Friday, May 07, 2010

SPORTS>>Red Devils win 6A-East, dive into tourney

Leader sports editor

As it turned out, Jacksonville won its 6A-East Conference championship April 29.

The Red Devils only claimed it Tuesday night.

Jacksonville split its doubleheader with Searcy 5-4 and 4-3, but thanks to their split with Mountain Home over a week ago — and Mountain Home’s split with Jonesboro on Tuesday — the Red Devils had the tiebreaker to earn the No. 1 seed to the state tournament.

Jacksonville (12-2 6A-East) beat Mountain Home 5-1 and lost 5-4, and the margin-of-victory tiebreaker gave the Red Devils a three-run cushion and the championship after Mountain Home also finished 12-2.

“I expected us to be in the running, no doubt, at the beginning of the year,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said of his squad, which features just one senior. “I’m happy for those kids. They came and played every day.”

The Red Devils receive a bye to the state tournament beginning May 14 and will play the winner of the first-round game between the 6A-South’s No. 4 seed, still to be determined, and the No. 5 seed from the East, which should be West Memphis.

Burrows said he would use Monday’s regular-season, non-conference finale at Sylvan Hills as a tune-up for the state tournament.

“We’re going to enjoy it for a day,” Burrows said of the conference championship. “They can reminisce on that later.”

Searcy handed Jacksonville only its second conference loss in the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader as the Red Devils got 10 hits but struck out at key times with men on base.

“Our two losses, we got beat 5-4 and 4-3 by two pretty dadgum good pitchers,” Burrows said. “But we also beat some pretty good pitching so I’m proud of them. I’m glad for them that they got a conference championship. That’s something that group will always get to share.”

In the first game Jacksonville rallied behind starter Jesse Harbin and reliever and second-game starter Mike Lamb. Jacksonville scored three runs in the fifth inning to overcome a 4-2 deficit and beat standout junior right-hander Dillon Howard (6-4), Searcy’s professional and major-college prospect.

“They got up there and battled with the stick against a guy who’s going to be making a lot of money one day,” Burrows said.
Holland had an uncharacteristic, sub-par outing, hitting four batters in six innings. But it was two walks he issued to Harbin and Jacob Abrahamson that were critical in the fifth.

Both runners scored when D’Vone McClure hit a two-run double that dropped inside the right-field line.

Howard hit catcher Patrick Castleberry, then Caleb Mitchell singled to score McClure from second to make it 5-4 Jacksonville.

Harbin (8-1) hit Jared Haggard to open the game and Haggard scored from third on an error by second baseman Kenny
Cummings, who missed when he tried to cut off Castleberry’s throw on a steal attempt and the ball went into center.

The Red Devils got the run back when Howard hit McClure, the No. 2 hitter, and McClure scored when Castleberry sliced a double into left, just inside the line.

Searcy got three runs on just one hit in the third.

Haggard walked, Zach Langley reached on a fielder’s choice as Jacob Abrahamson dropped the ball trying to force Haggard at second and Preston Tarkington singled to load the bases. Hayden Mercer hit a sacrifice fly, Mike Brown hit an RBI double and Tarkington scored from third on a wild pitch to make it 4-1.

The Red Devils cut it to 4-2 on pinch-hitter Xavier Brown’s RBI single in the fourth but Jacksonville had a man gunned down at third while stranding another.

Burrows said he liked having Sylvan Hills, a perennial contender in the 5A-Southeast and at the state level, in the final because he would get a realistic challenge before the state tournament. Burrows will use all three of his starters, Harbin, a sophomore who threw 100 pitches Tuesday, Lamb and Nick Rodriguez.

“I think Harbin threw 100. I don’t know what Lamb threw,” Burrows said. “But they were outside long tossing yesterday. Both of them are kind of rubber-army. Neither one of them, they don’t get sore.”