Friday, May 19, 2017


Leader sports editor

FAYETTEVILLE– It started at 10 a.m. and took only 88 minutes for the Cabot Panthers to win their very first baseball state championship game Friday at Baum Stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas. In a rapid-paced pitching duel, Har-Ber High got one more hit than Cabot, but the Panthers were more efficient, pulling off a 2-1 victory to open championship weekend at the U of A.

Cabot scored the game’s first two runs, and pitcher Logan Gilbertson controlled the Springdale Har-Ber lineup the rest of the way, earning the championship game Most Valuable Player Award.

This year’s seniors were coach Ronnie Goodwin’s first class that he coached all four years. He told them when they were freshmen they had the talent to win the school’s first championship, and they proved him right on Friday.

“I think I’ve coached less this year than ever before,” said Goodwin. “My assistant coaches have really done all the coaching, and these kids just know how to play ball. I’ve managed personalities and stuff like that, but the best thing I could do with this group is stay out of the way and let them play.”

Gilbertson went the distance on the mound, giving up four hits while striking out three and walking three. It was a solid performance, if not his most dominant, but he had supreme confidence in his teammates when the Wildcats threatened.

“I knew coming into it I felt like we were the better team,” Gilbertson said. “We were so ready for this. They came out early swinging it really well. I didn’t really feel any pressure. There was that one inning things got a little harry, but I knew we were going to get out of it. We usually do. Our defense has always had my back. I just have to make good pitches and let them do the work.”

Har-Ber’s last serious threat came in the fourth inning after Cabot had built a 2-0 lead. Caleb Kimbel singled and Caleb Grace popped up to third base. Lincoln Rasmussen and Mac McCorskey then hit back-to-back singles to load the bases with one out.

Jacob Williams then hit a fly ball to deep center field to score Kimbel to make it 2-1 with two outs. Leadoff hitter Blake Thompson then roped a line drive to right field, but right to Clayton Gray for the third out.

The Wildcats (21-11) scarcely touched the ball the last three innings, getting two base runners on Gilbertson walks, but never advancing anyone beyond first base.

“Once we got to about the fifth inning, it seemed like my guys just coasted,” Goodwin said. “You see teams sometimes, late games they’ll huddle up. We just kept going about our business. This team, there hasn’t been anything yet that’s rattled them. They’re just a confident group. We talk about that fine line between confidence and cockiness. We may flirt with it occasionally, but this has been a team that just doesn’t flinch.”

Cabot (26-7) got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning after Gilbertson sat down the Wildcats in just seven pitches in the top half.

The four Cabot batters all reached base, but only one run scored because of a 4-6-3 double play hit into by two-hole hitter Kyler Franks.

With two outs and nobody on, catcher Denver Mullins was hit by a pitch and replaced on the bases by courtesy runner Caleb Harpole. Cleanup hitter Dillon Thomas then ripped a two-strike double to the wall in left-center field, scoring Harpole all the way from first base for the 1-0 lead.

Har-Ber was in business after a single and an E2 started the top of the second.

The Wildcats tried to bunt the runners up a base, but Cabot had the corners in tight, and first baseman Bobby Duncan was able to get the lead runner at third.

Two fly balls ended the rally, Duncan then got a 0-2 base hit to center field to lead off the bottom of the second, and Evan Hooper walked.

Eric Larsen struck out and Kyler Franks flew out to left field, but Duncan was able to score before the last out, moving to third on wild pitch and touching home after a passed ball for a 2-0 lead.

Mullins, who is a four-year starter who has been in the postseason every year of his high school career and made the semifinals once, has a unique perspective on how hard it is to win a championship.

“So much time and so much hard work has gone into this, it just seems unreal,” said Mullins. “For it to come true is just amazing. Maybe it’s going to hit me later, but right now it feels unreal.”

Mullins expected a close, low-scoring game, and his experience proved to be a good predictor.

“Yes, I did,” (expect that type of game) Mullins said. “We knew they had a good guy on the mound, but we knew our guy was good, too. So we knew it was going to be a dog fight the whole game.”

Thomas got two of Cabot’s three base hits and the only extra-base hit for either team the entire game.

Kimbel led Har-Ber, going 2 for 3 with two singles.