Tuesday, June 21, 2011

SPORTS >> Chevy Boys come back to win Wood Bat

Leader sports editor

It’s been common to hear from Gwatney Chevrolet coach Bob Hickingbotham that his senior American Legion team has “picked up right where they left off in high school.” Where they left off in high school was a late-inning come-from-behind win over heavily favored Searcy in the state championship game.

At the Wood Bat Classic in Sheridan, Hick may have wished his team wasn’t so exacting in fulfilling his comments, but he’ll take the results.

Jacksonville won each of its last three games in the tournament on its last at bat, including a 4-3 victory over nearby interstate rival Cabot for the tournament championship.

“They just gutted it out,” Hickingbotham said. “We had a kid on the mound out there dying on the vine, but he got it done. He just went out there and did it.”

Nick Rodriguez took the mound in the second inning of the title game and got the win. He and everyone else on the field endured two games in searing heat, with heat indexes reaching 105 Sunday afternoon.

Cabot probably got the worst of it, with the sun bearing directly into its west-facing dugout.

“It was miserable in that dugout,” Cabot fill-in coach Craig Nyborg said. “When your fans are moving to the other side and sitting with the other team’s fans, it’s pretty bad. We didn’t have that option.”

Cabot and Jacksonville advanced to tournament play after winning their respective pools. Cabot beat Hot Springs Lakeside 2-0 to advance, then had to wait for Jacksonville’s lengthy game against Pine Bluff Simmons to end.

When Cabot got to field to see who they would be playing for the title, Simmons was up 5-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Chevy Boys scored a run in the sixth and four in the bottom of the seventh to earn the matchup with the Centennial Bank squad.

Jacob Abrahamson, who pitched the final three innings against Pine Bluff, took the mound to start against Cabot. He gave up two walks and no hits, but had to leave the game due to heat exhaustion.

“Starting him on the mound right after finishing on the mound in the other game was a mistake,” Hickingbotham said.

Despite his fatigue, Abraham-son got the game’s first hit and scored the first run in the bottom of the first. The Chevy Boys got three straight hits from Abrahamson, Kenny Cummings and Patrick Castleberry to start the game, with Castleberry’s single driving in Abrahamson.

Jacksonville loaded the bases with no outs in the first two innings, but got just the one run, thanks mostly to Matt Evans’ gutsy pitching, and partly due to a great throw to second from catcher Andrew Reynolds, who got Troy Allen trying to steal.

Cabot got on the board in the top of the third. Justin Goff reached on an error at shortstop, and scored on an errant throw to first two batters later.

Centennial added to its lead in the fourth, with its best offensive inning of the day. Brandon Surdam led off with a single to left. Two batters later Jordan Castillow got a one-out double to left that scored Surdam. He scored two batters later on an RBI base hit by Evans that made it 3-1.

Castleberry started the bottom of the third with a single to centerfield, but Evans was dominant from that point until the last inning.

Over the next four innings, Evans gave up just one hit, and even that hit didn’t leave the infield.

Jacksonville mounted no rallies until there were two outs in the last frame.

Troy Allen was hit by a pitch, followed by an Evans strikeout. Cummings hit into a fielder’s choice, leaving just him on first with two outs.

Castleberry then drove a pitch deep to centerfield, scoring Cummings from first and leaving Castleberry on second. Cabot should’ve ended the game and sealed the championship on the next at bat, but a throw to first sailed high, leaving Jesse Harbin safe at first and Castleberry at third. Colt Harmon was then hit by a pitch to load the bases. Xavier Brown then hit a bloop single down the right-field line with runners going that drove in the two runs needed for the win.

“We had different people come through for us in all three of those last games,” Hickingbotham said. “At times we didn’t look like we knew how to play, and then we’d pull it together and someone would step up and come through for us. That’s what a good team does.”

Jacksonville indeed looked unfocused at times, especially in the earlier win against Pine Bluff. Gwatney committed seven errors in the game, and cost itself runs on the base paths.

“Well a couple of those base-running outs were my fault,” Hickingbotham said.

Jacksonville found itself down 5-1 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning in the 2 p.m. game Sunday.

A bunt single by Abrahamson, followed by a stolen base and an error at third left Abrahamson safe on third in the third inning. Kenny Cummings drove him home with a grounder to second. That’s all Jacksonville could muster until the sixth, when it got one more run to make it 5-2.

Colt Harmon got a one-out, ground-rule double when his shot to right bounced over the fence. Alex Tucker drove him home with a sacrifice grounder to shortstop.

Jacksonville had five base hits through six innings, and added five more in the seventh for the victory.

Trailing by three, Troy Allen, hitting in the nine hole, led off with a walk. Abrahamson then tripled to right centerfield to make it 5-3. Cummings then hit a line drive up the gut to center to score Abrahamson and cut the margin to one.

Castleberry reached on an error at short that should’ve been a double-play grounder, but was thrown out when he turned to wide toward second. Harbin singled to put runners on the corners. Harmon then doubled to right to drive in Cumming and tie the game.

With two outs, Tucker singled to center to score Harmon for the win.

The five wins in Sheridan make Jacksonville 9-1 on the season. The Chevy Boys will play North Little Rock at Burns Park on Thursday, then return home for a four-game homestand Saturday through Tuesday.