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Bulldogs fall in quarterfinals, bid farewell to head coach
Greenwood’s 1st baseman Max Higgins and 3rd baseman Jake Harrel in action during last Thursday’s game against the Texarkana Razorbacks. Photo courtesy of Pam Wyckoff

Bulldogs fall in quarterfinals, bid farewell to head coach

By Richard White

Greenwood’s sixth consecutive state tournament appearance under head coach Randy Gardner was somewhat bittersweet, given that earlier this spring Gardner tendered his resignation, effective at the end of the school year. Originally from Southeast Missouri, the coach and his family are returning to their roots where he will become involved in a family-owned business.

“I feel very fortunate to have coached so many great players that loved and lived the game of baseball,” said Gardner in assessing his career at Greenwood. “We won five conference championships, were state runners-up twice, and compiled a remarkable won-loss record. But the most fulfilling part of coaching here is the lifelong relationships that were forged with the players. I’m moving back to Southeast Missouri to be closer to family,” he explained.

Gardner’s overall coaching record boasts 257 victories and 93 losses, a winning percentage of 73%, which is outstanding for the sport of high school baseball. He maintained that exact percentage during his six seasons at Greenwood, posting a mark of 160-58. But prior to this season, his record at Greenwood was 148-40, or a winning percentage of 79%.

The inexperienced Bulldogs finished 12-18 overall this spring, and 6-8 in 7A/6A Central conference play. “We played some very stiff competition down the stretch, and played much better baseball,” said Gardner about the season. “We just couldn’t get that one timely hit or play to propel us to victory.”

Leading up to their state tournament appearance, the Bulldogs lost 8-1 to Russellville on May 6th. Tanner Cooper took the pitching loss for Greenwood when the Cyclones broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the third inning. The Bulldogs scored their lone tally in the fifth and had just four hits.

A lack of hitting also resulted in a home loss to Conway on May 9th, 10-4, in extra innings. Jake Herrel was very good through six innings and led 3-2 before allowing the tying run in the seventh. After the Bulldogs failed to score in their half of the frame, the game moved into the eighth inning and everything fell apart for Herrel and three relievers who followed him to the mound.

Max Higgins

GHS Junior Max Higgins awaits the perfect pitch during the state playoff game against Texarkana.

The end result was a seven-spot for the Wampus Cats, who won the game going away, though only four of their 10 runs were earned. Greenwood made four errors in the game and had only five hits, two of those by Herrel himself. Herrel, Michael Rhea, Max Higgins, and Michael Nelson all had solo RBI’s.

The final regular season tune-up for the Bulldogs game at Fayetteville last Tuesday, May 13th. The game was tight throughout and also went extra frames before the Purple Dogs pulled out a 4-3 victory in nine innings. Ethan Cagle took the pitching loss, giving up just two earned runs. Chris Sunde also pitched well, giving two earned runs. The two hurlers surrendered 10 hits between them.

Fayetteville scored single runs in the first and sixth innings to lead 2-0. But Greenwood strung together a walk and four consecutive hits with two outs in the seventh and crossed the plate three times to take a brief 3-2 advantage. The Purple Dogs tied the game in the bottom half of the frame and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a leadoff single and a walk-off triple.


State Tournament

Last Thursday the Bulldogs traveled to Benton for the 6A state tournament and won their opening round game over Texarkana, 3-2, again in extra innings. Jake Herrel was the winning pitcher for Greenwood, throwing 4-1/3 innings in support of starter Tanner Cooper, who pitched 4-2/3s innings, giving up both of the Razorbacks’ runs in the third inning.

Greenwood scored once in the bottom of the first, then tied the score with a single run in the seventh, forcing the game into extra innings. A leadoff double by Max Higgins set the table, but it was a clutch two-out single by Tanner Cooper that drove home the tying run. Neither team scored in the eighth, setting up the drama for Greenwood in the ninth.

A single by Garrett Smith opened the bottom half of the frame, followed by a key sacrifice bunt from Ty Wyckoff that moved Smith to second into scoring position. After a walk to Jake Freeman, Tanner Cooper came through once again, this time with the game-winning double. The Bulldogs had just seven hits in the game, but three of them were two-baggers.

The victory propelled the Bulldogs into the quarterfinals against a tough Benton team defending their home field, and it didn’t take long before they became rude hosts, scoring twice in the second and four times each in the third and fourth innings to lead 10-1.

Greenwood got its lone run in the fourth, and Benton tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the sixth to invoke the mercy run and shorten the game by an inning. The Bulldogs had just three hits in the 13-2 season-ending loss. Ethan Cagle was the losing pitcher for the Bulldogs.

In a reception held on the GHS campus in his honor last Monday, incoming head coach Trey Holloway acknowledged the long tradition of baseball excellence at Greenwood and praised Coach Gardner for his six seasons of success with the Bulldogs. And despite this spring’s losing record, the new coach was upbeat, noting that almost all of his players will return next season. So as Greenwood bids farewell to one coach, another stands in the wings ready to carry on that legacy of winning baseball.

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