BENTON, Ar. — Harding Academy hasn’t been kind to Ashdown the past two baseball seasons.
The Wildcats (31-3) took advantage of Ashdown’s two fielding miscues Saturday at the Benton Athletic Complex to win their second straight state championship, 4-2. A year ago Harding eliminated the Panthers on a passed ball in the semifinals.
“Harding has won 27 games in a row; and they’re 31-3 on the year,” said Ashdown coach Eric Cross. “If you want to beat Harding you can’t make costly errors. We just had too many mistakes today. I love these guys (Ashdown players). I’ll go to battle with those guys any day.
Keilbach victim of defensive lapses
“Our pitcher (Alex Keilbach) was a warrior today. I’ve had him since seventh grade; he’s a great athlete. We’re a young baseball team with only four seniors. I think we’ll be back.”
Ashdown (26-7) scored first in the third inning. Keilbach and Derek Hilton singled home Spencer Patterson and designated player Nash Brown.
That lead held up until the fifth when two Panther errors contributed to Harding’s first three runs.
Catcher Issac Baker, Kyler Hoover and MVP winning pitcher Gavin Alveti drove the runs home. Alveti was the only Wildcat with two hits. The side-arm throwing Alveti threw the first five innings. He allowed three hits, walked one and struck out nine. His fastball was clocked consistently at 89 miles per hour. Kade Smith, another college prospect, pitched the final two innings. He gave up two hits and struck out three.
Harding Academy put ball in play consistently
Keilbach is more of a finesse pitcher. He allowed five hits in five innings. Three of the four runs he gave up were unearned. Keilbach walked three with no strikeouts.
“We didn’t strike out a batter until the seventh when (Derek) Hilton got one,” said Cross. “That was big, the two errors were big, we just didn’t play up to our ability.”
Ashdown has now played in the state championship game four times without a title.