Another outstanding season ended in frustration for the Benton Tigers on Saturday.
Needing one win to advance to the semifinals for the first time since moving up to Class 4A in 2008, Benton lost Game 2 of the best-of-3 series 4-3 and then fell 7-2 in the decisive Game 3.
Top-seeded Benton, which defeated Neville 8-2 in Game 1 Friday night, was eliminated in the quarterfinals for the fifth straight year. The Tigers, who won their fifth straight District 1-4A title, finished 32-9.
Neville (23-16), the No. 8 seed, advances to the state tournament in Sulphur. The Monroe Tigers will play No. 21 Salmen, which swept No. 29 Carencro, in the semifinals.
The losses brought to an end the high school careers of several Benton players who have contributed to the Tigers’ phenomenal success over the past few years. Among those are pitcher Will Hine, infielder Conner Jack Smith, outfielder Coleman Nerren and outfielder Hal Gatti,
Benton managed just two hits in the 4-3 loss but still had a chance to prevail.
Neville took a 4-1 lead on a two-out, two-run double by John Henry Hebert in the bottom of the fifth. Benton, which was the visiting team in the first game, then got within one with two runs in the top of the sixth.
Garrett Hable led off with a walk, advanced to third on Gatti’s double and scored on Sam Simmons’ groundout. Gatti then scored on an error. Neville’s Michael Haynes got a groundout and flyout to end the inning.
Benton batters all made contact in the seventh, but none reached base. The Tigers had 13 flyouts in the game.
Benton loaded the bases with one out in the first inning on two walks and a hit batter, but the Monroe Tigers turned a double play to end the threat.
Benton took a 1-0 lead in the second on Kade Scott’s two-out single that scored Simmons.
Neville tied it in the bottom of the inning on two singles, a walk and a fielder’s choice. Benton left two on base in the third.
The Monroe Tigers took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on Cole Clary’s RBI single. An error contributed to the run.
Benton starter Cameron Ross, a freshman, allowed eight hits and three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Turner Toms didn’t allow a hit and struck out two in 1 1/3 innings of relief.
Benton dug itself an early hole in the second game. Neville scored three in the first on just one hit. The Monroe Tigers took advantage of two hit batters and two errors.
Benton missed an opportunity in its half of the first, leaving the bases loaded. A flyout ended the inning.
Neville took a 4-0 lead in the second thanks to a single and double.
Benton scored one in the the bottom of the inning. Nerren led off with a walk, advanced to third on Peyton Long’s single and scored on Scott’s groundout. Long moved to third on Smith’s sacrifice bunt but was left stranded.
Benton also had a chance to score some runs in the third after Cole Horton and Hable led off with singles. Gatti’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners up a base, but Neville’s Conner Wyly ended the threat with two strikeouts.
Wyly relieved starter Haynes with one out in the second. Haynes made his presence felt at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two RBI.
Neville added an unearned run in the fourth for a 5-1 lead. Benton threatened again in the fifth on back-to-back two-out singles by Gatti and Simmons, but once again Wyly came up with a big strikeout.
Another Benton error contributed to a Neville run in the sixth and the Tigers made it 7-1 on Wyly’s leadoff homer in the seventh.
Benton didn’t go quietly, though. Hable homered with one out and Gatti singled. But a flyout and strikeout ended Benton’s season.
Benton finished with nine hits. Gatti went 2-for-2 and walked once. Hable went 2-for-4. Scott had a one-out double in the sixth but was left stranded.
Benton junior Kade Bailey pitched seven solid innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs while walking just one.
— Russell Hedges, email@example.com