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Jonesboro eager to face Van Buren

by Erick Taylor | May 20, 2021 at 2:28 a.m.

Jonesboro Coach Mark Dobson hasn't had much time to look back on what his Hurricane accomplished during last week's run through the Class 5A state baseball tournament. He's been busy trying to get things in order for the state finals.

But Jonesboro's longtime coach mentioned there hasn't been a shortage of enthusiasm from his players.

"The kids are excited for sure," he said. "I've been running around like crazy getting all the details put together. But they're certainly excited, and you can tell when we practiced at an indoor facility [Monday].

"They're talking all about it. Really, it's all they're thinking about right now."

The Hurricane's thought process will be ramped up a bit when they face Van Buren at 1 p.m. in the Class 5A championship game today at Everett Baseball Field in Benton.

Jonesboro (27-5) is playing in the final for the first time since 2017 when it lost to Sheridan, and Van Buren (26-7) last played for a title in 2010. That bit of history won't matter much to two teams that have been at the top of their class for the majority of the season.

The Hurricane have lost once since April 23. The Pointers' lone defeat since April 8 was a four-run setback to Bentonville West. Both teams knocked off conference rivals during the Class 5A semifinals.

"[Van Buren] is a well-coached team," Dobson said. "The thing that impressed me during the state tournament was how well they hit the ball. They run the bases well, too. They're a really good team."

Dobson and the Hurricane also are familiar with the guy they're expecting to see throw the first pitch for the Pointers.

Senior Connor Johnson, who has been Van Buren's ace all year, held Jonesboro to one hit when the teams met early last season before the coronavirus pandemic.

The University of Central Arkansas commitment struck out 11 batters and issued 1 walk in 7 innings when the Pointers beat the Hurricane 1-0 in a neutral-site game at Joe T. Robinson.

"He was really good," Dobson said of Johnson. "He stands out right off the bat because he gave us all kinds of problems. And he pitched really well last week during state."

Johnson helped put the Pointers in position to win their first baseball title when he struck out 13 in a complete-game victory over Greenwood on Saturday.

Jonesboro's patience at the plate could test Johnson. In the state tournament, the Hurricane were able to jump on their opponents because they didn't swing at many bad pitches. That also enabled them to build big cushions.

Jonesboro outscored its three state tournament opponents 35-6, including back-to-back run-rule victories over Texarkana and Greene County Tech. Jonesboro also has pitching depth, a luxury that could be pivotal against the hot-hitting Pointers.

Dobson thinks his team is going to have to put up runs if it's going to give itself a chance.

"I think Van Buren is going to throw a ton of strikes," he said. "They're going to challenge us, and we're going to have to hit it and put the ball in play. We've got to find a way to manufacture some runs.

"It'll be interesting, that's for sure."

STATE BASEBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS

CLASS 5A

Van Buren Pointers (26-7) vs. Jonesboro Hurricane (27-5)

GAME TIME 1 p.m. today

WHERE Everett Baseball Field, Benton

VAN BUREN

CONFERENCE 5A-West (12-2)

COACH Luke Weatherford

RUNS FOR/AGAINST 203-108

HOW THEY GOT HERE def. Lake Hamilton 7-2 (state first round), def. Marion 6-4 (state quarterfinal), def. Greenwood 6-2 (state semifinal)

NOTEWORTHY Van Buren has never won a state title. … The Pointers have won 13 games by three runs or less. … Weatherford became an assistant coach at Van Buren in 2010, which was the last year the team played in a state final. … Pitcher Conner Johnson has committed to the University of Central Arkansas. … Van Buren has reached at least the semifinals of a state tournament seven times.

JONESBORO

CONFERENCE 5A-East (13-1)

COACH Mark Dobson

RUNS FOR/AGAINST 374-95

HOW THEY GOT HERE def. Sylvan Hills 9-1 (state first round), def. Texarkana 13-2 (state quarterfinal), def. Greene Co. Tech 13-3 (state semifinal)

NOTEWORTHY The Hurricane have appeared in the postseason every year since 2003. … Jonesboro has won state titles in its previous four finals appearances. … Senior Cross Jumper has signed with the University of Tennessee while junior pitcher Josh Hyneman has committed to the University of Arkansas. The Hurricane have several others who have committed to colleges, including Arkansas State University pledge Sawyer Bentley. … Jonesboro has been to the semifinals 11 times.

CLASS 6A

Springdale Har-Ber Wildcats (25-8) vs. Rogers Mounties (24-7)

GAME TIME 7 p.m. today

WHERE Everett Baseball Field, Benton

SPRINGDALE HAR-BER

CONFERENCE 6A-West (11-3)

COACH Dustin Helmkamp

RUNS FOR/AGAINST 232-127

HOW THEY GOT HERE def. Little Rock Catholic 8-4 (state quarterfinal), def. Bryant 3-0 (state semifinal)

NOTEWORTHY Har-Ber is making its fourth consecutive trip to the title game (five overall) and won its only title in 2018. … Junior Cooper Dossett, a University of Arkansas commitment, is 5-1 with 56 strikeouts for Har-Ber. He struck out 10 Bryant batters in the semifinals. … Har-Ber has won six of its past eight games. … The Wildcats started the season 9-0 before losing to Class 5A finalist Van Buren on March 24.

ROGERS

CONFERENCE 6A-West (11-3)

COACH Matt Melson

RUNS FOR/AGAINST 149-72

HOW THEY GOT HERE def. Conway 4-0 (state quarterfinal), def. North Little Rock 11-7 (state semifinal)

NOTEWORTHY Rogers split two games with Har-Ber. …. The Mounties’ only other state finals appearance came in 2013 when they lost to Fayetteville 6-3. … Rogers beat Class 5A finalist Jonesboro 2-1 on March 6. … The Mounties have won their last five games after losing three in a row. … The team has appeared in 27 state tournaments since 1990.

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