The Hurricane wiped out a four-run deficit with three runs in the sixth and two in the seventh for a 5-4 win against Greenwood in the 6A State Tournament championship game at the University of Arkansas’ Baum Stadium.
The win capped the first state baseball championship for Jonesboro, which lost in 2005 in its only other appearance in the final.
Greenwood was playing in its 10th championship and second in three years. In 2011, Greenwood also lost a late lead and fell to current Razorback pitcher Landon Simpson and Magnolia, 3-2.
Saturday, Greenwood’s Chris Hunt and Jonesboro’s J.D. Rainwater locked up in a pitchers’ duel for 4 innings.
Hunt allowed just three hits through five innings. Rainwater allowed just a single by Michael Rhea through four innings before the Bulldogs broke through.
The first eight batters reached for Greenwood in the bottom of the fifth for the first offense managed by either team. Austin Pittman led off the inning with a walk on a full count. Chris Davis rifled a single to right and Michael Nelson blooped a single to left, after missing two attempts to get a bunt down, which loaded the bases. Senior Austin Warren shot a single to right through a drawn-in infield, scoring Pittman and Davis for the first runs of the game. Courtesy runner Jonathan Clemons motored to third on the hit, and Warren took second on the throw home.
Mason Copeland followed with a base hit, scoring Clemons, but Warren was gunned down by a perfect throw from left fielder Matthew Fitts. Copeland took third on a wild pitch, Hayden Harvey walked, and Rhea’s bunt single scored Copeland. Ethan Clark followed with another bunt single to load the bases with one out, but a strikeout and a ground ball allowed Jonesboro to escape further damage although Greenwood’s lead seemed larger than 4-0.
"It was only 4-0 because we left them loaded, and that’s why it felt like it was more," Greenwood coach Randy Gardner said. "We were in the middle of the order, and have a strikeout. If we get a fly ball, we get another run. I don’t know what it is but 5-0 is a lot different than 4-0."
Hunt coasted through the first two batters in the top of the sixth before Reed, a move-in from Wynne, doubled off the wall in left center. Rainwater followed with a sharp ground ball in the hole, but Harvey kept the ball in the infield with a diving stop and Rainwater barely beat the throw to first. Catcher and Most Valuable Player William McCauley followed with his first home run of the season into the Razorbacks’ bullpen to cut Greenwood’s lead to 4-3.
"We got up 4-0 and had all of the momentum," Gardner said. "If we get that last out in the sixth inning, we’re having a different conversation. They got a hit, then the next guy got a hit, and then the home run. That gave them all of the momentum and they’re down just a run."
McCauley’s homer was the lift Jonesboro needed.
"It was unbelievable," Jonesboro head coach Mark Dobson said. "Greenwood’s good and I think we came out in a tight game and were a little tired. Hunt was striking us out all over the place. We were having a hard time putting the ball in play. We started thinking once it got down to the sixth inning that we were going to have problems.
"Then McCauley, a senior with a great heart, really stepped up and hit his first home run all year long. It was smashed, and it came at the right time. You couldn’t write a better story."
Greenwood threatened in the bottom of the sixth, too, but lost another runner at the plate when Clemons was thrown out attempting to score on Harvey’s single to Fitts in left again.
"The kid made two perfect throws," Gardner said. "With two outs I definitely don’t regret sending him because we would need a hit to score him anyway. There hadn’t been many passed balls or anything. That’s why they won the game. They made a couple of more plays than we did. They played one more inning better than we did."
Jonesboro started the top of the seventh with a ground out before three straight walks loaded the bases. Pinch-runner Brendan Brecklein tied the game, scoring from third on a wild pitch. After another walk loaded the bases, McCauley’s two-out single to right scored Sam Barre for a 5-4 lead.
"We wanted to attack the baseball," Dobson said. "Maybe that’s a good thing at this point in time. We had problems at the first of the season. We were down in every game. Maybe that’s just us to be down and have to come back."
Greenwood then went in order in the bottom of the seventh.
"Hats off to Jonesboro," Gardner said. "They played the whole game and made a couple of things happen. They did a good job. We had two outs the inning after we got four runs, and didn’t score. They came up with two outs and nobody on and managed to get three runs in the sixth. That was how they won the game."