Regardless of sport when postseason play starts, coaches often talk about the season starting over with a 0-0 record.
That is the tone that El Dorado is taking as they head into their first appearance in the state tournament since 2018.
The Wildcats (21-6), the No. 2 seed from the 5A South, square off against Batesville (19-7), the No. 3 seed from the 5A East, Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Hot Springs.
“Just relax and play fast,” El Dorado coach Jeff Burson said of what we he wanted from his team on Thursday. “We kind of got into a little hitting slump. The whole team did, and I think some of our guys got to pressing a little bit instead of just enjoying the game and playing fast.”
The hitting slump Burson spoke of was a factor in El Dorado’s three-game losing streak that forced a three-way tie for the league title after the Wildcats seemed on their way to an outright crown.
El Dorado has scored a total of four runs in their last three games in losses to Lake Hamilton, White Hall and Sheridan.
Against the Yellowjackets, the Wildcats were the recipients of eight walks and four errors by Sheridan, but the offense could muster only two hits in a 9-3 loss.
The Wildcats were limited to four hits in a 1-0 loss to White Hall and five hits in a 4-1 setback at Lake Hamilton.
Now comes the Wildcats’ biggest test to date.
Gage Wood, Batesville’s ace right-hander who is also a member of Arkansas’ lauded recruiting class for 2022, is likely to get the starting nod for the Pioneers.
“I’ve seen him before. He’s got a lot of velo(city),” Burson said. “We’ve seen some good ones.
“Our conference prepares us for that. I don’t think we’re going to be on our heels and be intimidated by him.”
Batesville enters the state tournament on a four-game winning streak and the Pioneers have won seven of nine with their lone losses coming to 5A East co-champion Marion.
Wood himself threw a no-hitter in Batesville’s 13-0 win over Nettleton on May 3.
Although the Wildcats ended the regular season on a down note, Burson said he and his team are looking forward to Thursday.
“To be honest with you, we had other goals besides just getting there,” Burson said. “We thought if we played the way we’re capable of playing we could get there, but they wanted to do more than this. They wanted to rattle it a little bit and make some noise up there in that tournament. We’re not satisfied with just getting there.”
Burson added that the difficulty of the 5A South will have the Wildcats prepared.
“It’s a tough conference and the standings show it with three teams with four losses,” Burson said. “You’ve got to get there to make some noise and they did that part. They put themselves in a position where they could’ve taken care of business, but would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. It’s a new season now.”
One factor that could come into play will be hydration.
With temperatures expected to be in the 90s during the tournament, how teams handle the heat could determine how far they advance.
“It’s huge. It’s big,” Burson said. “We’ve been talking about that. We knew that it’s that time of year where it’s going to start getting hot, and these men aren’t used to drinking a lot of water, so we’ve been harping on that already for about a week.
“It will be hot up there on that turf. I was up there this weekend. It was 9:30 in the morning and you could feel the heat coming off of it.”
Burson said that could also play a role in how long El Dorado’s starter stays on the mound.
“It’s just a feel thing for me,” Burson said. “I’ve been doing it long enough. I try to know each one of these guys and know when they’re struggling. It’s just something on the pitching side of it that you just have to know when to go get them. It’s just a gut feeling.”
With the Wildcats struggling offensively in their last three games, Burson said he has kept his focus on the state tournament and not dwelling on the end of the regular season.
“I think that’s got to be internal with each kid,” Burson said. “If I’m not careful and I go to harping on stuff like that, it gets in their mind.
“I just need to talk about the future and be positive and try to get them. That’s one thing we have been talking about is even though we’re in a little slump is we’ve got to stay positive and believe in each other. I was talking to (Sheridan) coach (Mike) Moore the other night and they’re just now coming out of a little funk like we’ve been in and he basically echoed the same thing I was thinking.”
Burson said EHS will focus on fundamentals as they prepare for Batesville.
“We work on that throughout the year, so we ought to have it now,” Burson said. “We’ll go back over some of that stuff, go back over some of our bunt defenses and stuff like that. We’ll work on hitting velocity like we’ll see that first day. We’ll work on those things and hope it translates to the game.”
As far as keys to success go, Burson said it was about how his team approaches the game that would be a determining factor.
“Just be relaxed, have fun, play fast and let the chips fall where they fall,” Burson said.