Panthers wrap up spring practice, head into summer

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

What a difference one year makes for head coach Todd Wood and the Heber Springs Panther football team.

After surviving the trials of COVID-19 and a 2-9 record during the 2020 season, Wood and the Panthers completed their first spring practice and head into the 2021 season with high hopes.

“We worked out three times a week, and Tuesdays and Thursdays were learning days,” Wood said. “The players remembered what they learned last year, and we tried to build on that. We fine-tuned what we learned. One of our goals was to put players in the right position on offense and defense going into fall practice.”

Wood said the year of experience helped he and his staff to learn more about players’ skill level.

“I made the defensive calls during previous years and needed time to learn in calling the plays for the offense,” he said. “I’m not where I want to be, but farther ahead for next season. The best part is is we have a better idea where each player should be on offense and defense.”

One of the team’s questions going into next season will be developing a new starting quarterback. Matthew Cook, who has graduated, moved into that role beginning with the third game last season.

Sophomore Xander Lindley, junior Wyatt Winchester and senior John McBroome took most of the snaps during spring drills.

“McBroom (who started the first two games last season) is back,” Wood said. “He has been working on improving his footwork and increased his speed, so he can escape out of the pocket and throw on the run. We are working with him to read defenses and where to throw the ball.”

Winchester worked at quarterback last year, but he had limited game action.

“He (Winchester) has the strongest arm of the three players,” Wood said. “He needs to work on his footwork and being more of a mobile quarterback, plus read defenses better.”

Lindley, who was on last year’s junior high school team, has limited experience.

“He has a good arm, very mobile, reads defenses well and throws to the right receiver,” Wood said. “He will get a strong look because of his mobility. We hope to have a starter in place by our preseason scrimmage (at Beebe on Aug. 17).”

Jackson West is the leading candidate to start at running back.

“He was the backup last year,” Wood said. “We like him at receiver with his height and good hands. Parker Brown also has good hands, along with a lot of speed (4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Parker also is a possibility at running back, along with Gideon Tate.”

The Panthers also have experience back at receiver with Gus Hannah, Easton Cusick and West. Brown, Austin Winchester and Dalton Yancey also are candidates.

“Gus will be one of our quicker receivers and a primary target,” Wood said. “Easton has worked hard during the offseason to build his body up and increase his speed. Gus and Easton will be our mainstays. Austin had a good spring and is a big target for the underneath passes. I feel good about our receivers.”

Chris Edwards, a projected starter at cornerback, could see action at receiver.

Three starters return on the offensive line — tackle Thad Bray, center Zach Thomas and guard Peyton Owens. Tripp Young is a projected starter at the other guard with the other tackle spot  undetermined.

“We were able to get into the weight room and steadily increased our maximum lifts during the spring,” Wood said. “The players gained weight, and we should be OK on the line.”

Wood said Lucas Langster, who is projected as a starter on the defensive line, and Corbin Jones could play on the offensive line.

Wood liked the defense’s progress and hopes few players will have to go both ways.

“I’m happy with the defense, particularly in the secondary,” he said. “We will have two new linebackers. We will do more fine-tuning going into fall practice.”

Wood said the goal is to have as few players as possible playing on offense and defense fulltime.

“We may go with players who you didn’t see on the field much last year,” he said. “Chris Benton is a big boy and give us more size at nose guard.

Blaze Emerson and Jones also will play with Langster at defensive end. We plan also to rotate guys like Bray, Owens and Young to help with depth.”

Kenan Sneed, last year’s leading tackler, returns at linebacker. Thomas is expected to play at inside linebacker. Hayden Johnson, Hayden Davis, Dakota Farmer, Tate and West are candidates at outside linebacker.

Edwards is the projected starter at one cornerback with the starter undetermined at the other cornerback spot. Gage Buford and Colton Turley are the expected starters at the safeties.

“I liked what I’ve seen in the secondary,” Wood said.

Heber Springs will compete at the Greenbrier 7-on-7 tournament on June 10. The Panthers will be participating in a 7-on-7 event at Carlisle and possibly one more tournament, plus two team camps.

Panthers season ends in district tourney

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

A season of ups and downs came to a conclusion for the Heber Springs Panther baseball team on Monday.

Ozark capitalized on its opportunities during the second and sixth innings and defeated the Panthers 7-2 in a 4-4A Conference Tournament play-in game at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.

Heber Springs finished the season with a record of 5-14.

“It was a game of momentum swings,” Panther head coach Monterio May said. “We came out a little flat for the first inning. We didn’t capitalize on Ozark’s mistakes like we should and could have scored more runs. The little things made a big difference in the end.”

