Friday, May 07, 2010

SPORTS>>Flattened Panthers recover, rock Tigers

Leader sportswriter

Just as quickly as Cabot dug itself a hole, the Panthers worked themselves out of it in an 11-4 victory over Little Rock Central at Conrade Memorial Field on Tuesday.

The Tigers (13-11, 6-6 7A-Central) scored three runs in the top of the first inning, but gave two back to the Panthers in the bottom half. Cabot (15-10, 5-7) then took complete control with an eight-run spree in the bottom of the second.

“We haven’t really responded well when we’ve been hit in the face,” Panthers coach Jay Fitch said. “We’ve been just flat-out hit in the face, knocked on our back, and haven’t responded. So they came out, scored three on our ace, and we came right back with two. That was huge.”

The Panthers (15-11, 5-8) stayed alive in the 7A state tournament hunt with the victory, but fell 9-8 to Bryant in 15 innings Thursday. That kept them in a tie for last place with Russellville, three games behind leader North Little Rock and two games behind Conway, Bryant, Catholic and Van Buren with only one conference game remaining.

Cabot starter Matt Evans recovered from a disastrous first and pitched four solid innings Tuesday until giving way to reliever Chase Beasley in the top of the sixth with the Panthers holding a 10-4 lead. Beasley, who had limited time in the bullpen before taking the mound, gave up a walk and a single to start the inning.

He induced a pop-up to right from Clayton Booth for the first out, but Will Parham reached on an error at third to load the bases. Beasley’s arm finally loosened up, and the senior struck out the next two batters to deny the Tigers a comeback opportunity.

“That was a little bit tough on him,” Fitch said. “He had to hurry up and try to get loose, and I don’t think we probably gave him enough time. It was almost like he had to continue to get loose on the mound.

“You know, you hate to do that to a kid. But he finally settled in, started throwing strikes, but it raised my blood pressure a little bit.”

Evans hit Central leadoff batter Ivan Tate with a stray curve in the top of the first to set up the first of three Tigers’ runs.

Clayton Booth singled and then Parham hit a double down the third-base line to drive in both runners.

Cabot retired two before Parham finally scored on a squeeze bunt by Macon Speed to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead.

Evans drew a walk from Central starter Daniel Imbro to lead off the bottom of the first. No. 3 hitter Powell Bryant doubled to advance Evans to third, but Evans was thrown out at the plate when Tyler Erickson hit into a fielder’s choice at third.

Ty Steele finally got the Panthers on the scoreboard when he drove in Bryant and Erickson with a single up the middle to make the score 3-2.

Cole Nicholson started Cabot’s decisive second inning with a single to right field, followed by a double from Brandon Surdam. Joe Bryant batted in both runners with a double into deep left field to put the Panthers up 4-3.

But Cabot wasn’t finished.

Evans brought in Joe Bryant with a single to right and advanced when Andrew Reynolds walked. Powell Bryant then loaded the bases when he hit a bloop into shallow right.

That set up Erickson, and the senior infielder delivered by driving a pitch deep into center field for a three-RBI double to make it 8-3.

Nicholson book ended the inning when he drove in the final two runs with a double down the first-base line.

Central scored its final run in the top of the fourth when Booth doubled to right and scored Tate, who was hit by an Evans pitch for the second time in three at-bats. But Evans appeared to get stronger, and struck out four of the final six batters he faced until giving way to Beasley.

“He does that,” Fitch said of Evans. “He’s an athletic, strong kid, and he just throws it well. We know he’s our ace, and so we kind of get up a little bit more when he’s on the mound. What he also started doing was hitting his spots a little bit better, getting that curveball over.”

Joe Bryant singled to start the bottom of the sixth and scored Cabot’s final run when his brother Powell hit into a fielder’s choice.

Powell Bryant was 2 for 4 with a double, an RBI and two runs. Nicholson was 2 for 3 with a double and two RBI. Erickson finished with a double and three RBI, and Steele had a single and two RBI.

For Central, Booth was 3 for 4 with a double, an RBI and a run.