Monday, June 06, 2011

SPORTS >> Jacksonville senior team cruises in opener

Leader sportswriter

IN SHORT:  Gwatney piled  up 13 in its opening game Thursday in Sherwood.

Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet senior American Legion team swarmed Sylvan Hills in its first game of the summer season. Gwatney scored early and never let up, beating the host Bruins Thursday night 13-0 in four innings.

Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham was a bit surprised his team played so well considering it had only practiced together once. With a roster made up largely of members of the class 6A high school state championship team, the performance didn’t come as a total surprise.

“Well they picked up where they left off,” Hickingbotham said. “We’ve only practiced once but we hit the ball pretty well.”

Jacksonville picked up 12 base hits and added six more base runners by drawing walks. Gwatney jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning on just three hits, but they were timely hits. Every run in the inning came with two outs. With one out, Kenny Cummings  and Patrick Castleberry walked. Jesse Harbin flew out to center for the second out. Colt Harmon then singled to right to drive in two runs. Xavier Brown walked and consecutive base hits by Alex Tucker and Nick Rodriguez drove home the final runs of the inning.

It got worse for the home team in the second inning. Bruin pitcher Aaron Sarna started the inning with his second straight strikeout, but gave up four straight base hits to Cummings, Castleberry, Harbin and Harmon. All four base runners scored to give Jacksonville a 9-0 lead.

Sylvan Hills almost got something going in the second inning, starting the frame off with back-to-back walks, but Harbin then hit his stride. He gave up a hard line drive to  Chase Imhoff, but Imhoff’s luck was bad and his shot went straight to an awaiting outfielder. Harbin fanned the next two batters to get out of the minor jam.

Sarna did his best work in the third, giving up no hits and striking out two Gwatney batters for a quick inning of work.  The Bruins continued to make good contact off Harbin in the bottom of the third, but couldn’t find the gaps, flying out three straight times.

“Jacksonville’s pitching is good,” Sylvan Hills coach Jim Fink said. “Give them credit; they’ve got a good team. We hit the ball and had base runners, we just didn’t find the hit when we needed it. We’ve just got to play more baseball and see more live arm.”

Gwatney added four more runs on four hits and three walks in the third to set the final margin. Harbin finished things off with his best and worst inning of the game. The Bruins finally started finding gaps, getting three base hits in the fourth, but between the hits, Harbin struck out the side to preserve the shutout on the mound.

“He’s throwing really well and he’s knocking the ball around extremely well right now,” Hickingbotham said of his starting pitcher.

The three hits in the final inning cost Harbin a shortened-game no hitter. He walked three and struck out five in the victory.