Jacob Lawsen led off the top of the second inning for Ozark by reaching on an error. Dax Shaffer followed with a single, and Lawsen scored the game’s first run on an infield out. Rylee Griffin walked to load the bases. Tyler Sanders was safe on an error as Shaffer and Griffin scored for the 3-0 lead.

“I told the team during the third inning we needed to chip away at the lead,” May said. “We scored two runs during the fifth and had an opportunity for more runs before a base-running blunder.”

Corbin Jones and Conner Riddle each hit singles to start the bottom of the fifth. Garrett Hudspeth bunted in an attempt to advance the runners and beat the throw to first base to load the bases. Matthew Cook lined a 2-run single into center field. Easton Cusick, running for Hudspeth, was caught in a rundown between second and third bases for the first out.

The Panthers reloaded the bases with walks to Kenan Sneed and Cole Payton. Larsen relieved McAnally and stopped the rally by striking out the next two batters as Ozark clung to a 3-2 lead.

Ozark put the game away by scoring four runs in the top of the sixth inning. The Hillbillies loaded the bases on back-to-back walks and a hit batsman. Jones, who relieved Hudspeth, hit Sanders with a pitch for the first running of the inning, scoring Cook. The final two runs scored on a balk and a 2-run single by Sebastain Ross.

“We gave up too many free passes (six walks),” May said. “We need to learn from this season and plan to be back in the playoffs next year. I’m proud of the team for never giving up.”

The Panthers  will lose two senior starters to graduation — Cook and Hudspeth. May said the team’s future is bright.

“We are losing  good seniors, who were outstanding leaders for the team,” May said. “We have a lot of talent returning and more on the way.”

Ozark 030 004 0–7 5 2
Heber Springs` 000 020 0–2 6 3
Ozark hitters — Kayden McAnally 2 singles; Sebastian Ross single, 2 RBIs; Rylee Griffin single, 1 RBI; Dax Shaffer single; Tyler Sanders 1 RBI.
Ozark pitchers — Kayden McAnally(W) 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned run, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks in 4.1 innings; Jacob Larsen (Save) 1 hit, 0 runs, 4 strikeouts in 2.2 innings.
Heber Springs hitters — Mathew Cook 2 singles, 2 RBIs, 1 stolen base; Corbin Jones 2 singles; Garrett Hudspeth single; Conner Riddle single.
Heber Springs pitchers — Garrett Hudspeth (L) 4 hits, 4 runs, 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts, 5 walks in 5 innings; Corbin Jones 1 hit, 3 earned runs, 1 walk in 2 innings.

Panthers thump Hillbillies in regular season finale

Heber Springs pitcher J.T. Spears delivers a first-inning pitch to an Ozark batter on Friday at Panther Field. The Panthers won the 4A-4 contest 10-1. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs came out swinging and celebrated senior night with one of its best performances of the season at the Heber Springs Sports Complex on Friday.

Kenan Sneed, Garrett Hudspeth and Matthew Cook each hit three singles as the Panthers whipped Ozark 10-1 in a 4-4A Conference baseball game. Sneed led the offense with three RBIs while Hudspeth had two RBIs.

Heber Springs and Ozark will meet again at 4:30 p.m. Monday, also at the Heber Springs Sports Complex, in a play-in game at the conference tournament. The winner will advance to play Clarksville at Dardanelle on Tuesday.

“We played a complete baseball game,” Panther coach Monterio May said. “I was happy to get all of the seniors in the game on senior night. We are starting to put everything together and excited to see what this team will do going forward.”

Heber Springs (4-8 in conference, 5-13 overall) fell from a No. 4 to a No. 6 seed because of a forfeit of an earlier win against Subiaco Academy. The forfeiture occurred because a pitcher exceeded the pitch count limit during that game.

The Panthers had 13 hits, all singles, against three Ozark pitchers.

“We got the bats rolling,” he said. “We quit swinging at bad pitches.”

J.T. Spears limited Ozark to three hits with two strikeouts in six innings. Matthew Cook pitched the seventh inning.

“J.T. competes every day and embodies everything we want to do as a team,” May said. “He brings  intensity and consistency. He usually throws around 70 percent strikes. I told him we need him to throw at least 60 percent to win. He does it with five different pitches.”

Heber Springs scored one run in the first and second innings.

Hudspeth and Cook hit singles to start the bottom of the first inning. Sneed’s fly ball to the outfield allowed Hudspeth to tag and advanced to third base.

Hudspeth scored on a wild pitch for the 1-0 lead.

In the second inning, Corbin Jones reached on an error and Conner Riddle had a single. Jones scored on Hudspeth’s base hit.

