Tigers beat rival Panthers
Public address announcer Brent Melton set the tone for Arlington’s home baseball game with Bartlett last Thursday.
“We’re staying with the heavy stuff tonight. No doubt it’s working for us,” said Melton of his tune selection, which included Mastodon, Metallica, Motley Crüe, Iron Maiden, Guns N’ Roses that played throughout the Tigers’ 12-5 victory over Bartlett.
In a tune-up for the District 14-AAA tournament, the win gave them the No. 1 seeding.
The Tigers (18-7) brought the heavy stuff with Alabama commit Tyler Gentry hitting his second home run of the season, a 345-foot blast to left field in the second inning, and Memphis commit Hunter Goodman, a junior, hitting his season’s first homer moments later to left to give Arlington a 5-2 lead and prompting Melton’s heavy-metal comment.
Arlington scored six runs in the fifth inning, fueled by Goodman’s double, Luke Patterson’s single, a triple by Braedon Melton, who has scholarship offers to Lipscomb University and Union University and a home run by Noah Miller. Patterson and Miller are being recruited by Bethel University.
“We have a lot of power and we like to come out and get extra base hits and win,” said Gentry, a senior right fielder.
After a 13-1 loss to Collierville earlier last week, the bounce-back win was fun said Goodman.
“We have been pitching really well," he said. "We started hitting the ball really well tonight.”
Said Melton, “We knew that we had to come out and swing the bats because we knew Bartlett had a good team and would be throwing good pitches. I’m glad everybody got their minds right and were able to swing the bats like we did tonight.”
With eight hits, the Tigers improved their district record to 3-0 in their first meeting this season with Bartlett.
“We have been struggling with putting all three aspects of the game together, pitching, defense and hitting. I think we did a good job of that tonight. I am very proud of the way we played. Any win is big, especially against Bartlett. It is always a good rivalry game. We respect them a lot. We wanted to play the best baseball we can play every day,” said Arlington Head Coach Chris Ring, who is in his 17th year as a coach and 10th at Arlington.
“Obviously the home runs were big. Any time you can get a lead against a good program is always a good thing. It is crucial if you are going to put the game away. We did pretty good top to bottom. I don’t like to recognize one guy when it is a team win. There were some guys who stepped up and I am proud of the whole team.”
The Panthers (14-10-1, 3-1 in district) also got eight hits with Tucker King and B.J. Banyon each getting a team-high two (King a double and single and Banyon two singles). They loaded the bases in the first inning and Banyon scored for a 1-0 lead. King’s double in the fifth inning sliced Arlington’s 12-3 lead by two as Jose Rodriguez and Jon Baldelli scored.
“We had eight hits but we didn’t get key hits," said Bartlett Head Coach Josh Stewart, in his fourth year as head coach and 17th as a coach. "We didn’t execute in certain situations. Five of seven innings we had a lead-off man on and we scored five runs. We have got to take advantage and get some hits in big situations and put a crooked number on the board like we did last inning (two runs in the seventh). That is what they did. They had a big inning and scored six in one inning. That is more than we scored in the whole game."
Bartlett outfielder Reese Wagner said, “We didn’t have our A game. We did hit well.”
A senior who has signed to play at Christian Brothers University, Baldelli said, “We went out and played as hard as possible. We were really prepared for this game. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you want it to. We were a little tight behind the plate but we did our best to compete on the mound.”
Bartlett sophomore pitcher Brayden Arendale started and was relieved in the fifth by Andrew Vanzandt, a junior, with the Panthers trailing 7-3. Arendale was charged with the loss.
Starting for Arlington, Ryan Taylor got the win. He fanned three while improving his record to 7-0. He was relieved in the fifth inning by Drew Meadors, who had two strikeouts. Both are seniors.
In the first inning, Bartlett’s Cole Smith got a single along with Banyon, the leadoff hitter. Arlington’s Tate Kolwyck, a junior who has committed to Vanderbilt, got a single to lead off the first. Goodman followed with a single. Patterson walked and Kolwyck scored on a bases-loaded walk to Carter Cornelius. The Tigers led 2-1 at the end of one after Melton scored.
Baldelli, who had reached base on a walk, tied the game in the second inning on a single by King. In the bottom of the second, Gentry’s home run gave the Tigers a 4-2 lead. Dustin Looker had been hit by a pitch to start the inning. Goodman made it 5-2. The score stayed that way until the fifth.
Through four innings Bartlett had two runs on six hits while the Tigers had five runs on four hits.
After Mitchell Brooks scored for Bartlett in the fifth cutting the lead to 5-3, Gentry walked then stole second. Goodman’s double scored Gentry. Patterson singled sending Goodman to third. Cornelius and Miller both walked. Goodman scored on a bases-loaded walk and Melton tripled and the Tigers led 11-3 after Melton scored on an error. Miller’s homer came with two out in the sixth.
Rodriguez and Baldelli scored in the seventh after Logan Eason’s double.
Brooks said, “It came down to execution. They hit well. We played good defense but we stranded all the runners on second and third with less than two outs.”
