The postseason curtain for the El Dorado Drillers formally rises on Saturday with the start of the Arkansas American Legion Junior Zone 4 Tournament at Sheridan.
The Drillers, who wrapped up their regular season against Arkansas Pulpwood Tuesday night, enter as the No. 2 seed and will take on Malvern, the No. 5 seed, at 5 p.m. Saturday.
For the Drillers to advance to the state tournament, they must finish in one of the top two spots out of a six-team field.
The Drillers finished zone play last Friday with a sweep at Sheridan, winning both games by a run, and coach Greg Harrison believes the familiarity the Drillers have with the other teams in the field will be a big help.
“We played Sheridan four times, Harmony Grove three times and we’ve played Texarkana, so we’ve played a lot of these teams that are going to be in this tournament,” Harrison said.
“Of course, we aren’t as familiar with Poyen and Malvern, but Sheridan is supposed to play Malvern (Tuesday). They’ve already played them once and beat them before, but Malvern hasn’t really scheduled that many games as compared to other teams.
“From where we stand, we’ve beaten Sheridan four times, we’ve beaten Harmony Grove three times, we lost to Texarkana, but that was during extended summer where we had about 10 players that were out.
“We actually played Texarkana to two really close ballgames, and we feel with the team that we do have, we feel pretty confident going into this tournament.”
One noticeable change is that the bracket has been configured differently than in years past.
“It’s a little bit different as opposed to a traditional bracket,” Harrison said.
“There’s six teams in our zone tournament, and you would normally see two teams get a bye, but they changed it due to the pitch count rules to make it more fair for the teams that are playing.
“Everybody is going to play the same amount of games as they go through the tournament, but if we win against Malvern on Saturday, we will play the loser of Texarkana and Harmony Grove.
“With that being said, we have to win three games in order to qualify for state. We have to win four or five games in order to win our zone tournament. First and foremost, our focus is on Malvern, then from there, focusing on the next game at hand.”
And while Harrison said he is happy with where the Drillers are positioned, upsets could lead to some interesting matchups.
“If you see some surprises, especially with some of the lower-seeded teams beating a higher seed, it can definitely make it interesting whenever it comes to pitching matchups,” Harrison said.
“But one thing that I like about this team is I think we have one of the deepest pitching staffs that we’ve had in many years for either the Oilers or the Drillers. We have quite a few young men who have experience pitching for both the Oilers and the Drillers, and many of them have been highly depended on by their high schools. This gives them an opportunity to see where they stand at this point in their career as far as their talent level.”
As far as Tuesday’s game with Arkansas Pulpwood is concerned, Harrison said he wanted to use it as a tune-up for this weekend.
“That’s why we normally schedule games with Camden right before our zone tournaments, and we’ve done the same thing with the Oilers,” Harrison said. “Since the Oilers have already qualified for state, we scheduled Crossett and Sheridan AA going in there so we can get some guys a couple of innings on the mound.
“We’re definitely not looking at having anybody going the distance in either of those games. We want to give a few guys some looks on the mound.”