After Ozark scored in the top of the fourth, the Panthers responded with three runs during the bottom of the inning and increased their lead.

Hudspeth walked and advanced to third base on Cook’s single. Sneed followed with an RBI base hit, scoring Hudspeth. Cole Payton walked to load the bases. Xander Lindley also walked, bringing in Cook from third base. Sneed scored on an error as the Panthers held a 5-1 lead.

Heber Springs put the game away in the fifth by scoring five runs. Riddle hit a single and later scored on Hudspeth’s base hit. After Cook’s single, Sneed lined a 2-run single into center field. The final two runs came on an error and a fielder’s choice.

May said the win gives momentum to the team for Monday’s game.

“We will be ready to play,” he said.

Ozark 000 100 0- 1 3 3
Heber Springs` 110 350 x- 10 13 2
Ozark hitters — Sebastian Ross single; Dylan Herriage single; Rylee Griffin single; Tyler Sanders 1 stolen base.
Ozark pitchers — Kayden McAnally (L) 7 hits, 5 runs, 3 earned runs, 4 walks in 3.1 innings; Dax Shaffer 3 hits, 3 earned runs, 2 walks in .2 inning; Dylan Herriage 3 hits, 2 runs, 5 strikeouts in 2 innings.
Heber Springs hitters — Kenan Sneed 3 singles, 3 RBIs; Garrett Hudspeth 3 singles, 2 RBIs, 2 stolen bases; Matthew Cook 3 singles, 1 stolen base; Conner Riddle 2 singles, 1 stolen base; Xander Lindley single, 1 RBI; Corbin Jones single; J.T. Spears 1 RBI; Easton Cusick 1 stolen base.
Heber Springs pitchers — J.T. Spears (W) 3 hits, 1 run, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks in 6 innings; Mathew Cook 0 hits, 0 runs in 1 inning.

Southerners top Panthers in extra innings

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Good pitching kept the Heber Springs Panthers close, but missed opportunities led to a 5-4 non-conference baseball loss in eight innings to Southside Batesville (4-11) at the Heber Springs Sports Complex Thursday.

Heber Springs (3-5 in 4-4A Conference, 4-10 overall) will try and bounce back against conference foe Clarksville (4-4 in conference, 7-7 overall) at 4:30 p.m. Friday at home. The Panthers trail third place Clarksville and fourth place Pottsville (3-4 in conference, 5-7 overall) by one game in the loss column.

Starter Corbin Jones allowed five hits, four runs (two runs earned), struck out four and walked two in seven inning. Cole Payton, the losing pitcher in relief, pitched the eighth inning. Payton limited the Southerners to one hit, yielded one earned run and struck out one batter.

“Corbin pitched a great game, and Cole pitched well,” Heber Springs coach Monterio May said. “Corbin mixed his pitches well and stayed ahead of the batters. We didn’t finish the game as a team. We wanted to win and keep the momentum from Tuesday’s game at Pottsville going into Friday’s game with Clarksville.”

May said one of the game’s determining factors was the Panthers not capitalizing on Southside’s mistakes.

“It’s the little plays over the course of a game that make the difference,” he said. “I remember about three or four times it happened. We are not capitalizing on little mistakes that teams make. We played a good game and swung the bats decent.”

Heber Springs took the lead during the bottom of the second inning. Gage Buford hit a single and later scored from third base on John McBroom’s RBI base hit.

Southside scored three runs on three hits and a Heber Springs fielding error in the top of the third inning for a 3-1 lead. The Southerners held the lead until the sixth inning.

J. T Spears singled and was replaced by courtesy runner Conner Riddle. McBroom followed with a base hit and Jones was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Riddle scored on Zachary Parker’s single and reduced Southside’s lead to 3-2.

Easton Cusick, who was a courtesy runner for McBroom, was tagged out on the same sequence at the plate.

The Panthers tied the game when Xander Lindley, a courtesy runner for Jones, scored from third base on a passed ball.  Heber Springs took the 4-3 lead when Parker scored on Kenan Sneed’s sacrifice fly to the outfield.

Southside tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the seventh. The Southerners scored the winning run on a Heber Springs fielding error in the eighth.

May said Garrett Hudspeth and Spears have their rest and will be available to pitch against Clarksville on Friday.

“Our pitching is set and both are ready to go,” May said. “We want to go as high in the conference standings as we can and get a good seed for the playoffs. We are starting to play our best baseball and want to be in the top four for the conference tournament.”

