The Daily Citizen By Quinton Bagley

Sarah Bennett / The Morning News of NW Arkansas Harding Academy’s Matt Calhoun scores during Saturday’s the Class AAA state baseball championships at Baum Stadium at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The Wildcats defeated the Marmaduke 8-4.

Harding Academy defeats Marmaduke 8-4 to claim Class AAA state baseball title

FAYETTEVILLE – Many parents are proud when their child reaches a milestone in life such as a first step, a first word or a first day of school.

The same holds true for Harding Academy head coach Dennis Rine, who was all smiles Saturday after the Wildcats defeated Marmaduke 8-4 to claim the Class AAA state baseball championship at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville. It was Harding Academy’s fifth year of playing organized baseball.

Harding Academy’s J.T. Fisher, the game’s MVP, scored the Wildcats’ first run of the game in the bottom of the first inning. Fisher reached first on a single, advanced to third on a Marmaduke throwing error and then scored on a wild pitch to give Harding Academy a 1-0 lead after one.

The Wildcats, who finished the season 29-3, added another run in the second. After Josh Spears’ lead- off single to left field, T.J. Thompson reached on a fielder’s choice. James Dillard moved Thompson to second with a sacrifice bunt. Thompson then scored when Fisher hit a pop up to the short stop, who missed judged the ball and let it hit the ground. Harding Academy led 2-0 after two innings.

The runs continued in the third as the Wildcats added another run to their total. With two outs on the board, Ty Finley hit a triple to right field. With a runner in scoring position, Lance Carr picked up the RBI with a double to make the score 3-0 after three.

Marmaduke scored a run in the top of the fourth to cut the Harding Academy lead, but the Wildcats earned a run in the bottom of the fifth to remain three runs ahead.

After allowing another Greyhound run in the top of the sixth, the Wildcats took control with a four-run inning of their own in the bottom of the frame.

Thompson led off the inning with a triple to right field, then scored on James Dillard’s single. Dillard moved his way around the bases by stealing both second and third. He then scored on a double by Matt Calhoun. The other two Wildcat runs were scored by Calhoun and Braxton Bennett, who reached on a walk, on a fielding error during Carr’s at bat.

The Greyhounds threatened in the top of the seventh inning as they scored two runs, but a Wildcat double play and Dillard’s running catch ended Marmaduke’s hopes of a rally.

Bennett got the start for the Wildcats pitching four innings an allowing only one run. Lincoln earned the save pitching three innings and allowing three runs.

“This was Braxton’s [Bennett] regular start in the rotation,” Rine said. “But I knew Matt [Lincoln] could come in and do a good job for us as well.”

With the Wildcats leading in the seventh and the Greyhounds threatening, Rine said he was only mildly concerned about a Marmaduke comeback.

“I really wouldn’t say I was nervous,” Rine said. “I knew we had a big enough cushion and that Matt was going to battle on the mound.”

Being the humble man he is, Rine was quick to deflect the attention from himself to his players and staff.

“Personally it is exciting, but I am excited for these kids most of all,” Rine said. “Also, I have had some great guys to work with on my staff in coach Scott Diles and coach Jerry Laird. They have been a large part in our success this season.”

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/MICHAEL WOODS Harding Academy third baseman Josh Spears dives after a line drive during Saturday’s Class 3A championship game. Spears went 1 for 3 as the Wildcats defeated Marmaduke.


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