Sunday, July 01, 2007

SPORTS >>Gwatney takes win in opener

IN SHORT: Jacksonville took a decisive win over Benton’s McClendon’s Appliance team.

Leader sportswriter

Even though four of their starters were not present, Gwatney Chevrolet took a huge win over Benton Friday afternoon in the opening round of their own Fourth of July Classic at Dupree Park, 4-1.

Starting pitcher Seth Tomboli did his part and then some in the contest, going all seven innings with only two hits allowed, along with four walks and ten strikeouts. For Tomboli, it was simply par for the course during a strong summer in which the Jacksonville High School junior has thrown a pair of one hitters earlier this month in both Class A and AAA, along with a relief performance last week at Sheridan where he struck out eight of the nine batters he faced.

“Today was great,” Tomboli said after the game. “We had four or five guys that were not here, so we had to try out some guys that had never been in some of those positions. I’ve had a few bad games this summer, but my teammates usually pull me out of it when things go wrong.”

Gwatney led the whole way, but a run by Zach Thomas off an error on a hit by Tomboli in the top of the seventh inning set the final score at 4-1, and proved to be more than enough insurance for Jacksonville.

Jacksonville had the rare opportunity to be the visitors at Dupree in the tournament format, leading off the game with a pair of runs. Blake Mattison led off for Gwatney hitting into a 5-3, but following batters Jason Regnas and Caleb Mitchell both took free trips to the bag on walks.

This set up the first score of the game. Thomas batted 1.000 for the game, including his first of four hits in the top of the first that scored Regnas for a 1-0 Jacksonville lead.

Tomboli followed that with a single into right field that brought home Mitchell. Eric Berry suffered a K on his first at-bat, and Daniel Henard popped one into right for the final out.

Tomboli showed his hand early on in the contest. Tyler Keene led off for Benton with a fly-out to center before Greg Noble received one of four walks allowed by Tomboli in the game. The Gwatney hurler recovered to strike out the next two batters, retiring the side with one runner left on.

Gwatney struck again in the second inning with a walk for Adam Ussery to start the inning, and a single for Terrell Brown to score Ussery for a 3-0 Jacksonville lead.

Although Benton has played rather sloppily during their first two games of the Fourth of July Classic defensively, its ability to turn the double play Friday was somewhat surprising.

Mattison’s second smack would be proof of that, as McClendon’s Appliance defense got a rare U4-3 double play to catch both Brown and Mattison for the first two outs of the second inning.

Regnas doubled after the turn-two, but an infield roller to second base would end Gwatney’s turn.

Tomboli’s weakest point in the game happened during the second and third innings. He walked the first two batters in the second inning before settling down with two strikeouts and a forced pop-up. The third inning started out shaky as well, with a fielding error at third allowing the only Benton score of the game on at first.

Keene was the runner at second when Matt Sample hit a blooper into shallow center. That would score Keene and put another runner at third, but another strikeout and pop-up to shortstop would slow Benton’s efforts.

Unbeknownst to Benton at the time, it would be their last opportunity to even put a man on for the better part of three innings. Stuart Snell led off for Benton in the bottom of the fourth inning, hitting to third for the first out. Tomboli then went on strikeout frenzy, retiring the next six batters with Ks.

He struck out the final two batters in the fourth inning, and backed that up with a three-up-three-down performance in the fifth. Another strikeout against Matt Sample to lead off the sixth would end the streak, as Austin Johnson then got the second and final hit of the game for Benton.

Johnson sent the ball into the far corner of left field on a hit that was close to going foul, but stayed in just enough to tarnish Tomboli’s good effort a little more. It would not turn out to be a factor in the game, however, as the infield worked Snell for the third out.

Another Gwatney run would score due to a Benton error in the top of the seventh. Thomas singled after an out from Mitchell, and Tomboli hit what appeared to be the second out of the inning, until Benton shortstop Seth Hobbs’ throw to first ended up about five feet too high. This would allow Thomas in for the score, setting the final margin at 4-1.

Benton was left with a lot of work to do and not much time to do it in the bottom of the seventh inning, but didn’t get any of it done. The Gwatney defense held strong until the very end, sending Benton out in order to secure the game.

Thomas led Jacksonville offensively, going 4 for 4 with two RBIs. Regnas was 1 for 2 with an RBI, and Brown was 1 for 3 with an RBI.

Tomboli took the win with two hits, four walks and 10 strikeouts. Jacksonville will play two games today beginning at 11:30 a.m. against Dunklin Co., Missouri.