What the Sheridan Yellowjackets (32-5, 12-0) have done this season was expected by their head coach Michael Moore. The Yellowjackets had the luxury of returning plenty of their core players, and they've played their way into the 6A state championship game against the Jonesboro Hurricanes (29-3, 9-0).
Sheridan and Jonesboro are set for a 10 a.m. start today at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
"Well, at the end of last season I realized we could have something special this season," Moore said. "We had everybody coming back except for a couple of guys. We returned the nucleus, we brought back good pitching and experience. We hated the way last season ended and we felt like if we took care of business we had something special to look forward to this year."
Sheridan is well-schooled on the Hurricanes. Jonesboro head coach Mark Dobson and Moore share a friendship, and the Yellowjackets respect what the Hurricanes are capable of.
"I know coach Dobson really well, he's a good friend of mine," Moore said. "They're intense, disciplined, and they play hard. Their pitcher is going to throw in the upper 80's with a good slider. I count it to our advantage that we saw Connor Noland last week, because the kid from Jonesboro is just as good. They're going to put the ball in play, play good defense, and play smart on base. We're going to have to outwork them to win."
The Yellowjackets have faced a lot of good teams, but their pitching and defense has carried them through. Their defense makes up for what they don't get done on offense at times.
"We've had good pitching all year," Moore said. "We knew we would always be in games even if we sputtered on offense. Each game we've had solid pitching and defense. On offense we have guys come through every game. It varies from game to game but someone always steps up. We had our moments where we got to big for our britches and let someone slip up on us. It was a very challenging road to get to where we are now, and we've met every challenge to this point."
Sheridan's last loss was during the conference tournament when they were beaten by the Benton Panthers 3-1. The Panthers and the Yellowjackets play each other with an edge, and Moore doesn't feel as his guys came to play their best ball.
"Benton is kind of like our arch rivals," Moore said. "We look at each other as a measuring stick to success. They were young and hungry, and our guys went in a little big headed I thought. We were at home and had beat them twice pretty easily. We just showed up, and they were the ones who made things happen. Looking back its been good for us, as we've won 10 or 11 in a row afterwards. It really made us refocus on always showing up to play ball."
That slip up against Benton meant that the road to Baum stadium would be a little tougher for Sheridan. However, the Yellowjackets have taken on all challenges, and now they are confident that they can beat anybody.
"We went in anticipating that we would face them in the finals," Moore said. "We slipped up and ended up on the same side. We knew it would be a battle to get to the championship. Tyler Cleveland got out of a big jam that really was huge for us. As the game went on you just knew it was going to come down to one hit. It was very stressful, but we came up in the seven and started with three straight hits. Our guys have met every challenge to this point and they're not going to let anybody take it from them. I'm glad it played out like this because now we'll have to beat Greenwood and Jonesboro and know one can say we had the easy way out."
Moore spoke highly of the Yellowjackets' hitting line-up, and what a joy it has been to coach those guys.
"Our lead-off hitter Chance Wallingsford has been steady all year and he's hitting 390," Moore said. "In the number three hole, Hunter Hicks is the best hitter in Arkansas, and I have no doubt in my mind about it. David Rainwater has been steady all year long, and we've worked him up to be our four hole hitter. Vilches has led our team, batting over 400 for the most of the year. Looking at our first five guys, where do you pitch around. If you take one look around, you look back and say 'oh no here's the next one'. It's been fun to watch us grow and to see us get to where we are now. It's a very fun line up to have because they cant pitch around us."
Sheridan last won a state title back in 2015, and now they'll look to bring home two in the past three years.