Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SPORTS>>Benton sends Red Devils packing

Leader sports editor

BENTON — The Benton Panthers made a timely pitching change and the Jacksonville Red Devils made some untimely errors as Benton took a 9-2 victory in the 6A state tournament Saturday at Benton High School.

Benton, the defending state champion playing on its home field, scored three runs on errors as it took a 5-1 lead into the seventh, then capped off its scoring with a four-run inning aided by four walks.

Jacksonville, the 6A-East champion, managed only RBI singles by Nick Rodriguez in the first and Caleb Mitchell in the bottom of the seventh as it bowed out in its first game for the second straight year.

“They played better defense than us and gave themselves a chance to hang in there with the lead,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “They made it tough on us.”

The Red Devils pulled within 3-1 in the bottom of the third when D’Vone McClure walked and Rodriguez drove him in with a single. Jacksonville had the bases loaded with one out, but Benton coach Mark Balisterri pulled starter Ashton Roberts for Billy

Tricarico, who got Noah Sanders to hit into an inning-ending double play.

“We knew he was at a breaking point and he showed some signs of struggling,” Balisterri said of Roberts. “And Billy is a ground-ball thrower. He’s done it time after time.”

Mitchell, 3 for 3 with an RBI, singled with two out in the fifth and Tricario hit Rodriguez, with both runners advancing on a passed ball. Alex Tucker grounded out on a 3-2 pitch to end the Red Devils’ last threat until the seventh.

“They walked a few and we walked a few,” Burrows said. “But it seemed like they capitalized with a hit off of that and we came back and we hit one pretty decent and they’d turn two or make a really good play out of it. They were able to get that hit and when we hit one hard they made a play.”

Roberts drove in a run with a single in Benton’s two-run first and Lee Richardson, who was hit by starter Jesse Harbin, scored on a throwing error to second by catcher Patrick Castleberry. Brooks Balisterri singled in the Benton second and scored on an error by Mitchell at third.

Josh Creel tripled and scored in the Benton sixth and C.J. Engle struck out but reached on Harbin’s wild pitch and later scored on an error by shortstop Jacob Abrahamson to make it 5-1.

“Josh has been hitting the baseball the last two weeks and he came through big there,” Balisterri said.

Benton took a commanding lead in the seventh when Roberts hit an RBI double, reliever MikeLamb issued two bases-loaded walks and Troy Johnson drove in a run with an infield single.

“It is what is,” Burrows said when asked about the single-elimination tournament format. “Like anything you’ve got to play the hand dealt you and they played better than we did tonight.”

Jacksonville won the 6A-East with a tiebreaker over Mountain Home and had a first-round tournament bye. The Red Devils return all but one player next season, but that wasn’t much consolation to Burrows on Saturday.

“We’ve got some things we need to get better at, there’s no doubt,” Burrows said. “We did accomplish a lot this year. It’s a little tough to take right now. We’ll worry about next year next year.”

Benton advanced to play Searcy in Monday’s semifinal at Benton High School.