Next week, El Dorado was slated to host the Arkansas American Legion Junior Zone 4 Tournament, but those plans were changed earlier this week.
“I spoke with the state commissioner, and we won’t be hosting it here,” said Greg Harrison, who coaches the El Dorado Drillers and El Dorado Oilers. “I’ve been making plans to do so, but with the number of teams that are in junior this year, they split them into two divisions.
“There’s a major and a minor division. We play in the major division. There’s 32 teams in the major division. There’s about 40 some-odd teams in the minor, so what they’re going to do with 32 teams is take eight of them and go to four different locations.
“We’re going to have a full play to play into the state tournament. There’s going to be two pools for each one, so there’s going to be two teams out of each one of those groups that’s going to the state tournament.”
The Drillers will head to Hot Springs where they will be in a pool with the Little Rock Tigers, Texarkana and Sheridan Teague.
The Drillers face the Little Rock Tigers at noon on July 11, Sheridan Teague at 2:30 p.m. on July 12 and Texarkana at 5 p.m. on July 13.
So how did the sudden change come about?
“What they’ve been taking into consideration is that there’s been a few teams that have been unwilling to travel longer distances because of gas prices, and they’re trying to make it as efficient as possible,” Harrison said.
Both the Drillers and Oilers have had a number of games that have been forfeited to them due to teams being unwilling to travel for several reasons.
“It’s been a challenge for us this summer already,” Harrison said. “Some teams haven’t been willing to travel due to gas prices or the heat or sore arms. We played at Sheridan on Monday and coach (Mike) Moore shared with me that they’re having the same issue.
“We played in Arkadelphia (on Tuesday), and they shared with me the same thing that teams were unable to travel. It’s been a challenge. There are some really dedicated teams like Arkadelphia, Sheridan, Bryant, Texarkana that we can get games in with, but there are some other ones that we have played that are not going to be available.”
The games the Oilers played on Tuesday were the first since wrapping up play at the Texarkana Tri-State Invitational on June 19, and Harrison said the break was noticeable in a positive sense.
“It was nice for some of the Oilers to get a break,” Harrison said. “When we went to Texarkana, we struggled hitting the ball. Pitching has been really carrying the Oilers this year, but we were hitting .269 as a team after Texarkana. Going to Arkadelphia, we hit the ball rather well and brought our team average up to .286.
“We hit the ball a whole better than what we had been doing. Having that break was nice. It gave the guys an opportunity to get in the batting cage, get rested up a little bit. The same can be said for the Drillers, but the thing about the Drillers is we have quite a bit of depth, so we want to give those guys as many reps as we can. We’ve been blessed with numbers. We have good competition, but we’re just finding that the most consistent competition are some of the same people.”
With a vacant week on the schedule, Harrison said he would like to get a game for the Drillers next week, but added several players could get playing time with the Oilers due to being dual-certified.
“I do plan on reaching out to Texarkana to see if they have an open date where we can meet up just to play one or both of their junior teams so that would help keep us sharp,” Harrison said.
“Going into any state tournament, whether it’s with the Drillers or the Oilers, we always try to have a week of preparation, but we’re never able to do it because of where the dead weeks fall.
“That will be something that we will look at doing, seeing if we can get another game scheduled in or get some practice work in. Either way, a lot of the Drillers are dual-certified to play with the Oilers.
“The Oilers do have some games next week, so many of them are still going to be staying game ready.”