Van Buren won its first baseball state title in 2021. It looks to go back-to-back Saturday

·2 min read

Van Buren High School has been around since the 1920s, but never won a state baseball title until last season. It might not have to wait nearly that long for the second.

At 4 p.m. Saturday, the Pointers face Marion at the Benton Athletic Complex for a chance to defend that championship.

Van Buren (26-5) is the top seed from 5A West, while East No. 1-seeded Patriots (31-5) now attempt to win their first state title after being crowned regular-season conference champions for the first time in 2022.

Here are some things to think about heading into this Arkansas baseball state championship.

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Break before final round

Each team last played on May 14, allowing both teams rest ahead of the finals reset their arms for the 110-pitch rule. The Pointers’ most-used pitchers -- Eli Gilreath (10-1, 69.1 IP, 1.82 ERA) and Devin Gattis (9-2, 68.2 IP, 1.84 ERA) -- will have to match a Patriots pitching staff that has thrown 14 shutouts. That includes six in a row and seven out of the last eight.

Van Buren comebacks

The Pointers' remarkable run has included blowouts in addition to late-game rallies. It has come back seven times when trailing in the sixth inning or later this season. This includes a 4-3 state tournament second-round victory over Jonesboro in which the Pointers were behind 3-1 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, yet won 4-3 in the eighth on a Gattis walk-off triple.

The largest comeback came on the road against Southside when it was down 7-1, then scored seven times in the seventh to win 8-7.

Players to watch

Van Buren two-way standout Gilreath is batting .352, while catcher Connor Brady is second on the team with a .350 average and has a team-leading 28 RBIs. Brady also pitched a seven-inning complete game with 12 strikeouts to help defeat Batesville 12-3 in the state semifinals.

For the Patriots, Missouri signee Gage Watson went 1-for-7 with 0 RBIs in the first two state tournament games, but went 1-for-3 with a double and 3 RBIs in the 7-0 semifinal win over Sheridan.

You can follow Bryant Roche on Twitter @BRocheSports and you can email him at BRoche@gannett.com

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Van Buren High School baseball vs Marion in Arkansas 5A final: repeat?