Central Arkansas Christian owns three victories over Benton Harmony Grove in the past month, but when the two teams play Saturday for the Class 3A state title, it's the Cardinals who may have an ace up their sleeve.
Junior James McCormick, a 6-3 left-hander, has struck out 78 batters and walked 22 in 60 1/3 innings. He owns a 0.93 ERA. He has not, however, been on the mound in any of the three games in which the Cardinals have faced CAC.
"We haven't seen him," said CAC Coach Patrick Smith, whose team has won its three games over the Cardinals by a combined six runs. "But we know what we're up against."
"He hasn't been up in the rotation whenever we played CAC," Harmony Grove Coach Brandon Mynhier said. "McCormick is the pitcher we use when we have to have a win. We needed him to pitch in the first round of district to get us to the regional. We needed him to pitch in the first round of the regional to get us to state. It just so happened we played CAC in the second round of both district and regional."
The Mustangs (20-3) and Cardinals (20-9) will meet for the fourth time this season on Saturday at Baum-Walker Stadium in Fayetteville. CAC is making its 10th trip to the championship game. It's the first for Harmony Grove.
"We're crazy excited," Mynhier said. "Our players are ready to go to Fayetteville today. We're ready to play right now."
The Cardinals will face one of the state's hottest teams. CAC is on an 11-game winning streak and is batting .308 as a team, with four players averaging .343 or better. The Mustangs' on-base percentage is .414.
The Mustangs' pitching staff may be even more impressive. Senior Levi Smith (6-2, 2.73) has thrown a team-high 51 1/3 innings with 67 strikeouts and 15 walks. Sophomore Karson Richard (3-0, 2.43) has thrown his best baseball in the past three weeks, allowing only three earned runs in 17 2/3 innings, including a 2-0 victory over Baptist Prep in the regional championship game.
Coach Smith said Levi Smith threw 102 pitches in Monday's 7-0 semifinal victory over Booneville. The 6-0 right-hander struck out 9, walked 1 and allowed only 1 hit. The coach plans to evaluate his ace Friday to determine whether he's ready to pitch Saturday.
"The biggest thing we don't want to do is jeopardize his arm," Coach Smith said.
Senior Garrett Overstreet leads the Mustangs in hitting at .435 (27 of 62) with a team-best 17 RBI. Leadoff batter Davis Gatling, also a senior, is averaging .393 (24 of 61).
Smith said junior Eli Garrison is swinging the hottest bat since postseason play started. Garrison is batting .400 (28 of 70) for the season but was 6 of 10 with 5 RBI in the Mustangs' three state tournament games.
"I think we're a well-rounded team," Smith said. "We have a lot of guys who can make plays, and we have guys who can pick things up at the plate when others are not hitting that day."
Harmony Grove owns a .303 team batting average with leadoff batter junior Connor Burrow leading the team in hitting (41 of 96, .427) and stolen bases (9).
Mynhier said junior Jared Toler is a standout at both the plate and third base.
"Jared makes all the routine plays and most of the spectacular ones as well," Mynhier said. "He's been huge for us."
Toler, who is committed to play for Arkansas State University, is batting .349 (29 of 83), has hit 5 of the team's 6 home runs and leads the team with 26 RBI.
McCormick, who threw 100 pitches in Monday's 9-2 semifinal victory over Manila, is expected to be the Cardinals' workhorse Saturday.
"That's our guy," Mynhier said. "And we couldn't ask for a better kid. He's great in the classroom, a 4.0 student and nobody outworks him. When we need him, we can count on him. He just bulldogs through."
State finals schedule
All games at Baum-Walker Stadium,
CLASS 2A Woodlawn vs. Junction City, 10 a.m.
CLASS 4A Shiloh Christian vs. Nashville, 12:30 p.m.
CLASS 5A Benton vs. Sheridan, 3 p.m.
CLASS 6A Har-Ber vs. North Little Rock, 10 a.m.
CLASS 1A Viola vs. Taylor, 12:30 p.m.
CLASS 3A Harmony Grove vs. CAC, 3 p.m.
All games at Bogle Park, Fayetteville
CLASS 6A Cabot vs. Bentonville, 10 a.m.
CLASS 5A Greenwood vs. Sheridan, 12:30 p.m.
CLASS 4A Pottsville vs. Farmington, 3 p.m.
CLASS 2A Quitman vs. Poyen, 10 a.m.
CLASS 3A Genoa Central vs. Rose Bud, 12:30 p.m.
CLASS 1A Hermitage vs. Taylor, 3 p.m.
All games at Razorback Field,
CLASS 5A BOYS Russelville vs. Siloam Springs, 10 a.m.
CLASS 5A GIRLS Little Rock Christian vs. Russellville, noon
CLASS 6A BOYS Springdale vs. Bryant, 2 p.m.
CLASS 6A GIRLS Bryant vs. Conway, 4 p.m.
CLASS 3A GIRLS CAC vs. Harding Academy, 10 a.m.
CLASS 3A BOYS CAC vs. Green Forest, noon
CLASS 4A GIRLS Pulaski Academy vs. Harrison, 2 p.m.
CLASS 4A BOYS Valley View vs. Harrison, 4 p.m.
Sports on 05/15/2019
Print Headline: Benton Harmony Grove to throw new look at CAC