Southside 003 000 11–5 3 3
Heber Springs 010 003 00–4 8 4
Southside Batesville hitters — Bo Trucks 2 singles, 1 RBI; Tyson Trucks single, 1 RBI; Blayne Bufford single, 2 stolen bases; Kaelan Duncan single, 1 stolen base; Carson McGhee single, 1 stolen base; Landen Haas 1 stolen base; Kyle Long 1 stolen base.
Southside  pitchers — Kaelan Duncan 5 hits 1 run, 1 strikeout in 5 innings; Bryson Duncan 2 hits, 3 earned runs, 1 walk in .1 inning; Blayne Bufford (W) 0 hits, 0 runs, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk in 2.2 innings.
Heber Springs hitters — Matthew Cook single, double, 1 stolen base; John McBroome 2 singles, 1 RBI; Kenan Sneed single, 1 RBI; Zachary Parker single, 1 RBI; Cole Payton single; Gage Buford single; Garrett Hudspeth 1 stolen base.
Heber Springs pitchers –Corbin Jones 5 hits, 4 runs, 2 earned runs, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks in 7 innings; Cole Payton (L 0-1) 1 hit, 1 earned run, 1 strikeout in 1 inning.

Panthers fall to Bulldogs in nonconference action

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Monday’s nonconference baseball match with Conway St. Joseph turned into one of those kind of days that the Heber Springs Panthers will try and forget quickly.

Playing for the first time in 10 days, the Panthers resumed the schedule and lost to St. Joseph 15-1 at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.

The game ended on the 10-run rule after five innings.

“It turned into one of those days when the wheels completely fell off,” Heber Springs coach Monterio May said. “We practiced for the past four days, but we have a lot of rust to get rid of.”

St. Joseph scored one run during the first inning and two more runs in the second. The Bulldogs broke the game open  by scoring 11 runs during the third and added one run in the fifth.

The Panthers avoided a shutout in the bottom of the fifth.

Cole Payton was hit by a pitch and Conner Riddle walked.  St. Joseph turned a double play as Payton reached third base. Kenan Sneed followed with an RBI single, scoring Payton from third base.

The Panthers (2-3 in 4-4A Conference, 3-5 overall) were scheduled to play at Ozark on Tuesday and at Morrilton on Thursday. Heber Springs will play Woodlawn and Rose Bud at Rose Bud on Saturday.

St. Joseph 13(11) 01–15 9 2
Heber Springs 000 01–1  4 4
St. Joseph hitters — Nicholas French single, double, 2 RBIs; Collin Coney 2 singles; Luke Pope single, 3 RBIs; Max Longing single, 2 RBIs; Caleb Mallett single, 1 RBI; Jared Sanders single, 1 RBI; Gabriel Stobaugh single; Luke Brigger 1 RBI; Cole Garner 1 RBI.
St. Joseph pitchers — Cole Garner (W) 4 hits, 1 earned run, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts in 5 innings.
Heber Springs hitters — Kenan Sneed 2 singles, 1 RBI; Matthew Cook single; Garrett Hudspeth single.
Heber Springs pitchers — Xander Lindley (L, 0-2) 6 hits, 6 runs, 5 earned runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts in 2 innings; Mathew Cook 1 hit, 3 earned runs, 2 walks in 0 innings; Gage Buford 2 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned runs, 2 walks in .1 inning; Corbin Jones 0 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 1 strikeout in 2.2 innings.

Panthers, May claim first win

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Monteri0 May will never forget his first win as head baseball coach at Heber Springs High School.

Garrett Hudspeth pitched the final two innings and hit a bloop single to drive home the winning run in the bottom of the eighth as the Panthers defeated Pottsville 8-7 in a 4-4A Conference game at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.

Hudspeth struck out five batters with one walk in relief of starter J.T. Spears.

Heber Springs picked up its first win in three games. The Panthers lost to conference foe Morrilton in the season opener and to Clinton in non-conference play.

Heber Springs loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Kenan Sneed hit a groundball against a drawn-in infield and Matthew Cook, who started the inning with a single, was thrown out at the plate for the second out.

Hudspeth hit a blooper behind second base that Pottsville shortstop Matthew Moore failed to catch as Xander Lindley scored from third base.

“We will take it anyway we can,” May said. “I told the players before the game we were going to fight every pitch, win every inning and let the outcome play out. I’m proud of how these guys completed with dedication every day. It paid off in this game.”

Heber Springs struggled at the plate during Thursday’s game at Clinton, and May challenged his team to reverse that trend.

“We want to swing through every pitch and try and stay away from check swings,” May said. “We wanted to put the ball in play. We struck out too much against Clinton and wanted to reduce that.”

Spears allowed seven hits and seven runs (one earned run) and struck out six batters in six innings.

