Before Arlington’s sub-state game with Collierville on Friday and after a regional championship loss to Bartlett, Arlington head baseball coach Chris Ring told his team a Bible story.
During athletic study hall, Ring shared with them the story of David and Goliath.
“I felt God gave me that,” he said.
After the Tigers’ shocking sling-shot heard-round-the-state 4-3 victory that sent them to the state tournament, Ring said, “I felt like David won tonight.”
Scoring four runs in the first inning, in which Collierville made two errors, the Tigers held on, upsetting the No. 1 team in the state despite a .500 record.
Arlington took its 18-16 record to Murfreesboro against Independence (25-11) in the first round that was played on Tuesday. Collierville finished 35-4-1, with all four losses by one run and three losses in extra innings.
“Collierville was another stop for us,” said Arlington relief pitcher Parker Cannon. “We had to beat them to go to state. Their record didn’t matter to us. We were just going to earn ourselves a spot in the state tournament. For us to shock the state is cool but we have to stay hungry and humble.”
Making their second straight Spring Fling appearance, Ring said, “We never gave up. I knew they were going to score. I can’t say anything other than that. We never gave up. The cards fell right for us tonight.”
Arlington sophomore left fielder Cannon Linebaugh said, “We weren’t scared of Collierville. We knew what we had to do and we did just that. We just have to be fearless.”
What will go up on Arlington’s outfield wall will be another state tournament banner.
“We will be remembered,” said Cannon, who joined in the team in shouting “Remember the Tigers” after assistant coach Mike Theese told them, “Everybody is going to remember tonight forever.”
Pitcher Drew Edwards said, “Everybody knows we are underdogs but not everybody knows that we have that spirit. We are not going to give up and that showed. We put up four in the first inning. We were told this is the best pitcher (Collierville ace Jack Doughtery) we were going to face. He was throwing 90s but we knew what we had to do as a team. We were ready to shock the world. Our motto is, “We Ain’t Done Yet” (WADY)” a hashtag that we have used from the beginning of the year.
Collierville outhit the Tigers 9-4 as Mitch Austin and Kobe Perkins each had two hits for the Dragons and Dougherty held the Tigers scoreless after the first.
The Tigers scored four runs in the first inning, on a balk and the two errors. Arlington leadoff batter Blake Smith hit a single and Wade Gray reached base on an error. When Cooper Tremmel walked, the bases were loaded.
Smith scored on the controversial balk and Arlington led 1-0. Gray scored on an error and Alex Robinson, a pinch runner for Tremmel, scored after a single by Austin Randall. It was 3-0 before Dylan Saquic, who had reached base on an error, scored on a sacrifice fly.
“The first inning right when the first guy came up and got a base hit, that let everybody know we could hit off him (Dougherty) and we kept grinding from there,” said Cannon, who was confident in his pitching.
Linebaugh did not feel the game was secure until the bottom of the seventh with two out.
“We knew at anytime they could score runs due to how well they hit. The win just proves that we could beat an extremely talented team,” he said.
Collierville head coach Jeff Munier said the Tigers got the momentum in the first inning.
“It is very disappointing,” he said. “They (Dragons) laid it all on the line and gave it everything they’ve got. I feel for them. I hate it for them. They have had an outstanding season. No. 1 in the state. Our whole senior class, it’s been a great run for them. I’m so proud of every one of them.
“Life is not easy,” he added. “This is a great teaching experience for these guys. Things don’t always go your way. You can’t take anybody for granted. Anybody can get you on any night. That is baseball.”
Austin echoed Munier.
“It’s hard. It’s too good of a season to end on a bad note,” he said, “but that’s life.”
Collierville catcher Ty Leatherwood, a senior who will play at Northwest Mississippi next season, said, “We were expecting to beat them. We weren’t expecting to have a bad inning defensively like we did in the first. Never go into a game thinking you are going to beat somebody because you are the favorite.”
Francisco Cartaya, the Dragons’ right fielder, said, “We were really confident. We walked on this field like we were going to win this game no matter what. Arlington did their homework on us. They kept us in front of the ball a lot. Everybody was chasing pitches. We stayed out of our approach. We didn’t stick to our approach which was to stay up the field and hit fast balls. We didn’t do that.”
Trailing 4-0, Camden Suhoza got the Dragons’ first hit, a single. That followed a walk to Cartaya who later was put out at third after a fielder’s choice got Noah Hattier on base. Perkins’ triple scored Shoza and Hattier.
A double by the Dragons’ Riley Davis started the third. Austin then hit in Davis with what would have been a double had Austin not gotten out at second after he rounded first. It was 4-3 before Cartaya singled.
