Tuesday, July 22, 2008

SPORTS>>Gwatney, Community Bank fall short at state

Leader sports editor

BATESVILLE — As magnificent as was Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet’s comeback on Saturday night, it may have been its undoing in the end.

The Chevy Boys rallied from an 8-run deficit in the sixth inning on Saturday only to fall short when Jonesboro Fat City answered with six runs of their own in the bottom of the inning in a 16-11 loss in the winner’s bracket of the American Legion junior state tournament at the Batesville North Sports Complex.

It’s hard to say how much physical and emotional energy the Chevy Boys spent in that futile comeback, but they were decidedly sluggish in the midday heat on Sunday, and their season came to an end in a 12-2 loss to Little Rock Continental.

“I think a lot of it had to do with that,” said Gwatney assistant coach Zach Thomas. “We were just worn out from (Saturday night), wore out from the district tournament. We were tired toward the end. Especially playing in the heat of the day. I don’t think the sun moved all day, just steadily beamed down on us.”

Continental went on to win the tournament by upsetting Jonesboro in the finals on Monday.

Gwatney’s game on Sunday was its 10th in 11 days after a grueling six games over five days in last week’s zone tournament.

On Sunday, Continental hit the ball hard at times off starter Matt McAnally, but his defense didn’t do him any favors either, committing four errors and allowing some slow rollers and chops down the line to get through for hits.

Continental finished with 14 hits over 4 2/3 innings. Their final hit — Andrew Nayert’s third of the game — was the seventh in the fifth inning and brought home the final two runs to invoke the mercy rule and end the contest.

Gwatney managed just three hits off Continental winner Drew Tullos.

The Chevy Boys went 1-2-3 in the first, though Terrell Brown hit a rocket to the shortstop before Continental teed off early against McAnally. Their first five hitters reached; their first four got base hits. Two errors later, and Continental had grabbed a 5-0 lead. It might have been worse but for a heads-up play by Jared Toney, who ended the inning with an unassisted putout at first, then fired to Brown at second to complete an inning-ending double play.

But the good defensive plays were few on Sunday, and so were the offensive highlights. Gwatney had a couple of chances to break through early when McAnally singled, stole second and reached third on a throwing error with just one out in the second inning. But he was stranded.

In the third, walks to Jeffrey Tillman and A.J. Allen went for naught when Brown grounded into a double play.

Continental made it 6-0 in the third on a double and a single before Gwatney finally broke through in the fourth. Patrick Castleberry dropped a single into right and scored when McAnally’s fly to deep right was misplayed into an RBI double.

McAnally scored on Toney’s ground out to make it 6-2.

Allen’s nifty play on a sharp grounder heading into right in the fourth kept Gwatney within striking distance, but the Chevy Boys couldn’t take advantage of a pair of walks in the fifth, and Continental ended it with six singles and a double in the fifth.

After McAnally was lifted for Toney when he surrendered a double and two singles to start the Continental fifth, it appeared the Chevy Boys would extend the game. Toney retired the first two he faced, but Continental got four singles and a walk to score its final four runs.

“You couldn’t ask for more than what McAnally did,” Thomas said. “They just found the gaps. We got ground balls and made errors. But getting deep in the state tournament takes its toll on everybody.”

After falling to Cabot Community Bank in the finals of the Zone 3 Tournament on July 14, Gwatney opened with a pair of wins in the state tournament last week. But Fat City Jonesboro scored in every inning to take a 10-2 lead into the top of the sixth inning on Saturday evening.

Gwatney began their unlikely rally when Brown singled, and Castleberry and Drew Pierce walked. Toney and Hayden Simpson doubled before Tillman was hit with a pitch. Daniel Thurman followed with a double and, after a walk to Allen, McAnally singled. Castleberry completed the Gwatney comeback with a triple that put the Chevy Boys on top, 11-10.

Fat City erupted for six in the bottom half, then held off Gwatney for the 16-11 win.

“It was great season and we had a bunch of kids step up and play their hearts out,” Thomas said. “No complaints on the season, just that I wish we could have finished it a little better.

“But I think we’ve got a great bunch of kids coming back next year and we have high expectations.”