“J.T. first met me in January and told said he had been working on pitching for the last year,” May said. “He said that he was going to be one of our best pitchers. He showed that in this game. I told him if he could throw strikes, he could become a good pitcher. We didn’t play great defense behind him, but he kept battling.”

May hoped to get five or six innings from Spears and then give the ball to Hudspeth.

“I told Garrett earlier in the day he will close out the game and be the leader that his teammates think he is,” May said.

Pottsville built a 4-1 lead by scoring one run in the top of the first inning and three runs in the second.

Heber Springs responded with three runs in its half of the second inning. The Panthers loaded the bases with one out as Cook scored from third base on an error. Spears then came home on an infield out. Lindley scored on Sneed’s RBI single to left field.

Pottsville increased its lead to 5-3 in the third inning.

Heber Springs led for the first time by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fourth. Conner Riddle scored on a bases-loaded walk to Cole Payton. Cook hit a 2-run single, scoring Sneed and Hudspeth, as the Panthers led, 6-5. Payton later came home on an error.

Pottsville tied the game at 7-7 in the fifth.

“This was a good win,” May said. “The field was wet and more rain was starting to come down. We hope to build on this and keep rolling along.”

Heber Springs (1-1 conference, 1-2 overall) is scheduled to play at Clarksville on Tuesday and return home to host Dardanelle on Friday in conference games.    

Pottsville 131 020 00–7 7 5
Heber Springs 030 400 01–8 9 4
Pottsville hitters — Aiden Owens single, double 1 RBI; Zach Gray single, double; Cade Linker double, 2 RBIs; Easton Stevens single 1 stolen base.
Pottsville pitchers — Matthew Moore 5 hits, 7 earned runs, 4 strikeouts, 5 walks in 4.2 innings; Jacob McCurry 2 hits, 0 runs, 3 strikeouts, 1 walk in 1 inning; Caden Caruthers 2 hits, 1 earned run, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk in 1.2 inning.
Heber Springs hitters — Matthew Cook 2 singles, 2 RBIs, 1 stolen base; Garrett Hudspeth single, 1 RBI; Kenan Sneed single, 1 RBI; Conner Riddle single, 1 RBI; John McBroome single; Gage Buford single; J.T. Spears single; Xander Lindley single; Cole Payton 1 RBI.
Heber Springs pitchers — J.T. Spears 7 hits, 7 runs, 1 earned run, 6 strikeouts in 6 innings; Garrett Hudspeth (W, 1-0) 0 hits, 0 runs, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk in 2 innings.

Panthers fall in baseball opener

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

Heber Springs breezed into the fifth inning with a 6-1 lead and apparently on the way to give first year head coach Monterio May a win in his debut, but Morrilton rallied to tie the game at 6-6 by scoring five unearned runs in the fifth inning and took the lead in the sixth and defeated the Panthers 8-6 in the 4-4A Conference baseball opener at home.

Despite the loss, May said he was proud of his team’s effort.

“We committed two mental errors (in the fifth inning), but we will work on correcting those mistakes,” May said. “We kept competing until the end of the game. We talked in practice about not worrying when we make one mistake. We don’t want it to become two mistakes, but it turned into five. When we face adversity, we need to keep competing and finish the rest of the game strong. We had too many things happen at one time and couldn’t slow the game down. We need to learn to step back and take a deep breath.”

Heber Springs scored runs in the second and third innings. Cole Payton, who walked earlier in the second, scored on Conner Riddle’s infield grounder. The Panthers added one run in the bottom of the third on a bases-loaded walk for a 2-0 lead.

Morrilton scored one run in the top of the fourth, but Heber Springs answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Riddle led off with a single, stole second base and scored on Matthew Cook’s single. The Panthers loaded the bases as John McBroome was safe on a throwing error that got past the first baseman and rolled into right field for three runs and increased the lead to 6-1.

Morrilton took advantage of two Heber Springs errors for three runs in the top of the fifth. Cade Halbrook hit an RBI single and the Devil Dogs tied the game at 6-6 on Maddox Hogan’s base hit.

May said Garrett Hudspeth had a good performance in his first pitching start. Hudspeth allowed six runs (five unearned) on seven hits, struck out four and walked two. Cook relieved Hudspeth in the fifth. Gage Buford relieved Cook in the sixth.

“Garrett pitched well and into the fifth inning and showed he will be one of our team leaders,” May said. “Morrilton players showed relief in their faces when he came out of the game.”

Morrilton took the lead on an infield out in the sixth, followed by Drew Tiner’s RBI single.

Riddle and Kenan Sneed each had two singles for the Panthers.