Doughtery, who can throw a fast ball 91 mph, struck out three Arlington batters in the top of the fourth.
The Dragons would get other opportunities to score with Perkins singling in the fourth, Austin singling in the fifth and Cartaya also singling in the fifth. Before Austin’s hit, Leatherwood reached base on a ruled error.
Ben Olsen came in as a pinch runner for Leatherwood.
With the bases loaded, Saquic relieved Cannon and got two more outs to end the Collierville threat. He would strike out three Collierville batters in the bottom of the seventh.
“We had the bases loaded with one out and we swung at the first pitch both times and got him out of the inning. The momentum switched to them,” said Leatherwood.
Austin, a second baseman, said, “We grounded out to the third baseman (Tremmel) twice. He made two great plays right there. They played really good defense. I’ll give that to them.”
Ring said, “Saquic did a great job. I put it on our pitching staff. If they don’t keep us in the game, then it’s over. If they implode the game is over.”
Through tears of joy, Saquic, who threw 18 strikes of 24 pitches, said, senior leadership made the difference.
“I tell them to feed off the pressure you get in this kind of element. I have been confident throwing strikes all year. I knew I had to back up my teammate Parker Cannon (who was pitching when the bases were loaded). I knew what I could do with my ability and I did it,” he said. “Back-to-back years going to state. Hopefully this year we can make it farther than we did last year. It’s a great experience. We had a tough year. Everybody doubted us but we came out on top. They were Goliath.”
Defeating the No. 1 in the state and 7th ranked team in the nation was a decision the Tigers had to make said Ring.
“That shows the internal drive that they have,” he noted. “I am not taking any credit for any of this. It is just them.”
In 2017, the Tigers were in the same situation as the Dragons. Arlington was ranked No. 1 in the state with a “great” team and Munford upset them in sub-state to go to state.
Cannon, who pitched 1.1 innings, said that he believed in Saquic, a senior.
“I believed in everyone here. The pitchers did great throwing strikes, keeping us in the game,” he added.
Edwards, a senior who has signed with Memphis, said he had been ready for this game ever since he “stepped foot on the field as a freshman.”
Ty Leatherwood, who singled in the first inning, thought the Dragons hit well enough and Doughtery pitched well enough to win.
“He got the job done for us. We didn’t get key hits to do it in the end,” said Leatherwood. “It hurts but we can’t dwell on it. It hurts probably more for people that don’t have baseball any more.”
A junior, Austin called it one of the worst feeling he has ever had in his life.
“We worked too hard for this,” he said. “We fell short. We had too good of a season. We only lost three (regular season) games, had the best record in the state, ranked No. 1. I am not going to get over this.
“This is a tough one. I love these dudes for life,” he continued. “They are my best friends, my brothers, my teammates. They would do anything for me. We had so many great memories together. The thing I am going to miss the most is the locker room, us having fun and coming out here doing what we love.”
Austin, who had an RBI, said that Perkins had a “great night.”
“He did what he does best,” he said. “He hit a line drive up the middle and got on base. Jack did his thing. He is always like that. He didn’t do anything bad. We didn’t play behind him.”
Perkins had two RBIs and Dougherty, who pitched a complete game, struck out eight batters and gave up one earned run. The Dragons stranded seven batters and the Tigers four.
Doughtery threw 22 first strike pitches and of his 101 pitches, threw 68 strikes. He faced 29 batters.
Ring said, “That pitcher for Collierville did an amazing job. We just capitalized on some errors.”
Linebaugh said, “I have faced many great pitchers in my career so far and Jack is one of the best. He has great velocity and great control on his fast ball and has a good off-speed pitch.”
Edwards, who was credited with the win, pitched three innings giving up three earned runs. He fanned two. Cannon and Saquic, who pitched 2.2 innings, each struck out two.
Edwards threw 29 strikes in his 53 pitches, Cannon 23 in his 34.
Edwards said the Dragons took advantage when they hit doubles off of two of his hanging sliders.
“I knew after that I was like, ‘they are going to take advantage of our mistakes.’ We had to make sure to focus on not making mistakes,” he shared. “It was already scary.”
Had the Dragons scored when the bases were loaded he said, “It would have been much different. We would have had to fight harder and put bats together in the late innings. He (Dougherty) tried to shut us down toward the end of the game,” said Edwards.
Gabe Nicholson also got a hit for the Dragons.
