Friday, July 02, 2010

SPORTS>>Ejections, rally add extra spark to Gwatney win

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville provided the park and North Little Rock brought the fireworks Thursday.

A sixth-inning rally and two North Little Rock ejections marked host Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet’s 7-4 victory over the Colts that opened the Fourth of July American Legion Classic at Dupree Park.

Gwatney struck for three runs in the bottom of the sixth while North Little Rock starting pitcher David Stracner and coach Drew
Rogers were thrown out of the game after a fourth-inning run in with home plate umpire Juju Harshaw.

Jacksonville had just taken a 4-1 lead in the fourth on Patrick Castleberry’s sacrifice fly that scored Nick Rodriguez. Stracner, who was near home to back up a play at the plate, was ejected on his way back to the mound.

Colts coach Rogers came onto the field immediately to argue with Harshaw and was immediately ejected. Stracner and Rogers said Stracner was only speaking to his catcher, Derek Houser, and not to Harshaw.

“You’ve got to protect your player at that point,” Rogers said of his ejection.

Left fielder Zach Ketchum relieved Stracner, and after stranding five men the previous two innings, North Little Rock seemed fired up when it scored three runs in the fifth to tie it 4-4.

Cain Cormier and Tyson Tackett walked and Jon Edwards doubled to score Cormier. With two outs Brooks Howard doubled off the wall in left to drive in Tackett and Edwards and tie the game.

“I don’t know if it’s a case of getting thrown out to fire up your team or not,” Rogers said.

But North Little Rock stranded two more in the top of the sixth, and in the bottom of the inning Jacksonville posted its three-run rally.

D’Vone McClure doubled and scored on Caleb Mitchell’s groundout, Kenny Cummings bunted for a hit and scored on A.J. Allen’s double to left and Allen, who took third on Ketchum’s wild pitch, scored on Jared Toney’s infield hit.

“We got the top of our order back up there and that’s what we wanted,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “We just put two or three hits together, two or three good shots together.”

The rally made a winner out of Allen, who relieved Gwatney starter Stephen Swagerty in the sixth. Swagerty worked 5 1/3 innings, and was charged with all of North Little Rock’s runs while striking out four and walking eight.

“We were fortunate we got some pitching out of a fielder that hadn’t pitched much,” Hickingbotham said of Allen. “But Swagerty did an outstanding job. I was proud of him. He’s going longer than he’s been going.”

Hickingbotham was hoping to get five innings out of Swagerty and made a mound visit during the sixth before returning to relieve Swagerty after Edwards reached on a fielder’s choice.

“I wanted five because I think I got a kid or two that can pitch an inning,” Hickingbotham said.

Ketchum was the victim of the Gwatney rally in the sixth and took the loss for the Colts.

Cormier tripled and scored on Swagerty’s wild pitch in the North Little Rock first.

In the Jacksonville third, Cummings reached on a one-out fielder’s choice and Castleberry walked, then Stracner advanced both men into scoring position with a walk. Allen walked an out later to bring up Toney, who cleared the bases with his double into the right-center field gap and made it 3-1.

Rodriguez led off the Jacksonville fourth with a double and he later scored on Castleberry’s sacrifice fly.

“Right now, if we just keep swinging it, we can score some runs,” Hickingbotham said.