“Conner was one of our bright spots,” May said. “This was the first time we hit against live pitching. We had a good collective team effort. Garrett made a great defensive play in the sixth when he caught a line drive at shortstop and stepped on second.”

Heber Springs was scheduled to play at Clinton in a nonconference game Thursday. The Panthers will host conference foe Pottsville at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Morrilton 000 152 0–8 13 2
Heber Springs 011 400 0–6 7  5
Morrilton hitters — Cade Halbrook 2 singles, double, 1 RBI, 2 stolen bases; Maddox Hogan 2 singles, 1 RBI; Jackson Dixon 2 singles, 1 stolen base; Drew Tiner single, 1 RBI; Luke Carter single, 1 RBI; Casey Jones single, 1 RBI; Beau McElroy single; Braydan Garrett single; Hunter White single; Maddox Hogan 2 stolen bases; Phillip Drilling 1 stolen base.
Morrilton pitchers — Phillip Drilling 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 2 strikeouts, 5 walks in 3 innings; Braydan Garrett 4 hits, 4 runs, 1 earned run, 2 strikeouts in 1 inning; Casey Jons (W, 1-0), 1 hit, 0 runs, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk in 3 innings.
Heber Springs hitters — Connor Riddle 2 singles, 1 RBI, 1 stolen base; Kenan Sneed 2 singles; Matthew Cook single, 1 RBI; Gage Buford single; Garrett Hudspeth single.
Heber Springs pitchers — Garrett Hudspeth 7 hits, 6 runs, 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks in 4.2 innings; Mathew Cook (L, 0-1) 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 strikeout in 2/3 of an inning; Gage Buford 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk in 1.2 inning.

Panthers’ season ends in northeast Arkansas

Heber Springs’ Easton Cusick is brought down by Trumann defender after a reception. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

TRUMANN – Heber Springs beat the threat of COVID-19 and completed the 2020 football season, but the conclusion didn’t go as planned.

Heber Springs (2-9) finished the year with a 43-14 loss to Trumann at RMC Stadium in the opening round of the Class 4A football playoffs Friday.

“If you had told me nine weeks ago we would play 11 games, I would have said you were crazy,” Heber Springs coach Todd Wood said. “We were blessed to play 11 games. A lot of players who were inexperienced before the start of the season gained experience, and they will be coming back next year. I’m proud of the players for never giving up at any time during the season.”

Trumann followed a similar script of previous Heber Springs’ opponents by converting turnovers into touchdowns. The Wildcats scored two of their three first-half touchdowns following an interception and a fumble recovery.

The Panthers held a 7-6 advantage in first downs during the first half. But Trumann had 154 yards of offense, 127 coming on the ground, to 89 for Heber Springs. The Wildcats had three quarterback sacks for a minus 18 yards.

Trumann scored touchdowns on its first two possession of the second half.

Overall, Trumann outgained Heber Springs 348-198. The Wildcats compiled 305 of their 348 yards on the ground, but only held the ball five more minutes than the Panthers (26:43-21:17). Trumann finished by sacking HSHS quarterbacks seven times for a minus 45 yards.

“It was the same story from most of the season, when we hang onto the ball, we did well,” Wood said. “When we didn’t, teams took advantage and put us in a hole. That happened again. You can’t do that against a playoff team.”

Senior quarterback Matthew Cook led the Panthers by completing 14-of-24 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Cook rushed nine times for a minus 6 yards, including sacks.

Senior running back Diego Rubio rushed for 65 yards on seven carries. Junior Jackson West ran for 50 yards on five attempts. Senior Nathan McKee caught seven passes for 63 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Parker Brown had 57 all-purpose yards and caught his first high school touchdown pass.

Rian King led Trumann with 109 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns. Milton Lewis ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Gavin Morgan also had 78 yards and scored one touchdown.

King’s interception put Trumann in position for the game’s first touchdown. The Wildcats drove 53 yards on six plays with King scoring on a 2-yard carry with 5:13 left in the first quarter. Efrain Garcia kicked the extra point for the 7-0 lead.

Trumann recovered a fumble at the Heber Springs 13 to set up its second touchdown. Two plays later, Lewis ran six yards for a touchdown with 11:56 left in the first half. Garcia kicked the extra point for the 14-0 lead.

Heber Springs answered with an 8-play, 54-yard drive following the kickoff. Cook passed 10 yards to McKee and Rubio broke loose on a 16-yard run to get the drive moving. Later, Rubio’s 11-yard run gave the Panthers a first-and-goal at the Trumann 1.

Two plays later, Cook rolled out and flipped a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brown with 8:31 remaining in the first half. A 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful as Heber Springs trailed, 14-6.

