By Nathaniel Frazier
OZARK—It all came down to the bottom of the ninth inning. The championship game of the ACCC Baseball Tournament between the Wallace Govs and the Faulkner State Sun Chiefs was tied 2-2 at Historic Eagle Stadium.
Headland native Tyler Lawrence had gone the distance on the mound for Faulkner. But he gave up a single to the Govs' Oliver Tejeda to lead off the inning. That was the end of the day for Lawrence, and in came Chase Lambert.
After failing to get a bunt down, Devante Dixon connected for a hard-hit line drive that tipped off the glove of Sun Chief second baseman John Sklopan. After picking the ball up, Sklopan flipped the ball to short stop Anthony Felix in attempt to get the force out at second base. However, the umpire ruled Felix was off the bag, so both Tejeda and Dixon were safe.
Next up was Mitch McLendon who also put down a bunt. The ball was fielded by the catcher who then threw to third base. But the throw was high and sailed into left field. That allowed Tejeda to trot home, giving Wallace College a 3-2 win and the 2017 ACCC Championship.
"This was one heck of a good game," said Wallace coach Mackey Sasser who was named ACCC Coach of the Year. "Both pitchers made some big pitches in big situations and got some key hits. And my hat's off to Faulkner. They played four straight days and yet they played us extremely hard."
Despite his graciousness, this was big win for Sasser. It was his first state championship after 20 years as the Wallace head baseball coach. Earlier this year, Sasser picked up his 600th win. This is also the 50th Anniversary of the Wallace College baseball. Now, this is the first Wallace team ever to make it to NJCAA World Series.
"It means I have accomplished something that no one else here has ever done," Sasser said when asked what this meant to him. "First of all, it is an honor to be the baseball coach at Wallace College. I want to thank my assistant coaches Phillip Hurst and Brett Birdsong. I couldn't have done it without their help. They come to work every day and work hard. I regret that Pete (Coachman) couldn't be here with us today. We worked together for so many years."
As for the game itself, Adrian Hernandez got things going for the Govs in the bottom half of the first inning when he led off with a single to right field. Then Lawrence hit Austin Garrett with a pitch. After a strike out, Eric Rodriguez knocked in the first run with his ground out to first base.
The Sun Chiefs tied the game in the top of the fifth. Sklopan reached base on an infield single off Wallace starter Jacinto Arredondo, who was named tournament most valuable player. That was Followed by a bunt single from Felix. Two batters later, Justin Duncan knocked in the first run with a single to left field.
The Govs took the lead again in the bottom of the sixth inning. Nick Lewis reached on a double to left field. Lewis later scored on an RBI single by Tyler Halas.
But the Sun Chiefs wouldn't go away. In the top of the eighth inning, Lawrence Seyjuan singled to centerfield, and hustled to second base when the ball was briefly bobbled. That was the end of the day for Arredondo. Two batters later, Walker Watts tied the game with his single to centerfield off reliever Ethan Michaelis.
After that hit, Michaelis was able to hold the Sun Chiefs down and earn the win.
Arredondo pitched seven innings and struck out seven, while allowing only five hits.
"I wanted this more than anything," Arredondo said. "I have never won anything in my life. I was not going to let my team lose."
In addition to Sasser being named Coach of the Year and Arredondo named tournament MVP, Nick Lewis, Joey Bend, and Eric Rodriguez was also named to the All-tournament team.
For Faulkner State, Tyler Lawrence, Chase Lambert and Justin Dunnam were named to the team.
The rest of the team included John Michael Matthews and J.D. Kubiszyn of Shelton State, and Colby Robinson and Braxton Light of Wallace-Hanceville.
Late Wednesday afternoon the Govs learned they will play at 9 a.m Saturday, May 27 against Cowley, KS. Chipola of Marianna will play at 3 p.m. later that day against an opponent still to be determined.
Coach of the Year
Mackey Sassar - Wallace-Dothan
Tournament Most Valuable Player
Jacinto Arredondo - Wallace-Dothon
Faulkner State SUn Chiefs