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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Paris’s Cinderella Post-Season Run Ends in State Semifinals

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The Paris Eagles baseball team rattled off seven straight post-season wins in the district, regional, and state tournaments before losing to last year’s Class 3A state champion, Harding Academy, in the state tournament semifinals last week in Harrison. The Eagles run was bolstered by outstanding play in all phases of the game including pitching, defense, and timely hitting with runners on base. It was a run that was historic in the Paris baseball program, and for the seniors who played their last games of their high school careers, it was a fitting ending for a class of athletes who also had great runs in the Eagles’ football and basketball programs, as well.

The Harding Academy Wildcats are unquestionably, in this writer’s opinion, the best team in Class 3A. In fact, if the Wildcats were forced to play in Class 4A, they may be the best team in that classification as well. In last week’s semifinal game with Paris, the Wildcats pitched University of Arkansas baseball commit, Kade Smith. Smith, a junior who committed to the Razorbacks during his sophomore season, did not give up a hit to the Eagles for the first four innings of his seven inning complete game. And if that was not enough, Smith also showed his dominance offensively by contributing to his own win with a home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Harding Academy and Razorbacks baseball commit Kade Smith dominated Paris in the state semis (RNN Sports Photo / Jim Best)

But although last weekend’s loss was heartbreaking for the Eagles, it was a day in which the players, coaches, and fans could hold their heads high. Paris was a scrappy team that was never out of any game they played, regardless of the score or deficits they may have faced. In fact, the Eagles overcame a five run deficit in the first round of the state tournament to come back to defeat a good Rose Bud team by the score of 8-6. And in a big inning outburst in the second round versus Prescott, the Eagles took the lead for good in the middle innings and defeated the Curley Wolves for the right to move on to the Final Four of the state tournament.

After the heart-stopping win over Prescott in the quarterfinals that saw a big Paris lead shrink to the point that stopper Mason Bradley was called upon to get the final two outs of the last inning, Paris coach Josh Hart commented, “Another awesome win for our boys! They came out swinging it today. This group of young men have no quit in them and that’s what’s special about them. All of their hard work is paying off. We aren’t done yet; still more work to be done. It is one game at a time for us with one goal in mind.”

Paris senior Nate Henderson hustles down the first baseline to beat out a base hit for the Eagles vs. Harding Academy (RNN Sports Photo / Jim Best)

And as Coach Hart said, this was a very special group of Eagles, and they did not have an ounce of quit in them.

Paris was ranked in the top four in Class 3A for the second half of the season, and finished the season ranked third, as well. All of this despite the Eagles not having a player named to the All-State team with the exception of Duke Walker being named as honorable mention. In this writer’s opinion, it was a slap in the face to Paris, and it is hard to explain why conference coaches and administrators allowed it to happen. But, that may be a story for another day.

RNN Sports Photo / Jim Best

But now the season is over, and the Eagles who finished the season as district tournament champions and regional tournament champions, and made a Final Four appearance in the state tournament, will always be remembered as the most successful baseball players in program history to date. After the loss to Harding Academy, Coach Hart summed up the season and his affection for his players by saying, “This group of guys are so special. They have showed all season that they have no quit in them. During Saturday’s game (vs Harding Academy) we got into an early deficit. They could have easily just quit but they didn’t. They fought tooth and nail until the umpires said “ballgame.” We were being no-hit for most of the game and finally got something going late after freshman Chris Lensing broke up the no-hitter. It was just too little too late. Harding is a good ball club and we gave them everything we had. Mason Bradley (started on the mound the next day vs Harding Academy) gave them all he had and kept us in a position where we could still strike and make a game of it. We never shyied away from them and give it our all. As Coach Crane (former Paris coach) said, “You know what an Eagle does when a storm approaches? When everything else runs and hides and seeks shelter? An Eagle will fly to the highest peak it can find, turn it’s face into the storm and when the words of the storm gets there, the Eagle takes off. It goes into the eye of the storm and soars high! Well, that is this group. They never ran and found shelter; they faced the storm and took it on head first. This group was their divisional (conference) top seed. They are district champs, regional champs, and state tournament semifinalists. What a year they had. I am so proud of each and everyone of them. This season will be one that I remember forever.”

RNN Sports Photo / Jim Best

Yes, it will be a season that the players, coaches, and Eagles fans everywhere will always remember. Congratulations to Paris on an outstanding season, and we look forward to the 2023 baseball Eagles and the next phase of Paris Eagles baseball!

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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