“We have to grow up mentally. We have got to be mentally tough,” said Stewart. “We got frustrated with calls and got caught up in things we don’t have control over. We have got to concern ourselves with what we have control over and that is making good pitches, executing in certain situations, getting runners on third base with less than two outs and scoring runs. We had chances early to do a few things and we didn’t get a big hit but we also chased balls out of the zone and did things like that. When you do things like that against good ball teams, you are doing to lose. This group will be fine. We are looking to play our best baseball in May."
Said Baldelli, who chose CBU because of a “very good academic education” in engineering, “If we play our game. We don’t have the biggest kids but with our speed and talent that we have, we will have a pretty good chance.”
Arlington’s Dallas Blake has signed with CBU and Ethan Evers with Jackson State Community College.
Arlington, which finished as state AAA runner-up last year, knows that it will be tough despite its No. 1 district tournament seed.
“Bartlett has had our number in the district, I am not going to lie. They have done better than we have. Beating Bartlett is always tough,” said Ring.
Said Brooks, “When it comes to the district tournament, we are going to bring them all we have and show them what we can do.”
Earlier this season, Arlington was ranked No. 1 in the state. The Tigers went to Cary, North Carolina, to compete in the National High School Invitational. They played the nation’s No. 1 ranked team in Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy of Miami, Florida, and lost 3-1.
“After we came back from that we hit our valley. Everybody has a mid-season valley at some point. I am glad we are starting to climb back out of the valley and hopefully hitting our peak before playoffs start,” said Melton, who has a 4.4 grade-point average and made a 31 (out of 36) on his ACT.
“ACT is all about retaking it as many times as you can until you get the score that you want. GPA is just spending time outside of school studying and making sure your priorities are straight with baseball and school and staying in shape and everything you have to do.”
The last two years, Melton has run the 26.2-mile St. Jude Marathon. He said that it keeps him training as well as the Crossfit he does for baseball.
“I fell in love with it and I like to continue to do it throughout the year to maintain my strength.”
Two days after he ran the marathon, he ran the mile in 6:14, the fastest on the team, in a gruesome week of physical activity and team bonding that coaches termed “The Murfreesboro Challenge.”
With his team in second place in competition, “We needed something to pick us up to put us on top. I pushed to get that mile,” he said. “I feel like if I am in shape I am going to play much better. I am going to be able to be faster and stronger because baseball is a game of milliseconds. Every play at first base is a bang-bang play. So every inch of speed you have is really important.”
Melton has played almost every position on the field. Miller has also run the marathon.
His brother Bryce Melton plays left field on Arlington’s JV team. He ran the St. Jude half-marathon in December.
Bartlett third baseman Brooks made a 33 on his ACT. He has not committed to a college.
“He is trying to find somewhere to play and what is best for him from an educational standpoint,” said Stewart.
A senior, Brooks said, “School comes first. You get home at 6 p.m., eat dinner and study to make sure you keep your grades up."
Brooks, King, Cody Brewington, Hudson Peritt are the Panthers’ leading hitters. Peritt is planning to play at Dyersburg State. King is being recruited by Columbia State.
Gentry and Kolwyck pace the Tigers. Gentry has a team-high .440 batting average with an on-base percentage of .537. He has 18 RBI and 12 doubles. Kolwyck is batting .380 with team highs 24 RBI and five home runs.
The Panthers’ season has included four games against teams from Oklahoma, including North Edmond in a tournament in Pensacola. They have also played McCracken County of Paducah, Ky.
Baldelli pitched against both. “He has done well,” said Stewart.
Bartlett has faced Van Buren, Arkansas, and Lewisburg, Miss., along with Collierville, Houston, CBHS, Briarcrest.
“You can play your best baseball and still lose that is how good they are,” said Stewart.
Reese Wagner is a junior outfielder for Bartlett. When he was 10, he fell into a frozen pond in his Wolf Hollow neighborhood adjacent to Bon Lin Elementary School. He was a fifth grader at the school when the accident happened. He and three friends were playing football. He had been at the bottom of the pond for 10 minutes. He was taken to LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center in critical condition after being rescued by Bartlett firefighters.
After the Arlington game, Wagner said that life is “very special. God was on my side. I made it through the day with all the prayers, all my friends and all my family.”
Arlington’s JV manager freshman Jaxon Hindman was diagnosed with brain cancer two years ago and is now cancer free. Hindman ran the St. Jude half-marathon this past December.
After the Tigers’ lost to Collierville, both teams prayed for a 3-year-old boy said Ring, who wears a W.W. J. D. (What Would Jesus Do) bracelet.
“It keeps me in line. I need some reminders,” said Ring. “This team is very special. They are a very close-knit group off the field as well. There are a lot of good believers.”
Braedon Melton, Miller and Patterson are FCA leaders. The team has a Bible study a couple of times month.
The game Thursday may be the first of several between Bartlett and Arlington.
“This is always good to prepare for post-season because it is a rival game, the nerves they get in this game and some of the adrenaline they’re getting you have to learn to control. The kids are pumped about it. They all know each other and it’s a fun environment,” said Stewart. “There is a possibility we could play them five or six times in the next month.”
Written by Bill Sorrell, special to the Express.