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Oilers to open state tourney against Fort Smith

by Jason Avery | July 22, 2021 at 9:00 p.m.

The summer has been a record-breaking one for the El Dorado Oilers.

The Oilers celebrated their 100th win since their program resumed play in 2015, and they set highs for most wins in a season with 24 to date, and their 10-1 zone record is also their best.

Now the Oilers are hoping to have their best postseason run, but standing in their way is a team that ranks as one of the best in Arkansas year in and year out.

This afternoon, the Oilers take on defending state champion Fort Smith to start play at the Arkansas AAA State Tournament at Conway.

Game time is set for 12:30 p.m.

“Our opponent plays about a similar slate of games as we do, about 30, 35 games over the course of about six or seven weeks during the summer,” Oilers coach Greg Harrison said of Fort Smith. “Most of their opponents are in the northwest part of the state, and they filter into Oklahoma and Missouri. They play in quite a few tournaments up there like we’ll play in some tournaments in Louisiana as well as Texas.

“They see some pretty salty competition up there to help get them game-ready. I feel like we’ve seen some pretty quality competition down here. I’m definitely interested in seeing them. For a few years, we always tried to make an attempt for us to go up there and for them to come down here at least once after we got the opportunity to face them the first time we ever went to state, which was back in 2017.

“Of course, that was a 14-5 ballgame, but after that, we’ve always had an opportunity to try and play each other, and we play each other well. We’re both looking forward to a pretty quality ballgame. Fort Smith Sportsmen has been a program that’s been running consecutively for over 60 years, so we’re definitely going to have an opportunity to face an established program and one that’s on top of their game right now.”

Harrison said the state tournament will give the players the opportunity to showcase themselves in front of college coaches.

“We’re playing at UCA, and we didn’t get an opportunity to play there last year due to COVID,” Harrison said. “I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of our young men, especially if they’re wanting to move on and play at the next level or are already playing at the next level.

“It gives them an opportunity to play in front of college coaches from around the area. Being a turf field, we’re going to be accustomed to that with our home field this year where we played at Schoolboy Rowe Field out at the Complex, so we should be familiar with that type of playing surface.”

The Oilers capped their regular season on Sunday with a doubleheader sweep of Sheridan, and Harrison said the Oilers are looking forward to getting their postseason started.

“From what I’ve heard from many of the commissioners and coaches from around the state, we’re definitely a quality opponent, but there’s many other quality opponents if you look at this bracket,” Harrison said. “Fort Smith is definitely going to be a team to beat. Russellville is definitely a team to watch, which we had an opportunity to play them at the state tournament. We lost 2-1 in a very close ballgame, and Russellville made it all the way to the finals. Sheridan always brings a quality team, Bryant always bring a quality team, Cabot should be solid as well.”

When asked about keys to success for the Oilers, Harrison said pitching and defense will be critical.

“Pitching. We have some very experienced arms, and we’re probably as deep as we’ve ever been when it comes to our rotation. We have some quality arms to go to out of our bullpen, especially some that are coming up from the junior program.” Harrison said.

“Hunter Lawrence, John Robert Burson and Kolin Parker all threw quality innings for the Drillers this year, so we’re definitely excited about having them to help round out our staff.

“Defense should also be a cornerstone for us throughout this tournament. We knew going into the season that defense would be a catalyst for how well we were able to advance. We were confident in our defense to start the year, and we’re still confident in our defense now. This is an opportunity to see what we’re made of.”

The Oilers’ historic season can be traced back to when the majority of the players began cutting their teeth with the El Dorado Drillers before making their way up to the senior team. Now everything has come full circle.

“We have quite a few established ballplayers,” Harrison said. “If you look at our roster, many of our ballplayers were eighth-graders or ninth-graders when we started our junior program back in 2016. Some of our ballplayers have been with us ever since eighth grade. This is the first team that we’ve had come all the way up through high school and some of them are college freshmen.

“Having a program that they’ve been able to build and grow through and build relationships and memories together, they’ve had the opportunity of going through the grinder of playing American Legion baseball, some of the most quality amateur baseball that you’re going to find in this area. It’s been fun to watch them grow over those years.”

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