Saturday, May 01, 2010

SPORTS >> Red Devils still control fate after twinbill split

Leader sportswriter

Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows would not mind having some conference hardware, but the first-round state tournament bye is what he and his Red Devils are really after.

And while Jacksonville’s twin-bill split with Mountain Home on Thursday at Dupree Park did not give the Red Devils an outright 6A-East championship just yet, it did give them the edge down the stretch with a three-run tiebreaker advantage.

Jacksonville won the first game 5-1 and lost the second 5-4.

“Winning conference would be nice,” Burrows said. “But to me, the whole season gets you ready for the state tournament. I’m glad we took care of business in that first game to get the bye.”

Both teams entered the doubleheader with 10-0 league records. Jacksonville (18-6) improved its conference record to 11-0 in the first game but walked seven Mountain Home batters and misplayed two bunts to lose the nightcap.

Mountain Home (18-7) will finish conference play with two games against Jonesboro next week while Jacksonville will play host to Searcy for a doubleheader at Dupree in its regular-season finale.

Not only will those two series decide who takes home the conference championship, they will also iron out the seeding for the No. 3 and No. 4 spots with Searcy and Jonesboro, both 8-4 in conference play.

Mountain Home pitcher Trey Killian was dominant on the mound early in Thursday’s first game as he struck out the first five batters he faced.

Jacksonville did not put the ball into play until Alex Tucker grounded out to shortstop to end the second inning.

The Bombers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third.

Matt Fracek started off the inning with an infield single and advanced on a single to left by Klayton Solberg. Killian moved him to third with a sacrifice bunt, and Fracek scored on a sacrifice fly to right by leadoff hitter Kord Stuffelbeam.

Killian’s hard work in the first two innings caused him to fade quickly on the mound, and the Red Devils took advantage in the bottom of the third with three singles and a walk that led to a pair of runs.

The Bombers retired Noah Sanders and starting Red Devils pitcher Jesse Harbin to start the inning, but No. 9 batter Logan Perry scratched out an infield hit off Killian and advanced on a walk to Jacob Abrahamson.

D’Vone McClure scored Perry with a single to right and Patrick Castleberry followed with a single to left that drove in Abrahamson to put Jacksonville up 2-1.

“We had a pitch count on him, and after the third, we knew he was up there in pitches,” Burrows said of Killian. “We sent seven guys to the plate, and they worked him pretty hard. ”

Harbin’s early work on the mound for Jacksonville was not as flashy as Killian’s, but was equally effective. Harbin induced a pair of popups and a groundout in the first inning and retired the Bombers in order in the second. Burrows pulled Harbin at the first sign of fatigue in the top of the sixth and brought in Michael Lamb.

Killian also made his exit from the mound in the bottom of the sixth for reliever Cody Spencer, but it came after the Red Devils picked up another two runs.