Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SPORTS >> Harbin outduels Howard to win MVP

Leader sports editor

CONWAY — Jesse Harbin wasn’t the Major League draft prospect with the college scholarship offer in his pocket.

He was just the guy who sparked Jacksonville’s 6A state championship victory.

Harbin was named most valuable player after the Red Devils beat the Searcy Lions 6-5 at Bear Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The junior right-hander pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Noah Sanders and hit a two-out, two-strike, three-run double that tied it in the bottom of the seventh.

“Hopefully it fell down and it did. Happiest feeling in the world man,” Harbin said of his bases-clearing drive into the right-field corner.

For most of his stint on the mound, Harbin, who opened the game at third, squared off against Searcy standout Dillon Howard, the University of Arkansas signee who is projected by some experts to go somewhere between the 23rd and 29th pick of the Major League draft next month.

Howard, as he has done throughout his high school career, pitched commendably.

The right-hander worked seven full innings and allowed just three hits, after Harbin’s double in the fourth was erased on appeal, and took a 5-1 lead into the seventh.

But after Jacksonville starter Noah Sanders singled, Kenny Cummings reached on an error and D’Vone McClure walked to load the bases, Howard hit Jacob Abrahamson to drive in a run.

Patrick Castleberry popped up for the second out to bring up Harbin, who hit a 0-2 pitch just inside the right-field line to tie it. Harbin, who failed to touch first after doubling to left-center off Howard in the fourth, wound up 2 for 4 with a single, his double and four RBI.

McClure provided the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

“Last year Jesse didn’t hit a ball to the left side of second base and then he comes out and hits a gap and then one down the line,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said of Harbin’s day at the plate. “He’s put in a lot of hard work into it and it paid off for him.”

Howard, who moved to shortstop when Preston Tarkington relieved him to start the eighth, was hitless in four at-bats.

While the state championship eluded Howard, who with the Lions was making his third straight finals appearance, he is headed for further adventures either with coach Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks or an as yet-unnamed Major League team if he is selected, as expected, high in next month’s draft.

“He’s had a great career here, a great senior year,” Searcy coach Clay McCammon said. “We’re going to miss him. He certainly pitched well enough to win that ballgame I felt like.

“But we’ve got 14 seniors, we’re going to miss them all.”

Harbin will be back next year, but many of his teammates won’t. With so many upperclassmen graduating, Harbin felt a sense of urgency to get a championship this year.

“It means a lot to me but it means more to these seniors, we have 13 of them,” Harbin said. “I had to go out there and get it done for them and thank God I did.”

Harbin induced a first-pitch double play ball to get Jacksonville out of a jam when he relieved Sanders in the fourth.

Though he was touched for home runs by Mike Brown and Reid Haggard, Harbin helped himself at the plate and wound up with his third victory of the state tournament.

“What else can you say? He’s a bulldog, he’s always been a bulldog,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “He deserves the MVP.”