners on base, and we didn’t leave that many on all year long,” Foor said. “This team can hit, and if we weren’t hitting, they were going to do something to move the runners around and to bring them in. I tip my hat to the Nashville starter (Tyler Hanson). He induced ground balls, threw strikes and pitched very well.
“But I think the game was won and lost on two key errors. (In the first inning), we walked the leadoff batter and next got a one-hopper to the second baseman. I don’t think we could draw it up any better, but his feet went out from underneath him, and both runners wound up scoring.
“Then we’re tied 2-2 in the fifth and they get a double. I bring in Casey (to relieve Hunter), and one young man who has not thrown a ball away all year somehow guided the ball to first and missed it quite a bit. Those were the next two runners to score.
“I thought we hurt ourselves more than they beat us. Hit-wise, runner-wise, pitcher-wise — take those two plays out, and we were the better team.”
The Jackrabbits out-hit the Scrappers, eight to four, but Nashville also got four men on base with walks.
Lonoke graduates six seniors: Martin, Hunter, Lingo, Cole, Ryan Truelove and Caleb Horton. Martin will play for the University of Arkansas next year; Hunter has signed to play junior college ball for Eastern Oklahoma State.
But the Jackrabbits won’t be starting over next year.
“I feel like we have experience,” Foor said. “These sophomores and juniors, and even some of my freshmen, played a lot. I started two freshmen at DH and catcher. Several of them weren’t starters on the field, but they all logged serious and crucial innings.
“After we lost, a couple of my younger kids said, ‘Coach, when do we start our throwing program?’ I looked at them and told them to take a week or so and rest, and they said, ‘Coach, we know we’re going to have to contribute. We know we’re going to be great, and we’re ready to start.
“I see kids who got a taste of the Kool Aid and want to be great.”
After a year at Lonoke, Foor, who came from an assistant’s position at Sylvan Hills, seems to have the same attitude.
“I love that I’m at Lonoke,” he said. “People say that as a political statement, kind of a general go-to statement, but I truly love the people of Lonoke, love the kids, the enthusiasm, the energy. It’s that way in the high school, and then on the game field, the kids are like sponges, wanting to learn, wanting to do better.
“They want to build on the success they’ve had in the past. I thank the seniors on this team because they’ve laid the foundation for what we want to grow and be. I’ve got one word to summarize this team — ‘heart.’”