“We felt good after getting it to 14-6,” Wood said. “We had a good offensive drive and gained some momentum. I thought we could piece things together, get a defensive stop and get the ball back. Credit Trumann for coming out and doing some things different than we saw on film.”

Trumann regained a two-score lead before halftime by driving 54 yards on 12 plays. King scored on a 14-yard run with 1:56 to go for a 20-6 lead.

“I challenged the players at halftime to get a defensive start at the beginning of the third quarter,” Wood said. “We needed a defensive stop. Unfortunately, we were not healthy and had other players unable to play. We were just outmatched.”

Trumann began the third quarter on a 5-play, 58-yard drive. King broke free and ran 46 yards for the touchdown with 9:45 left. McClain ran for a 2-point conversion and increased the lead to 28-6.

The Wildcats held on downs and drove 59 yards on 11 plays. King capped the drive by scoring on a 9-yard run with 10:49 left in the game. Garcia kicked the extra point for the 35-6 lead.

Heber Springs’ second touchdown came on a 5-play, 61-yard drive. Cook connected on a 31-yard scoring pass to McKee with 8:44 left. Cook ran for the 2-point conversion as the Panthers trailed, 35-14.

Trumann recovered the attempted onside kickoff and scored two plays later. Morgan had a 46-yard touchdown run with 8:26 remaining. Lewis ran for the 2-point conversion.

Heber Springs’ Kenan Sneed and coach James Ortiz talk after coming of the halftime locker room. PHILIP SEATON PHOTO
Heber Springs (2-9)   0  6  0  8 - 14 
Trumann (6-5)         7 13  8 15 - 43  
FIRST QUARTER    
Trumann, Rian King 2-yard run (Efrain Garcia kick), 5:13 
SECOND QUARTER 
Trumann, Milton Lewis 7-yard run (Garcia kick), 11:56 
Heber Springs, Matthew Cook to Parker Brown 3-yard pass (pass failed), 8:31 
Trumann, Lewis 14-yard run (kick failed), 1:50 
THIRD QUARTER    
Trumann, King 46-yard run (Connor McClain run), 9:43 
FOURTH QUARTER  
Trumann, King 9-yard run (Garcia kick), 10:49 
Heber Springs, Cook to Nathan McKee 2-yard pass (Cook run), 8:44 Trumann, Gavin Morgan 46-yard run (Lewis run), 8:26 
TEAM STATS    
First Downs by Rush: Heber Springs 6, Trumann 13 
First Downs by Pass: Heber Springs 5, Trumann 1 
First Downs by Penalty: Heber Springs 1, Trumann 0 
Total First Downs: Heber Springs 12, Trumann 14 
Third-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 5/10, Trumann 3/7 
Fourth-Down Conversions: Heber Springs 1/3, Trumann 3/3 
Red-Zone Conversions: Heber Springs 2/1, Trumann 4/4 
Time of Possession: Heber Springs 21:17, Trumann 26:43 
Fumbles/Lost: Heber Springs 2/1, Trumann 1/1 
Turnovers: Heber Springs 2, Trumann 1      
Points Off Turnovers: Heber Springs 0, Trumann 14 
Penalties: Heber Springs 6/30, Trumann 6/52 
Rushing: Heber Springs 26/83/3.2, Trumann 44/305/6.9 
Passing: Heber Springs 16/27-115-2/1, Trumann 6/7-43-0/0 
Plays/Total Offense/YPP: Heber Springs 53/198/3.7, Trumann 51/348/6.8
Sacks/Yards Lost: Heber Springs 0/0, Mills 7/45 
Punts: Heber Springs 0, Trumann 1/41 
Inside 20: Trumann 1 
INDIVIDUAL STATS    
OFFENSE      
RUSHING: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 7/65, Jackson West 5/50, Nathan McKee 2/(-3), Matthew Cook 9/(-6), John McBroome 3/(-23). Trumann, Rian King 14/109/3, Milton Lewis 13/78/2, Gavin Morgan 7/78/1, Murphy Williams 3/33, Parks McNair 1/13, Connor McClain 1/4, Team 1/(-4), Garner Henderson 1/(-6). 
PASSING: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 14/24-105-2/1, John McBroome 2/3-10-0/0. Trumann, Connor McClain 6/7-43-0/0. 
RECEIVING: Heber Springs, Nathan McKee 7/63/1, Diego Rubio 2/8, Gus Hannah 1/25, Jackson West 1/5, Isaac King 1/8, Austin Winchester 1/8, Parker Brown 1/3/1, Chris Roberts 1/2, Easton Cusick 1/(-1). Trumann, Parks McNair 4/22, Gavin Morgan 1/11, Rian King 1/1. 
TOTAL OFFENSE: Heber Springs, Matthew Cook 99, Diego Rubio 65, Jackson West 50, Nathan McKee (-3), John McBroome (-13). Trumann, Rian King 109, Milton Lewis 78, Gavin Morgan 78, Connor McClain 47, Murphy Williams 33, Parks McNair 13, Garner Henderson (-6). 
PUNT RETURNS: None 
KICK RETURNS: Heber Springs, Parker Brown 3/54, Kenan Sneed 1/0, Austin Winchester 1/0. Trumann, Murphy Williams 1/0. 
FUMBLE RETURNS: None 
INTERCEPTION RETURNS: Trumann, Rian King 1/22 
ALL-PURPOSE YARDS: Heber Springs, Diego Rubio 73, Nathan McKee 60, Parker Brown 57, Jackson West 55, Gus Hannah 25, Isaac King 8, Austin Winchester 8, Chris Roberts 2, Easton Cusick (-1), Matthew Cook (-6), John McBroome (-23). Trumann, Rian King 132, Gavin Morgan 89, Milton Lewis 78, Parks McNair 35, Murphy Williams 33, Connor McClain 4, Garner Henderson (-6). 
SCORING: Heber Springs, Parker Brown 6, Nathan McKee 6, Matthew Cook 2. Trumann, Rian King 18, Milton Lewis 14, Gavin Morgan 6, Efrain Garcia 3 (3/4 XPA), Connor McClain 2. 
DEFENSE     
PUNTS/YARDS/AVERAGE/INSIDE THE 20/BLOCKED: Trumann, Connor McClain 1/41/1 
SACKS/YARDS LOST: Trumann, Garen Smithson 2/9, Garner Henderson 2/15, Eli Evett 1/10, Connor McClain 1/5, Desmond Langston 1/7 

