Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SPORTS >> Rallying Red Devils go extras, win it all

Leader sports editor

CONWAY — Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows took a solitary knee and a quiet moment near the dugout while his celebrating players made all the noise on the field at Bear Stadium.

Moments later, Burrows issued his last command of the Red Devils’ improbable 2011 state tournament.

“Go get it,” Burrows said, and his players readily obliged, grabbing the 6A state-championship trophy they had just earned with an unprecedented comeback and 6-5, eight-inning victory over Searcy.

Down to his last strike and the Devils’ last out, most valuable player Jesse Harbin hit a tying, three-run double with two outs in the seventh and D’Vone McClure drove in Nick Rodriguez with a sacrifice fly in the eighth.

Harbin, who relieved left-hander Noah Sanders in the fourth, returned to the mound to finish it out, surviving a walk to Reid Haggard and getting Preston Tarkington to fly out to left fielder Logan Perry to end it.

“They battled, they battled,” said Burrows, who began to smell victory when the Devils loaded the bases in the seventh. “You just see it sometimes and it happens.”

No Arkansas high school team had ever rallied from four runs down in the seventh to win a state title, but the feat was in character for Jacksonville, which entered the state tournament as the No. 6 seed and had to win an extra-inning game and ride out a rain delay just to reach the championship.

“You need things to fall your way and they did for us this year,” Burrows said. “It feels good.”

It was another frustrating finals appearance for Searcy, making its third straight appearance after losing the previous two championships and with well-rested Major League prospect Dillon Howard on the mound.

Searcy won the regular-season doubleheader with Jacksonville, getting a 6-1 victory from Howard and a 6-4 victory from Tarkington.

“We talked about some various things about Howard and we worked on some various things in practice,” Burrows said. “We only took a strike one inning. As 10th-graders, we took a strike against him and he threw a no-hitter.”

On Saturday, Howard largely shut down the Red Devils, giving up just three hits — after Harbin’s fourth-inning double was taken away on appeal — but Jacksonville loaded the bases in the seventh when Sanders singled, Kenny Cummings reached on third baseman Mason Wyatt’s throwing error and McClure drew a walk.

Howard hit Jacob Abrahamson to drive in a run and make it 5-2.

“When Abe got to first base I knew that on any hit we could score from first,” Burrows said. “He’s done that many times. I really felt like when he got to first it was going to happen, and it did.”

Harbin then lined Howard’s 0-2 pitch down the line and into the right-field corner to tie it. Searcy catcher Hayden Mercer said one of the Jacksonville runners didn’t touch home, which is painted onto Bear Stadium’s completely artificial infield, but when the Lions appealed, Howard was ruled to have thrown an illegal pitch that was called a ball.

McCammon said the ruling was one in a series of events that cost Searcy, going all the way back to the first run the Lions surrendered in the first inning.

“We had a couple routine plays there in the last we didn’t make,” McCammon said. “That was the difference. There was a big at-bat where Jacksonville got the call and we didn’t but it was a good ballgame.

“I’m happy for coach Burrows. They did a great job; they’ve had a great run here and I feel for my guys because they worked hard and they deserved it. They just came up short today.”

Tarkington relieved Howard to start the eighth after Searcy got two men on with two out but stranded them in the bottom of the seventh.

With one out, Tarkington walked Rodriguez, hit Sanders, threw a wild pitch that advanced Rodriguez to third and then walked Cummings. That brought up McClure, who flew to right, deep enough to bring home Rodriguez.

“We had to come in and get on a roll with the sticks and thankfully we did,” Harbin said of Jacksonville’s late offense.

McClure walked and scored Jacksonville’s first run on Harbin’s single in the first.

Searcy left two on in the first and stranded two more in the second, but tied it on Reid Haggard’s RBI double.

Jared Haggard made it 3-1 with a two-out, two-run double off Sanders in the Searcy third. The Lions loaded the bases against Sanders with a pair of walks and two singles in the fourth, but Harbin came on with one out to induce an inning-ending double play.

Mike Brown homered off Harbin to lead off the fifth and Reid Haggard belted another homer with one out in the seventh to make it 5-1.

“I feel for them right now; they’re hurting,” McCammon said after the lead got away. “That’s a tough game to lose. You’ve got to give Jacksonville credit; they battled and stayed in there and never quit.”

Harbin gave up four hits, struck out three and walked two in his 4 2/3 innings. Howard struck out five and walked three while giving up just three hits through seven innings.

While Searcy was a top seed making its third straight state championship appearance, Jacksonville was in its first final since winning its only other championship in 1987. The Red Devils were the top seed with a first-round bye the previous two seasons, but bowed out in the second round both times.