Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SPORTS >> Cabot fighting wet weather rust

Leader sportswriter

Cabot baseball coach Jay Fitch thinks another two or three victories might be enough to get the Panthers into the 7A state tournament.

If only they could play another two or three games.

Cabot has been idle since losing a non-conference game to Beebe on April 15. Like most area baseball teams, including the Class AA Texas League’s Arkansas Travelers, the Panthers have been looking for a break in the stormy weather to get some playing time.

Cabot has been trying since Friday to get in a 7A-Central Conference game against North Little Rock. It was postponed last week, moved to Monday and postponed again, and now the Panthers (8-11) are hoping to play the Charging Wildcats at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

“Our field doesn’t drain very well and if it’s too wet Saturday we may have to play that one on Monday, who knows?” Fitch said.

Compounding the scheduling problems was Monday’s round of storms that blew the tarp off Conway’s field and soaked the diamond, forcing the conference game to be moved from Thursday to Friday, assuming the field is able to dry.

If that scenario comes to pass, and with more bad weather in the forecast it’s no guarantee, Fitch would have to pitch his top starters, sophomore Ryan Logan and senior Cole Nicholson, on back-to-back days.

The hope would be to stay out of the bullpen as much as possible and have a committee rested for the next scheduled game against Little Rock Central on Tuesday. The Panthers have a non-conference game with Hot Springs Lakeside on Wednesday.

“If it stays the once a week deal that’s no problem,” Fitch said. “With us having to play Thursday, possibly Friday, and turn around play Saturday, we’re pretty much stuck with the rotation, our little sophomore and then Nicholson.

“After that you kind of make do and hope whoever you’re playing is in the same boat as you are.”

Given the wear and tear the baseball pitching motion puts on a young player’s arm and shoulder, it is risky to give him too many innings, especially after he has thrown on the side to stay loose.

“When other sports get rained out, if it’s soccer and even softball, softball can come back and throw the same pitcher over and over again,” Fitch said.

“Rainouts are particularly serious for baseball because you’ve got to guard your pitching. Most high school staffs aren’t blessed with tremendously deep pitching.”

Nicholson (5-1) is the staff ace with an ERA below 2.50. On offense, junior catcher and No. 3 hitter Tyler Carter has been the most consistent, batting close to .480 with three home runs.

“He’ll be an all-state candidate with the year that he’s having,” Fitch said.

Senior outfielder Brandon Surdam is also a contributor, Fitch said.

“He’s probably not got quite the average but he has two home runs and he’s probably around .340 or .360,” Fitch said.

About all Cabot can when the ground is wet is adjourn to one of the campus parking lots to bat and throw around the rubber “dimple ball.”

When it is raining the team moves indoors to the gym where the players can throw to stay loose while pitchers can do their work off of indoor mounds.

“If it’s raining at the time and we need to hit we’ve got an indoor gym that has two rollout nets,” Fitch said.

But when indoors it is hard for the Panthers to work on most defensive and base running situations.

“For sure the situation deal is really tough,” Fitch said.

Fitch is keeping an eye on the points system designed to address imbalances between the 7A and 6A teams, like West Memphis and Hall, who compete in the same regular-season conferences and then play in separate state tournaments.

Like most coaches in most sports, Fitch wishes conference championships and postseason seedings could be settled strictly on the field. But with a couple more victories, Fitch thinks the Panthers will appear in the postseason bracket.

“For a team that’s been starting a freshman and four or five sophomores at a time, that will be pretty good,” Fitch said.

“We’re going to hopefully finish as high as we can and I’ve been telling the kids anything can happen if you get in the tournament.”