NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — North Little Rock is in the midst of an improbable postseason run and are poised for the first state championship in 15 years.
The players believe there's a very specific reason why.
"If we didn't have him, we wouldn't be here today," said Hayden Given-Craig, a senior pitcher on the Charging Wildcats staff. "I'm 100-percent certain of that."
He's talking about Randy Sandefur, who has been a fixture on the sidelines since the 1980's. Sandefur has been a coach for 35 years, and took over head coaching responsibilities when Brock Moore stepped own following spring break.
"It's tough when you initially have a change, but then kids get used to it," said Sandefur. "Our kids have done a good job of that. Ever since spring break when that occurred our kids have really bought in and done a great job."
Though Sandefur credits better practice and improved performance for North Little Rock's improbable run through the state playoffs, the players say that Sandefur taking over was the change they didn't know they needed.
"He kind of sparked a fire in us that a lot of us didn't know we had," said senior short stop Deshaun Cordova.
"He worked our butts off every day," added Givens-Craig. "And I can't thank him enough for it."
After North Little Rock's 5-1 win over Bentonville-West in Saturday's semifinals, Sandefur confessed something to the team: he'd never been to the final at Baum-Walker Stadium as a head coach with a chance to walk away as a champion.
Said Givens-Craig," when he told us that, it just brought us all to tears."
Sandefur downplayed his role in the team's postseason achievements, so it's not surprising that winning the program's third state title wouldn't be the crowning achievement for Sandefur's career, just a thank you to the place he calls hom.
"It's so special, it's my 35th year and this is home for me," said Sandefur. "My kids went to North Little Rock High School, my wife went to North Little Rock High School. I love this school district and it just gives me a warm feeling to know that the place that has given me so much, we can give back."