The never-say-die Benton Tigers scored three runs in the top of the seventh and went on to defeat the West Ouachita Chiefs 6-5 in the Class 4A semifinals at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Baseball State Tournament on Friday in Sulphur.
Benton (28-13), the No. 9 seed, will face the winner of the other semifinal between No. 3 DeRidder (34-7) and No. 31 Westgate (16-22) for the state championship at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at McMurry Park. West Ouachita, the No. 5 seed, closed its season 29-12.
Benton is making its first appearance in the state championship game since 2007 when the Tigers lost to Iowa 6-0.
Benton has played some dramatic, tension-filled games in the playoffs and Friday’s game was no exception.
The Tigers trailed 4-3 after each team scored a run in the sixth.
Benton, the designated visiting team, loaded the bases with one out on a walk by Peyton Long and back-to-back singles by Garrett Hable and Brennan Blaylock.
After a strikeout, JT Brice came to the plate. With a 2-2 count, Jack Walters, running for Long, scored on a wild pitch. During the same sequence, errors on the West Ouachita catcher and pitcher allowed Hable and Blaylock to come home for a 6-4 lead.
West Ouachita coach Mitch Thomas protested, but the runs were allowed.
The Chiefs scored a run in the bottom of the seventh with one out thanks to a walk and two errors. With runners at first and second, Kade Bailey induced a flyout and then struck out the final batter.
Benton finished with 10 hits to West Ouachita’s eight.
Hable, closing in on the end to a fantastic high school athletic career, had a big game, going 3-for-4. Clint Lasiter went 2-for-3 with an RBI. Blaylock went 2-for-4. Cade Scott had an RBI-double. Sam Simmons had a double. Brice had a single.
Andrew McPherson went six innings, allowing eight hits and three earned runs. He struck out five and walked one. Bailey struck out two and walked one for the save.
Peyton Parker led West Ouachita, going 2-for-4.
West Ouachita took a 1-0 lead in the first on two groundouts sandwiched between two singles.
Benton tied it in the third. Simmons led off with a double, advanced to third on Brice’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Lasiter’s single. The Tigers had a chance to do more damage but left the bases loaded.
West Ouachita loaded the bases with the outs in the fourth on a walk and back-to-back hit-by-pitches. But McPherson got out of the jam with a strikeout.
The Tigers took their first lead with a run in the fifth. Lasiter led off with a single and Scott followed with a double. Lasiter scored on Cody Norris’ sacrifice fly.
The Chiefs took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning. They tied it on a two-out single and scored the second run thanks to two errors.
Benton evened it a 3 in the sixth. Hable and Blaylock led off with back-to-back singles. Brice’s one-out single loaded the bases. Hable scored when Scott was hit by a pitch with two outs.
West Ouachita scored a run in the sixth on two singles and a sacrifice bunt, putting the pressure on the Tigers.
But as it has so often in the playoffs, Benton rose to meet the challenge.
Now, the Tigers are one win away from a state championship.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com