Panther GameDay: Postseason starts in Trumann

By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY

The Heber Springs Panthers welcome another opportunity to play football in one of the most unique seasons in history.

Heber Springs (2-8) will meet Trumann (5-5) in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs at Roach Manufacturing Corporation (RMC) Stadium in Trumann Friday. Kickoff is scheduled at 7 p.m.

This will be the first meeting between these two teams in school history.

The Panthers finished the regular season with a 34-24 loss to Little Rock Mills University Studies, while Trumann defeated Cave City, 34-21.

The Panthers didn’t qualify for the playoffs as one of the conference’s top five teams, but opted to compete under the Arkansas Activities Association’s rule that all teams may compete this season because of COVID-19.

“We have had a lot of positive feedback from players and parents,” said Heber Springs coach Todd Wood when asked about participating in the playoffs. “They were happy that we are continuing our season. Our season is not over, and we hope to go out there and move forward in the playoffs. The game will be a good experience.”

The two teams played one common opponent during the regular season — Southside. Trumann shut out the Southerners 27-0 on Sept. 11, while the Panthers defeated Southside 22-17 on Oct. 23.

Quarterback Connor McClain and running back Milton Lewis are two of the players to watch when Trumann is on offense. The Wildcats operate from a form of the Single-Wing.

“Trumann prefers the run, but will pass,” Wood said. “The running attack is similar to what Clinton did. No. 2 (Lewis) is one of Trumann’s best athletes, and it likes to get the ball to him. We need to keep a close eye on him at all times. We must tackle well and have been stressing that during practice.”

Heber Springs’ preparation on offense will not change much from the last four opponents as Trumann plays a 3-4, defense.

Wood said the offense has shown improvement from game-to-game and he is looking for the team’s best performance against Trumann.

Heber Springs quarterback Matthew Cook is a running and passing threat, with Nathan McKee his primary target in the passing game. Cook has completed 130-of-231 passes for 1,476 yards and 11 touchdowns. He has rushed for 433 yards on 115 carries and scored four touchdowns. McKee is the team’s leading receiver with 51 catches for 615 yards and three touchdowns.

Wood also said he hopes for increased production from the running game. Diego Rubio has rushed for 394 yards on 85 attempts and scored eight touchdowns.

“If we can get into a good rhythm on offense, we will be OK,” Wood said. “It’s important to hold onto the ball and have no turnovers. The receivers also must make catches, and we need to protect the quarterback better. If we do that, it will open up our running game.”

Linebackers Preston Roberson and Kenan Sneed lead the defense. Wood expects the team will put lessons learned in recent games to good use against Trumann.

“We need to be in the right places and tackle well,” Wood said. “We must take it to Trumann and not let Trumann take it to us. We must win the battle at the line of scrimmage.”

Friday’s winner will play at Malvern (5-5) in the second round next week.