At this point in the 2016-17 baseball season, many teams are on the outside looking in, but that's not the case for the Pine Bluff Zebras (11-12, 4-7). After defeating Little Rock Hall 16-1 last week, the Zebras qualified for the 6A state tournament. Pine Bluff then went on to knock off Searcy 5-1 to earn the fifth seed out the 6A east division.
The Zebras have had a roller coaster ride of a season, but now that it's state tournament time, they're ready to right the ship. Pine Bluff finished fifth in the loaded 5A/6A east district, but they feel they're better than that, and they know it's time to make amends.
In first round action of the 6A state tournament, Pine Bluff will travel to Benton to take on the four seeded Russellville Cyclones (12-13, 6-6) of the 6A west division. The teams are set for a 3 p.m. start today at Benton High School.
Zebras' head coach Ryan Stinson is confident that his guys have received proper groundwork, and now they're ready to roll.
"During the regular season, we played good competition and we were up and down," Stinson said. "I feel like what we did will prepare us for the tournament."
This Zebras group is young, but they know how to play the game. Pine Bluff only has three seniors in Brandon Little, Jaylon Deshazier and Xavier Smith, but they're all leaders.
"You always like to have leadership," Stinson said. "We only have three seniors, but they're arguably the best leaders we've had in a while. It's big that they've been with me for four years. I think they'll lead our younger guys by example during the tournament."
As of late, Stinson made a few changes to the lineup, but he indicated it was nothing permanent.
"I just try to mix things up to see who can do what," Stinson said. "I'm just trying to find nine guys who will put the ball on the bat. Along with that, those same guys have to be productive on defense. We need the best hitters in our line up for a chance to win."
Right-handed pitcher and Arkansas State commit Jaylon Deshazier should serve as the ace for the Zebras' pitching staff. Along with Deshazier, the Zebras have a solid core of pitchers that they can fall back on. One thing that Stinson wants to see from the defense is less errors.
"We're going to try to play solid defense," Stinson said. " Being error-free is big for us going into this tournament. We need to make as few mistakes as possible and be competitive. We have to fight and battle, and we can't give teams runs."
As far as the Cyclones go, Stinson isn't overly informed, but that isn't his biggest concern.
"I don't know much about them," Stinson said. "I think they're around .500 on the year. I'm sure they're well coached and they're going to be prepared to play. You have to handle your side of the situation, scouting reports only go so far. If we handle what we can handle, the rest will take care of itself."