HARRISON – A big, five-run sixth inning allowed Rivercrest to pull away from Cotter and hand the Warriors a 13-5 defeat in the championship game of the 3A Region 3 Tournament on Tuesday at the Community First Bank Sports Complex.
Cotter (17-5), playing in its first regional championship since 1995, looked strong early, matching Rivercrest’s two-run first with two of its own. Shawn White singled and scored a run, and Colton Neal was hit by a pitch and scored in the inning.
After the Colts (17-5) scored once in the top of the second, the Warriors came just a few feet from taking a 6-3 lead in the bottom half, but did not score a single run.
Aron Rowe and Brandon Beecher each singled, and Neal drew a two-out walk to load the bases. Ryan Roberts followed with a deep drive to dead center field, where Rivercrest’s Jon Griffin caught the ball against the fence for the third out, just missing a grand slam.
Rivercrest — the undefeated (10-0) conference champion and district champion from the 3A-3 — took a 4-2 lead with a run in the third and stretched its lead to 7-2 in the top of the fifth.
Cotter wouldn’t go away, however, with Brett Walker driving in Roberts with a double and Landon Martin bringing home Walker with a base hit, making it 7-4.
Rivercrest put the finishing touches on the victory, though, with five runs on just three hits in the sixth inning.
Brayden Wilson notched an RBI infield hit, Hank Hill plated a run on a sacrifice fly, and Griffin scored a pair with a base hit to center field. Cotter scored its final run in the sixth as White singled, stole second and later scored on a groundout by Neal.
“I told the boys not to hang their heads on this one,” Cotter head coach Marty Hall said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve played here at the end of the season. They won a district tournament and got to a regional final, and they’ve set themselves up for a chance to win a game at state. That’s what we’re going to focus on now.”
Cotter will face Fordyce (the No. 3 seed from Region 4) at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Class 3A State Tournament at Genoa Central. The state tournament trip is Cotter’s first since 2008, when it fell to Lincoln in the opening round.
Rivercrest will take on Prescott, Region 4’s No. 4 seed, at 3 p.m. Thursday. In the Region 3 third-place game on Tuesday, Melbourne defeated Corning, 4-3, and will face Horatio in the opening round of state.
The Warriors have six seniors, who won just three games as freshmen, six as sophomores and eight last season, but have played strongly all season, finishing as conference runners-up and defeating Flippin last week to win their first district title since 1999.
“I got six and five that start, and they’ve done a great job,” Hall said of his seniors. “Colton Neal, my catcher, and Brett Walker are great team leaders. To see them get to where they’re at, after that, is great. That’s one of the great things about being a coach.”
The Colts only outhit the Warriors 11-9, with shortstop Dylan McLemore going 3 for 4 with two RBI to lead Rivercrest. Wilson was 2 for 4 and Austin Griffin was 2 for 5 for the Colts.
White was the only player for Cotter with two hits, going 2 for 4, while Walker was 1 for 3 with an RBI, Martin was 1 for 4 with an RBI, and Roberts, Dawson Burns, Maddux Adams, Rowe and Beecher had one hit each.
Roberts took the loss on the mound, allowing seven runs — only four earned — on eight hits over five innings. The senior struck out four and walked just two. White walked two, hit two batters and gave up two hits in the five-run sixth inning. Neal recorded the final out of the sixth, and Burns struck out three and allowed an unearned run in the seventh for Cotter.
Blain Richardson earned the win for Rivercrest, striking out six and walking just one over a complete-game effort. The lefty scattered nine hits and hit one batter.
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