Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SPORTS >> Cabot Legion seniors finally starting to put it all together

Leader sports editor

I hadn’t intended to put any pressure on Jay Darr or jinx his team when I offered the opinion a few weeks back that Cabot Centennial Bank appeared to be a fully-loaded club capable of doing some pretty good things this summer.

He laughed, shook his head and reluctantly agreed that, yes, this senior Legion club had plenty of firepower and was stocked with starting pitching. But he also said at the time that his bunch had developed an early feast-or-famine tendency when it came to scoring runs.

And that was true. Cabot, which at the time was coming off a semifinal appearance in the prestigious Fat City Tournament in Nettleton, was 4-2 and had scored three runs twice, four runs once and 12 and 14 on two other occasions.

The evening I spoke to Darr, Cabot would score only three runs against a tough Nathan Eller of Sylvan Hills in a 4-3 loss. That was the first of four consecutive losses for Centennial Bank, a streak during which the offense functioned just fine while the defense collapsed.

It reached a head last Friday in a loss to Sheridan’s junior team in the first game at the Wood Bat Classic in Sheridan. It appears that may have been the wake-up call. Cabot hasn’t lost since, outscoring its next four opponents 36-7 to winits second straight Wood Bat crown.

Centennial Bank ran its winning streak to five on Monday night with a 16-10 win over Sylvan Hills.

It’s good to see Darr’s club playing up to its potential. The Cabot high school team, comprised of mostly these same players, underachieved at times in the spring before putting it together for a run to the state semifinals.

Darr said one through seven in his lineup was solid and there’s no question about that. Joe and Powell Bryant, two speedsters who struggled offensively at times in the spring, are both over .300. Matt Turner has been an RBI machine, leading the team with 18. Once Ben Wainwright gets going, which he’s sure to do, Centennial Bank will have a six-hole hitter second to none.

Wainwright is scuffling along at just .214, but this is a guy who belted six home runs for the Panthers and is a consistent masher.

Andrew Reynolds has developed into a solid two-hole hitter and Ty Steele leads the team in on-base percentage and is second with 18 runs.

All of that provides a potent nucleus, even if you exclude the lineup’s lynch pins — Sam Bates, back from Crowder College and bigger than ever, and All Star outfielder Drew Burks. These guys rarely get cheated and almost always hit it solid. Bates is hitting .467 with 15 RBI and 20 runs, meaning he has had a hand in 35 of Cabot’s 118 runs this season.

The pitching is deep. The question becomes, Is it deep enough to survive the state tournament grind come early August. The trio of Cole Nicholson, Tyler Erickson and Andrew Reynolds gives Darr a reliable, often dominant starting staff.

In particular, the young Nicholson — only a junior-to-be — has been fierce on opposing batters. He struck out 13 batters in his only loss of the season and opponents are hitting just .165 against him. His ERA has dipped to 1.33. Most impressive is his 34-6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

Reynolds is 2-0 with a 2.88 ERA. Only Erickson has struggled at times among the three regular starters.

It gets a little thin beyond those three, though Josh Brown and C.J. Jacoby are capable of good things. Brown has won three games and gone the distance twice.

The defense can be spectacular and shoddy. It cost them games against Sylvan Hills and Little Rock Blue.

And here’s a stat that can’t make Darr too happy: Of the 74 runs Cabot pitching has surrendered thus far, 22 of them are unearned.

The team has gone from 4-6 to 9-6 over a four-day span and has played without Burks in three of those games. Burks is in Fayetteville for the All-Star baseball game.

Shore up the defense, get Wainwright going at the plate and Erickson on the mound, find a fourth starter and this team might well live up to its potential come early August.