At the very least, it was the moment Tanner Simpson and Conway baseball had waited three days for.
The Bears senior took a 2-1 pitch and drove it just over the wall of the ballpark at Parkview High School in Springfield to win Conway’s district opener over Pleasant Hope, 5-4, on May 18.
“I just cleared my head,” Simpson said. “I saw that pitch coming and knew it was the one. I put my hands back, hit it off the handle and just drove it.”
Originally started three days prior, the teams had to postpone their Class 3 District 12 game tied 4-4 after nine innings. A first make-up was scheduled that Monday, but action was again forced back a day due to steady rainfall before things cleared up just enough to get back underway in Springfield.
"I’ve never had a suspended game in 16 years, period," Conway head coach Clay Bilyeu said. "It was weird trying to even know what to tell the guys. You may have to have infield-in defense in what feels like the first inning just because of the high stakes to it...you can’t approach it like a normal start.”
Though he admitted to being nervous, reliever Ryan Dame walked one but recorded three strikeouts in the top of the 10th inning to put the Bears in the driver’s seat. “It felt good to just come out there and fire it in, throw BBs,” he said.
Cory McBride started the contest for Conway (17-4), and Chase Caffey (nine strikeouts) came on in relief and would have continued to pitch had the game not been suspended.
“That put us in a little bit of a tough spot losing both guys for multiple days, but Ryan’s had a great year. He’s had a couple big games where he’s thrown really well for us and he’s someone we have a lot of confidence in. He’s not the power guy who’ll burn it by you but he’s a good pitcher and it’s probably the best defense we can throw out there when he’s on the mound.”
Conway was scoreless in the game's first act until a walk forced a runner in and an error helped push two more across in the sixth inning, then Caden Archer singled to score Kory McBride to tie the game with the Bears down to their final two outs.
No matter what the result of the district semifinal later that afternoon against Fair Grove, Bilyeu felt like the team in some ways was playing with house money after the emotional triumph.
“We’ve had a great year; I think we’ve probably over-achieved from what anyone expected of us from the beginning,” Bilyeu said. “Once we started kind of climbing up those state rankings, I felt like we started getting tighter, and that pressure builds. You try to alleviate it, but they’re high school kids.”
On what’s made this Winning is nothing new for the program –– the Bears have reached the Final Four twice and won three more district titles since 2008, but when asked what made this year's team successful, Bilyeu replied, “We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been a part of this for a couple years, but haven’t necessarily been main pieces, so I think it took a little while for them to realize that this was their time. Once they realized that and took off...our pitching staff has been great. When we turned the corner on the mound –– because that’s the biggest thing we didn’t bring back –– once we realized we could compete without throwing 85, it just kind of took off from there.”