By Kevin Bohannon | Photo by Jimmy Jones
Over the next two days we will take an in-depth look at each state championship game that will be played at the Benton Athletic Complex Thursday through Saturday.
Woodlawn Bears vs Bigelow Panthers
When: Thursday at 10:00 am
Records: Woodlawn 26-6 Bigelow 15-8
Coaches: Woodlawn: Tommy Richardson Bigelow: Craig Neumeier
Road to Benton: Woodlawn: 8-2A Conference Champions, 3rd Place 2A South Regional, defeated St. Joseph 15-1 in First Round, Riverside 7-3 in Second Round, Buffalo Island Central 6-3 in Semi-finals.
Bigelow: 5-2A Conference Co-Champions, 4th Place 2A Central Regional, defeated Dierks 8-4 in First Round, Rector 11-1 in Second Round, McCrory 10-4 in Semi-finals.
Analysis: While Woodlawn was expected to reach the title game for the sixth straight season, Bigelow was a talented middle-of-the-pack team that has played at a high level when it means the most. Woodlawn head coach Tommy Richardson is gunning for his ninth state championship, and this may have been his best coaching job to date. Senior Cale Edmonds was lost for most of the season due to an elbow injury but returned in the Bears’ first-round state tournament game against St. Joseph. Since returning, Edmonds has hit .700 for the tournament and appeared in all three games on the mound including the last five innings against Buffalo Island Central.
Richardson needed underclassmen to step up in the place of Edmonds, and they have responded. Freshman Tate Hall was 2-4 in the semi-finals and has played like a veteran all season.
Bigelow appeared on the radar after starting 4-0 in conference play before losing to Southside Bee Branch. They recovered and defeated previously unbeaten St. Joseph 6-5 to claim a share of the regular-season conference title. A 1-2 showing in the 2A Central Regional Tournament did not discourage Coach Craig Neumeier’s bunch. They quickly dispatched 2A South regional champion Dierks in the first round 8-4 before getting a superb pitching performance from Sophomore Beau Billeck in an 11-1 win over Rector in round two.
The “team first” moniker gets thrown around a lot in high school sports, but the Panthers really believe the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. Senior Hunter Alexander shifted to catcher for the first time since his freshman year in the semifinal victory over McCrory. After its victory, Coach Neumeier said, “This group has been like this all year…even with getting things on and off the bus, everybody has accepted their roles.”
While some may see this as a “David vs Goliath” matchup, the Panthers feel they have been tested all season and seem to play their best in the biggest games. The stage doesn’t get any bigger than this week…A stage Woodlawn has been on six straight years.
Prediction: Both teams have pitchers they can turn to if their starter gets in trouble and that could keep the game close should that happen. I have a feeling this game will go down to the wire, but in the end, experience wins out. I am going with Woodlawn.
Conway Wampus Cats vs Bentonville Tigers
When: Thursday at 4:00 pm