Tuesday, May 04, 2010

SPORTS >> NLR fights off Cabot in key league game

Cabot outfielder Joe Bryant makes contact during Friday’s 7A-Central Conference home game with North Little Rock.


Leader sports editor

The storm held off long enough for North Little Rock to hold off the Cabot Panthers on Friday evening.

North Little Rock senior left-hander and UALR signee Andrew Hahn pitched seven strong innings with 13 strikeouts as the Charging Wildcats beat the Panthers 4-2 in a 7A-Central Conference game at Conrade Field.

With tornado-producing bad weather threatening, North Little Rock (17-11, 6-5) jumped to a 3-0 lead and stayed on top throughout the game to keep alive hopes for a berth in the state tournament.

“We were both fighting for survival,” North Little Rock coach Randy Sandefur said. “We just wanted to go to the next day because we’ve got three big conference games left and so does Cabot.”

Despite scoring its last run in the third and stranding six the rest of the way, Cabot (15-9, 4-7) wasn’t quite out of the postseason picture either in what has been a muddled 7A-Central race.

“There’s two other teams in the same boat as we are,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. “We’ve got Central on Tuesday and then we’ve got Bryant Thursday and then we finish up with Van Buren the following Monday. So it’s some teams that we know we can beat if we play well.

“And dadgum it we better do it or we’re done. It’s that simple.”

North Little Rock and Cabot are in a cluster of teams still fighting for the four conference tournament berths behind first-place Conway.

“Everybody’s so much clumped in together,” Sandefur said. “We’re one game out of first. That game really gave us just a little bit of breathing room. This is my 26th year and I’m telling you this is the first time our conference has ever been this balanced.”

The Charging Wild-cats kept the pace thanks to timely hitting and the left arm of Hahn, who squelched a Cabot rally in the seventh.

Andrew Reynolds reached on an error and Powell Bryant singled in the inning, but Hahn gotthe last two hitters, striking out Tyler Erickson, to survive the minor jam.

Hahn worked around eight hits and surrendered two walks.

“His pitch count was up; we had a couple of kicks behind him, but Andrew’s pitch count normally is high,” Sandefur said. “He’s a maximum kind of guy and I don’t know anything me or my assistant coaches could have done to get that kid off that mound in the seventh inning.

“He’s a competitor and he wanted to finish what he started.”

North Little Rock scored three runs in the first on Brittain Ibbotsun’s two-run triple and Tyson Tackett’s textbook squeeze bunt that brought in Ibbotsun for the 3-0 lead.

“We gave up three but, hey, they were three earned. They hit the ball,” Fitch said.

Cabot fought back in the bottom of the inning with Erickson’s RBI single to left that scored Matt Evans, who led off with a double and survived an appeal to first as the Charging Wildcats felt he missed the bag.

North Little Rock got the run back with a two-out RBI double by Tackett in the third as Cabot second baseman C.J. Jacoby tried to make a catch in shallow right with his back to the infield.

Evans and Andrew Reynolds led off the Cabot third with back-to-back singles and Evans scored on Powell Bryant’s sacrifice fly to cut it to 4-2. But that was it for the Panthers’ scoring.

Cabot stranded Joe Bryant after a two-out, infield hit in the fourth and, in the fifth, left on Erickson and Ty Steele, who walked and singled, respectively. The Panthers went down in order in the sixth before their failed comeback attempt in the seventh.

“We faced him the first time, that’s the Hahn kid,” Fitch said. “He’s an all-state caliber pitcher, D-I pitcher, so we knew we had our work cut out. At times we had some decent swings but had way too many strikeouts and let them out of jams.”

Cabot starter Cole Nicholson was the hard-luck loser.

“He never gets much run support and I don’t know what it is about that,” Fitch said. “That certainly hurt us because it’s getting late, but we still can fight to get in.”