Friday, April 23, 2010

SPORTS >> 7A-Central race stays jumbled, Cabot in hunt

Leader sports editor

What a mess.

The 7A-Central Conference is having a hard time sorting itself out, and the high school baseball season isn’t getting any younger. Entering Thursday, six of the eight teams were either 4-5 or 5-4, including Cabot, at 4-5 after Tuesday’s loss at Conway.

“Boy it’s a wild one isn’t it?” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said after his team beat Russellville 19-1 in a conference game Tuesday.

Only Van Buren had any separation from the rest of the league. The Pointers, 12-8, 6-3, had a one-game lead on its closest pursuers while the Bryant Hornets brought up the rear at 16-8, 2-6.

There is enough baseball left before the state tournament begins May 14 that, Fitch said, there could be further muddles and logjams in the 7A-Central race. Fitch said it was still a possibility a team could finish first or out of the money.

“That’s the way it’s shaping up. It’s a possibility,” he said. “We had a coaches meeting and we said ‘Hey, the way it’s going we could all be 7-7. That would be an interesting tie breaker.

“I think the state tournament could be like that too. There’s not a dominant team and it’s who is peaking at the right time.”

Cabot would appear to be one of those teams trying to hit its peak after the blowout victory over Russellville, which won 2-1 earlier in the season.

“We did a lot better job of laying off the high fastballs,” Fitch said. “Plate discipline helped a little bit.”

Fitch said Cabot has been a streaky hitting team, but on the mound, right-hander Matt Evans has been a welcome tower of consistency.

Evans (7-0) was an out away from a no-hitter at Bryant and, at Russellville, show scouts a fastball that was consistently at 87-88 mph and topped out at 90 mph. Evans has surrendered two earned runs in 40 innings.

“I’ve never had a kid do this on the mound,” Fitch said.

Right-handers Cole Nicholson and Tyler Erickson have had their ups and downs but have pitched well overall, Fitch said.

Fitch said Nicholson (3-4) has been something of a hard-luck guy who has been battling recent tenderness while Erickson (3-1) was to start the conference game at Conway on Thursday.

“We’ll have to get Nicholson back for sure,” Fitch said. “He’s just too good not to pitch.”

Cabot’s hitting leaders are catcher Andrew Reynolds, batting .357; Evans and Erickson, both hitting around .370, and twin outfielders Powell and Joe Bryant, batting .339 and .33 respectively.

But the offense has been plagued by occasional outages, like when the Panthers outhit the Little Rock Central Tigers 7-2 and still lost 2-1.

“We’ve kind of been the victim of the game. It just happens sometimes,” Fitch said.