Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SPORTS >> Lions fatten up on Bears’ errors

Leader sportswriter

Michael Maddox’s triumphant return to active duty was the only bright spot for Sylvan Hills as Searcy clubbed the Bears 12-3 at Mike Bromley Field on Friday.

The Lions (6-1) dominated the non-conference game with eight hits. Searcy, which reached the 6A state championship last year, also benefited from five Sylvan Hills errors, which accounted for all but three of Searcy’s scores.

The Bears (3-5) had chances to keep up with Searcy in the first two innings but left four runners on base.

Maddox gave the Bears hope in the bottom of the sixth inning when, with David Carrasquillo and Nick Baioni on base, he drove a fastball from Lions reliever Reed Haggard over the left-field wall to make it 9-3. It was the first swing in game conditions for Maddox, who spent the winter recovering from a football injury.

Searcy had made it 9-0 at the top of the inning when it took advantage of two Sylvan Hills errors to score four runs.

“It’s kind of been our story this year — we’re trying to break it,” Bears coach Denny Tipton said of his team’s slump. “We’re having trouble getting three outs, and we keep letting people get runs. Tonight, if you go back in the game, they had three earned runs in the second inning, so technically, it ought to be 3-3.

“But we’re not making the plays, and when you give a teams as capable as Searcy five outs in one inning, they’re going to make you pay.”

Joe Formel got the victory for the Lions as he gave up three hits in five innings. Haggard finished the job for Searcy and gave up three hits, including the home run from Maddox in the sixth.

Formel flirted with disaster early as he walked three batters in the first two innings, but the defense held up with just one late error after Searcy had its commanding lead.

“I was proud of our team,” Searcy coach Clay McCammon said. “Our pitching, we got behind in some counts, we walked some guys, but they battled hard and found a way to get out of the inning. We got some timely hits offensively.

“A couple of innings, they gave us some extra outs and our guys were able to take advantage of it.”

The offense came by committee for Searcy, which had only one player with multiple hits.

Haggard’s 2-for-4 performance included an RBI double in the top of the second that scored Mike Brown. Brown drove in the first two runs with a double to right that sent in Dillon Howard and Hayden Mercer, who drew walks from Sylvan Hills starter Blake Rasden.

For Howard, who recently signed to play at the University of Arkansas, the first score was an offensive highlight in and otherwise quiet game.

Howard went 1-for-5, popping up to right and grounding out before he singled to center in the top of the sixth. Preston Tarkington hit a two-run home run for Searcy in the inning.

“He’s been a little slow offensively this year,” McCammon said of Howard.

“In the summer, he basically just pitches and doesn’t get a lot of swings. He did the same thing last year; he starts slow at the plate and finishes strong.

“He hit .454 last year, so we’re not too concerned about him right now.”

Howard was one of Searcy’s pitching leaders last year but missed the state championship loss to Lake Hamilton with a sore shoulder.

He had drawn the interest of several major league clubs and was well-scouted before opting to sign with the Razorbacks, who already boast former Cabot slugger Sam Bates and former Sylvan Hills pitching standout D.J. Baxendale.

Sophomore southpaw Jimmy Sandefur gave the Bears a brief bolt of energy in the top of the fifth when he relieved Rasden. Sandefur battled Howard, the first hitter he faced, and got him to ground back to the mound.

Sandefur then got Hayden Mercer to fly out to third while Brown fouled out behind the plate.

It was the only 1-2-3 inning for the Bears defense, and Searcy retaliated the following inning with four unearned runs.

“Everybody’s frustrated, so they’re letting their defense affect their hitting and their hitting affect their defense,” Tipton said. “That’s just what we’re dealing with right now.”

Tipton vented his frustration late when he argued a few calls with the umpires.

He briefly appeared to win one battle in the seventh when Howard was sent back to the plate after drawing an apparent walk on a 3-1 count.

The umpires conferred and ruled Howard had checked his swing on the pitch from Bears senior reliever Greg Atchinson, but on 3-2, Howard walked anyway.

Tipton was frank regarding his team’s early-season progress.

“Right now, we’re playing bad defense,” Tipton said. “Right now, we could play a whole lot better than what we’re playing.”