By John R. Schirmer
For Coach Kyle Slayton and his staff, the trip to Fayetteville this week for the Class 4A baseball championship game comes at a special time.
Slayton’s Scrappers won the state championship 10 years ago this month, on May 11 to be exact. Among the players on that team – D.J. Graham and A.J. Whitmore, who are now assistant coaches with the Scrappers.
They’ve been sharing stories with this year’s team about their experiences at Baum Stadium 10 years ago. And they share their enthusiasm about going back.
Nashville will play Shiloh Christian Friday at 3 p.m. at Baum, which is located on the University of Arkansas campus. The Scrappers advanced by defeating Monticello 4-3 in the state semifinals Monday at Lonoke.
“Man, the last six weeks have been as enjoyable as I’ve ever had,” Slayton said before practice started Wednesday afternoon. “We’re 22-1 since spring break.”
The Scrappers won the district championship for the first time since 2003. They won the regional title for the first time since Slayton came to Nashville.
“They really just came together as a unit and team after the break,” Slayton said. “I think the win against Ashdown here was the turning point. They saw they could play with anybody.”
Slayton attributed much of the success to the pitching staff of Tyler Hanson, Zach Jamison and Preston Pope.. “They’re 8-0 [in post-season] with a 1.34 era,” Slayton said. “Offensively, Jamison is kind of our leader. Austin Bowman’s had good state tournament games.”
Slayton said he gives “real credit to these 10 seniors. After all they’ve done, they deserved to make this run and finish with a chance to play for the state title.”
Friday “will be a special day for these players, alumni, fans and family,” Slayton said.
The Scrappers and Scrapperettes will leave after a sendoff at the old high school gym parking lot today (May 18) at 11:45 a.m. They will have lunch in Mena and practice at Fayetteville High School at 6:30 p.m.
Several of the dads will cook steaks and baked potatoes for the players, and the team will stay at the Holiday inn at Springdale. After breakfast Friday morning, the Scrappers will go hit at Fayetteville High. A team picture is set for 2 p.m. at Baum Stadium before the Scrappers “play the Class 4A defending state champions,” Shiloh Christian, Slayton said.
For Scrapper alumnus Graham, “It will be special to see the game from a different perspective, through coaching eyes. It’s going to be fun. I’m going to enjoy it. I hope the kids get to experience the dog pile. I’ll jump in it.”
Graham said he remembers “every at bat, the big fourth inning, Josh Green hitting it off the wall, the dog pile at the end. I remember it being special for Dad [Superintendent Doug Graham] at the trophy presentation, and the hugs with Coach Slayton and Coach [Clint] Reed, two special people in my life.”
Whitmore is glad to “get the chance to play for it all, to realize we’re about to play for a state championship. It’s a special thing.”
The Scrappers defeated Farmington 11-1 in 2007. They were down 1-0 early before taking the lead in the fourth inning.
Whitmore recalls that the Scrappers were on the infield warming up before the game and head the Farmington student section yell “What’s a Scrapper?”
“I can’t express it in words,” Whitmore said. “We got to show them who we are. Like D.J. said, I remember the dog pile, coming off the field, seeing Coach Reed and Coach Slayton and giving them a big hug. We had reached the top level and lived it out.”
Both former players have shared plenty of stories with the current Scrappers. However, they aren’t just reliving their state championship experience.
As Graham put it, “I think I’ll be focused and not get caught up in the moment. I want to get the kids in the right spot to be successful.”
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By John R. Schirmer
“My head’s spinning,” Coach Jerry Baker said Wednesday afternoon as he and the Nashville Scrapperettes prepared for the Class 4A state championship game Friday in Fayetteville.
The Scrapperettes will play Pottsville at 5:30 p.m. at Bogle Park on the University of Arkansas campus. They advanced to the finals after mercy ruling Stuttgart 10-0 Monday in the semifinals at Lonoke.
Baker said the season “has been a challenge. If not for these girls, it would have been pretty tough. Because of these girls, it’s been an amazing experience. I love these girls. They’ll never know what they’ve done for me.”
The Scrapperettes “have brought me to tears a number of times because they’re so amazing. It’s truly a blessing that they’ve brought to my life,” Baker said.
For the Scrapperettes, the drive to reach the state finals and win goes back to last season, Baker said. Mena scored two late runs in the semifinals. “You could see the commitment then” from the Scrapperettes, Baker said.
“They showed up at 4:30 a.m. to work in the weight room. That’s true commitment. That’s their passion. I think anybody who knew them expected a successful season this year. Sometimes you see a team with high expectations that aren’t recognized, but these girls have met every demand,” Baker said.
The Scrapperettes had a short practice Tuesday and a longer one Wednesday when they worked on defense and offense.
There will be a sendoff for the Scrapperettes and the Scrappers today (May 18) at 11:45 a.m. in the old gym parking lot. The girls will practice later today in Fayetteville. They will have another practice Friday morning. Afterward, “We’ll go support the boys [at 3 p.m.]. Then it’s on,” Baker said of the softball title game.
“They’ve loved it,” Baker said of cheering for the Scrappers at the regional and state tournaments. “We were warming up before our game Monday, and I couldn’t get them to quit watching the boys game” before it ended.
The Scrapperettes livened up the crowd by doing many of the cheers they use in their own games at the Nashville City Park and on the road. Nashville fans joined them, to the chagrin of the Scrappers’ opponents.
Assistant Coach Wade Matlock said he’s had “a great first year” in Nashville. “The community, administration, school, athletic program are all top notch. I knew it coming in. The softball girls are a special group.”
Matlock said he “knew they had high expectations. This is a great program. Look at 2010, 2012, 2013,” the years the Scrapperettes won state championships. “They’ve done everything Coach Baker and I have asked. Coach Baker’s done a great job.”
Matlock knew of the expectations coming into the season. “As an outsider, I had heard the talk. When we got on the field the first two or three games, I could tell these girls are something special. They have been trained very well. In high school ‘stickball,’ if the parents and players have not invested their time before the ninth grade, there’s a lot to do to catch up.”
Success at Nashville “is a tribute to the parents, players and community.”
The week leading up to the state finals “is flying by. We won in the semifinals Monday. The finals will be here before we know it. The girls are really excited. If we play to our potential, we have a good chance,” Matlock said. “I love these girls and want success in life for them. They have the potential to win the championship.”