Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SPORTS >> No. 6 Jacksonville gets shot at No. 1

Special to The Leader

MARION — Jacksonville came into the Class 6A state tournament as the lowest seed from the 6A-East Conference and with a rather pedestrian 16-11 record.

After his Red Devils beat Marion 12-8 in the semifinals Monday night, Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows had two things to say about both issues.

“You’re always one two-out single away from winning or losing every game,” Burrows said of the 6A-East. “It’s just a very tough league.”

Of his team’s record, Burrows simply said, “We’re 3-0.”

The sixth-seeded Red Devils made a rather loud statement during the first three rounds of the tournament with their power bats and solid defense.

They plan to utilize that recipe in Friday’s final, in which they will meet the top-seeded Searcy Lions at 7 p.m. at the University of Central Arkansas.

“Look at the final four teams that were in this tournament,” Burrows said after his team’s victory over Marion.

“They all came from the East. I never even gave being the sixth seed a thought. We just told our players to play and keep plugging. Right now we’re getting the two-out hit that we may not have gotten during the regular season.”

Jacksonville’s power bats were never more potent than in the semifinal against host Marion.

Junior Red Devil centerfielder D’Vone McClure displayed his five-tool talent by crushing two home runs, one to left-center and the other to right-center, and he barely missed a third when another hard-hit ball dented the right-field fence in the seventh inning.

Leading 8-4 in the fifth, the Red Devils’ Jacob Abrahamson and Patrick Castleberry hit back-to-back home runs.

Abrahamson cleared the 12-foot fence 380 feet from home plate and Castleberry hit a drive over the left-field fence to give Jacksonville a 10-4 lead.

Running out of fresh pitchers in their third game in four days, the Patriots didn’t flinch. They rallied with two runs in the fifth and another in the sixth to make it a two-run game.

That’s when the Red Devils got the two-out hit Burrows was referring to.

With McClure at second following his double and Abrahamson at first with a walk, left fielder Logan Perry was down to his final strike when he drove a pitch down the first-base line to the fence for a two-run double.

“Those were two big runs for us,” Burrows said. “Marion had their home crowd pack the park and they were going crazy. Logan’s hit silenced them.”

Starting pitcher Jesse Harbin, throwing on just two-days rest, gave Burrows five innings. Nick Rodriguez relieved Harbin after Michael Snipes hit a leadoff double in the sixth.

Harbin scattered eight hits while Rodriguez got a six-out save.

“Jesse’s not much to look at physically, but he’s a competitor,” Burrows said of the 5-9, 165-pound Harbin. “I’ll take him in this position any time.”

Rodriguez limited the damage to one run in the sixth and then retired the Patriots without incident in the seventh inning to put the Red Devils in the championship game.

Jacksonville eked out a 6-5 extra-inning victory over Sheridan in the first round on Friday as Castleberry drove in the winning run in the eighth with a sacrifice fly that scored Noah Sanders.

In the quarterfinals Saturday, the Red Devils avenged two run-ruled losses to Jonesboro during the regular season as they defeated the Hurricane 5-1 behind left-handed starter Noah Sanders, who allowed no earned runs.

Sanders struck out six and retired 11 of the final 14 batters he faced.

He got offensive support from Castleberry, who had three hits, and Perry, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning to close out the scoring for the Red Devils.