Saturday, March 15, 2008

SPORTS >>Cabot endures rough league opener in loss

Leader sports editor

Already trailing 7-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning and having collected just one hit, the Cabot Panthers might have been wondering how it could get worse.

Matt Evans found out a couple of pitches later when Daniel Short’s grounder to the Cabot shortstop hit the seam of the infield, took a wicked hop and plunked Evans squarely on the chin.

Just a case of adding injury to insult. North Little Rock went on to run-rule the Panthers, 10-0, in the 7A-Central Conference opener for both teams.

“We made a couple of errors early, got tight and it just snowballed,” said Panther head coach Jay Fitch. “That happens sometimes. But, yeah, that’s definitely a game you want to put behind you.”

Cabot (7-2, 0-1) committed five errors in the contest, including three in the first inning that helped dig them a 4-0 hole after

Kell Crain reached on an error leading off, and scored after consecutive singles by Clark Sims and Brian Bryles. The Panthers appeared as though they might escape with minimal damage after second baseman Trey Rosel turned a 4-6-3 double play that scored Sims to make it 2-0.

But another error was followed by Short’s sinking RBI-triple to right field that went off the glove of a diving Drew Burks. Cabot starter Sean Clarkson got what should have been an inning-ending strikeout on David Stracener, but the pitch was wild and got past catcher Ben Wainright, allowingShort to score and put Cabot up 4-0 after an inning.

With Kyle Thompson in full command, that would prove plenty of run support. Thompson allowed just one hit over five innings — a solid single to right by Jackson Chism in the third. The Panthers had only three base runners. All three were stranded at second base.

“Thompson had command,” Fitch said. “But when you get that early lead as a pitcher, you can relax a bit. You don’t have to be quite as fine. He came right at us and did a great job.”

What’s frightening for conference opponents is Thompson isn’t even the Wildcats’ ace. Hunter Benton is returning from arm surgery.

“Thompson isn’t a bad No. 2,” Fitch said with a laugh. “[NLR] is going to be good. Their center fielder [Bryles] is probably the best athlete in our conference. They’re saying he has the potential to be drafted. And they’ve got a lot to go with him.

“We knew we’d have to play great. We didn’t and they handed it to us.”

NLR plated three more in the second inning on two singles, a double, a walk and another error. It might have been worse except for Rosels’ nifty backhanded snag of a grounder to record the first out.

Crain’s blast over the wall in left-center leading off the fourth chased Clarkson and gave NLR (6-1, 1-0) an 8-0 lead. Josh Brown came on in relief. He allowed a walk to the first batter he faced, but Wainright gunned the runner down trying to steal.

It ended in the fifth when Thompson reached on Cabot’s fifth error of the game followed by Short’s bad-hop single off Evans’ chin. Stracener doubled and Short came home with the mercy-rule run on a fielder’s choice to end it.

“That’s happened to us twice,” said Fitch of Cabot’s defense. “The first five games, we committed three errors. In our other loss against Sylvan Hills, we made six errors. So it’s snowballed on me twice.

“We’re a little bit young in a few areas. My third baseman is just coming back from basketball. So we’re in a little bit of a transition. But, still, we’re a lot better than what we showed defensively.”

Fitch said that, overall, he wasn’t displeased with Clarkson’s performance on the mound.

“Sean isn’t a kid that can make a lot of mistakes because he doesn’t throw real hard,” Fitch said. “He has to be inside, outside and he did that decent. I just wonder, if we play defense, does the complexion of the game change?”

As for Evans, he’ll be fine, Fitch said. He was treated for several minutes in the infield and played the rest of the game.

“He’s a great athlete and he’s just a sophomore,” Fitch said. “He’s going to be fun the next few years.

“He was right there in position. But I told the kids, when you play bad, that’s the kind of stuff you get — crappy hops. The game punishes you for not playing it right.”

NLR picked up nine hits. Five of their runs were unearned.