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Van Buren sweeps Siloam Springs, clinches 5A-West baseball crown

n The Panthers were eliminated from postseason contention. by Walter Woodie | April 28, 2021 at 5:18 a.m.

VAN BUREN -- A three-run first-inning outburst was more than enough for starter Connor Johnson to lead Van Buren its first conference baseball title in 11 years.

Johnson, one of the top pitchers in the state, allowed no earned runs in six innings of work as the Pointers capture the outright 5A-West championship with a 4-1 victory over Siloam Springs in the first game of a doubleheader at Iverson Riggs Field.

The Pointers completed the sweep with a 13-0, five-inning win in the nightcap.

The doubleheader sweep officially eliminated Siloam Springs from postseason contention.

Van Buren (21-7, 12-2) will meet the fourth seed from the 5A-South in the Class 5A State Tournament on May 13 in Jonesboro. This was only the fifth conference title for the Pointers since 1959 and only the third outright title (1985, 1995, 2021). The last conference title was a 5-way tie in the 7A-Central in 2010 en route to a state runner-up finish.

First-year coach Luke Weatherford said before the season, winning a conference title was a team goal.

"It's great. It's great," Weatherford said. "It was nice to be able to achieve that today."

Last year's Pointer 2020 squad was 6-1 before the season was cancelled so this title was special for this group of seniors.

"I don't know how much I had to do with it," Weatherford said. "We knew we had a good team coming back this year. My job has been to make sure to put the players in the right spots to help them succeed.

Johnson's two-run single to shallow right-center keyed the Pointers' first-inning rally, scoring Tanner Callahan and Eli Gilreath, whose easily beat the throw to the plate after being sent home by Weatherford. Sammy Seeger added the other run as he scored from second on a two-out error for the early 3-0 lead.

"Any time we have a chance to take a base on a fluke play, we are going to take advantage," Weatherford said. "(Siloam Springs starter Gavin Henson) had a hard time settling in at the start and were fortunate to get the three runs we got," Weatherford said. "After that, he settled in and we had a hard time."

The Panthers (14-14, 5-9) got their lone run in the second as Brayden Fain reached on a two-out dropped third strike on a wild pitch. After moving to second on a single by Christian Ledeker, Fain stole third and scored on an error

Van Buren got that run back in the bottom of the fourth ad Chi Henry singled, went to third on a wild pickoff throw and came home on a wild pitch.

Johnson, who has an earned-run average of 0.50 before Monday's game, allowed an unearned run in the second while scattered four hits over six innings, walking two and striking out 10. He threw 105 pitches, including a 30-pitch sixth inning where he walked two with two out before striking out Andrew Pilcher looking to end the threat.

Callahan came in to pitch in the seventh and retired the Panthers in order to get the save for the Pointers.

"(Johnson) was not his best, but that's him – he buckles down, get the strikeout to get out of (the inning)," Weatherford added. "I was glad to get Tanner in the seventh to get the save. I want him to get that experience of closing the game out because we know we are going to need that in the state tournament."

Ledeker led Siloam Springs with two hits, while Henson and Lucas Junkermann each had one hit.

Henson went the distance for Siloam Springs, allowing five hits, two earned runs, four walks and four strikeouts.

In the nightcap, Van Buren scored seven runs on seven hits in the first inning to seize control of the game. Devin Gattis tossed a five-hit, five-inning shutout as the Pointers cruised to the run-rule victory.

Elijah Coffey, Nathan Lee, Henson, Ledeker, Nick Driscoll and Junkermann each had base hits. Fain took the loss on the mound while Spencer Stephenson and Driscoll also pitched.

Siloam Springs is scheduled to play at Rogers Heritage on Wednesday before turning around and hosting Heritage on Thursday.

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