Calling Dougherty’s performance “strong,” Cartaya said, “He was dominant the whole season. I don’t think he deserves the loss at all. He gave everything he had, threw strikes. We couldn’t make plays behind him when we needed to. He is a heck of a player. He has talent.”
Collierville’s team wore pink in uniform accessories and face paint in support of Cartaya, whose grandfather, Francisco Cartaya (Senior), died on May 16 in Venezuela of lung cancer.
“It hurts really bad because there are no medicines there. You can’t treat them,” said Cartaya, who is the third with the same name. “He had been sick awhile. I decided to do it (put on pink) and they followed me.”
Leatherwood sid, “Our team is a family. We all come together whenever we need each other. We were playing for him tonight.”
Cartaya, who will play for Roane State along with Perkins next season, was born in Caracas. He moved to Collierville in 2014 with his family after his uncle had moved there.
“It was easier for us to come here with family,” he said.
After a “cocky” freshman year, he changed his mindset and began to get to practice early and leave late.
“If you work hard you are going to succeed and going to shine at the end of the day,” he said. “No matter how hard you work there is always someone better than you.”
Cartaya wants to keep going to the major leagues as his father Francisco Cartaya Jr. did. He played for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks from 1980-90. He is the international scouting director for the Diamondbacks. He also owns Collierville’s Big League Wildcats, a USSSA team.
Cartaya will play in a post-season all-star game along with Nicholson, Davis, Leatherwood, Zack Jackson and Peyton Calitri.
At the team’s banquet Sunday, Sam Poindexter was named Rookie of the Year; Dougherty Pitcher of the Year; Cartaya Offensive Player of the Year; Perkins Defensive Player of the Year; and Leatherwood MVP.
“He’s a heck of a player,” said Cartaya of Leatherwood.
Faith has fueled Cartaya, whose favorite Bible verse is John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
“I ask myself every day what would Jesus do in some of the decisions I make. Most likely I end up making the right decision. I think about my parents and what kind of man they would want me to be.”
On May 16, which was Collierville’s graduation, seniors put on maroon. After a rain out on May 15 forced the region championship game against Houston, which was a 3-1 victory, to be played then, seniors wore caps and gowns over their uniforms. They entered into “Pomp and Circumstance” and as teammates formed a tunnel with their bats walked to get their diplomas at home plate.
“I loved it,” said Cartaya, “After every single day of school what I looked forward to was going to the field and play ball. I loved that my graduation took place there because that place is so important to me. It didn’t matter that our whole class wasn’t there, senior players had each other like it’s always been. It was a great experience with the boys I worked hard with every day for four years.”
Said Leatherwood, “That was cool to be a part of. We had to miss graduating with all of our friends but if you love baseball it’s something cool to graduate on the field.”
A junior, Poindexter said the season was about relationships.
“Through the ups and downs of this season our team supported each other and never gave up on one another,” he said. “Even though we may not have gotten the results that we wanted the bonds and relationships that have been made will stay with me forever.”
Although “devastated,” the team has accomplished much more than winning games Poindexter said.
“We all became better men on and off the field. We were disappointed that we didn’t get to make a run at state but the relationships and memories will last forever,” he said.
Assistant coach David Culbertson hugged sobbing third baseman Tyke Tabor, a sophomore.
“It’s tough for these kids. They have worked their tail feathers off, put in a lot of sweat, passion. We get tough lessons in life and you understand why it is hurting,” he said.
Had the Dragons been successful in their sub-state goal, they would have won the state said Austin.
“If we get there we win it all for sure, easy,” he added. “I’d bet money on that.”
During the season, Arlington had a team meeting after a series of games that were straight losses.
The Tigers “figured things out” before a game with Covington April 17.
“Ever since then we have played really well together,” said Linebaugh, who plays outfield, infield and is a linebacker and wide receiver on the football team.
The Tigers went on a seven-game winning streak after the victory over Covington.
Knowing what to expect, Linebaugh will take a “calm confidence” into the state tournament. Some of it he learned in a season that he worked through hitting slumps and learned how to control body language and attitude.
Cannon was hoping the Tigers would take a bite out of Independence.
Tremmel is equipped now to do that. In a game in Hoover, Ala. earlier this season, Tremmel lost a false tooth when the team stopped at Chick-fil-A.
It had fallen on the ground and one of the workers threw it away.
“He had to play the whole weekend without a tooth,” said Cannon.
The Tigers take a ton of emotions into the state tournament.
“There were tears going down my face as well as the rest of the seniors. It was all happy tears,” said Edwards. “For seniors it is our last year to make an impression.”
Said Cannon, “Hopefully we can do it (a state tourney berth) again next year.”