Under first-year head coach Shane Harp, the White Hall Bulldogs (21-9, 8-4) are prepared to compete in the 2017 5A state tournament. The Bulldogs qualified for state by knocking off the DeQueen Leopards in the first round of the 5A south conference tournament.
White Hall and Pulaski Academy are set for a 5:30 p.m. start today at Dupree Park in Jacksonville.
During the regular season, White Hall was challenged, and they took some losses against quality opponents. However, the team gained big wins over quality opponents as well. For example, the Bulldogs gained wins over LR Christian twice, Benton twice, Pine Bluff High twice, Little Rock Catholic and Bryant.
"I try to schedule tough to prepare for what we're about to get into," Harp said. "Hopefully it worked as planned, and I believe great competition makes a great team. We've played a lot of big games, we've won some and lost some. We should go in with confidence knowing that we can win. The September 6 a.m. workouts, and the intense practicing during fall has been beneficial for us. Along with that, senior leadership helped bring us through."
Those preseason workouts and that competitive schedule had the Bulldogs ready to roll for the conference tournament. In the second round, the Bulldogs drew the defending 5A state champions, the Magnolia Panthers. That was a game that the Bulldogs were looking forward to, and they almost came out on top, losing only by a run, 11-10. That loss to the Panthers will only add fuel to the fire for White Hall going forward.
"We were wanting to really play Magnolia, and I don't think we jumped on the pitching early enough," Harp said. "We scored a few runs late, and we didn't give up. They showed me the fight that they have. In this state tournament we're going to fight to the end."
As far as offense, the Bulldogs' strength lies within the top of the order. The guys in the middle and the bottom of the lineup have the ability to record RBIs after runners get on, and they'll look for a lot of that in the state tournament.
"We really have great hitters in the top of the order," Harp said. "When they struggle, the mid and bottom half of the line up gets us out of jams. Average wise, we have a good top to bottom lineup. When Chase and Layne are on you better watch out. We've been working on what we need to and we're going to be prepared."
Chase Bryan and Layne Hartsfield are two of the pitchers that the Bulldogs will rely on. Over the season, Harp became content with not having a number one pitcher, but instead he looks at all his guys as the ace.
"Like I told the team the other day, I don't think we have a number one," Harp said. "They're all 1-A, and they've all showed promise. The one thing we've struggled with is strikes. We're going in with who gives us the best chance to win that game, and if we win, we'll have another number one out there the next game. Chase Bryan is 6-0, but that's not his primary position. I have the confidence that who we put out there can get it done."
Their first round opponent, the Pulaski Academy Bruins, drew the third seed out of the 5A central division. The Bruins are in a competitive division, and they simply know how to play. Harp and the Bulldogs are aware that they need to put forward a solid performance to have a chance at victory.
"I know that they've got really good athletes," Harp said. "They have smart ball players, and they always compete well. They have a great coach, and he knows the game. We'll have to play to the top of our ability. Hatcher, the PA quarterback, is one of their guys that stands out."