Tuesday, July 05, 2011

SPORTS >> Bruins upset top seed, need one

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills junior American Legion team got two wins in the first two rounds of the Zone 3 tournament at Burns Park on Sunday and Monday, and put itself in position of needing just one more win to assure a spot in the state tournament.

The fourth-seeded Bruins got an easy first-round win over Rose Bud Sunday to open the tournament, then got the upset of the event so far, beating top-seeded and previously undefeated Pine Bluff Kell’s 2-1 in nine innings Monday afternoon.

“This team is growing up before our eyes,” Sylvan Hills coach Chris Foor said. “They’re playing to have fun, but they’re really working hard. We started this game today here at noon, but they were all up and practicing over at our place at eight this morning. They’re willing to work and they’re getting better and better every single day.”

Bruin J.D. Miller threw seven innings of no-hit ball before handing things over to Hunter Heslep. Though Miller was on the mound throughout regulation, because the game went extra innings, it’s not an official no hitter, but that doesn’t take away from how impressive the performance was.

“J.D. was a little bit inconsistent in high school,” Foor said. “He has really come a long way. He’s beginning to learn to just relax and have fun out there. He didn’t know he was pitching today until just before we started. I threw a ball down towards the bullpen and told him to go get it, and said, “and by the way, go ahead and start warming up while you’re down there.”

Pine Bluff got its run in the first inning without a base hit, and scarcely threatened over the next six innings. Three Kell players walked in that span, but never more than one in any inning.

Pine Bluff’s pitcher Dillon James was almost as good. He carried a two hitter into the seventh, one of those was an infield single that acted more like a bunt down the third baseline. The other was a single to centerfield, but James picked off the runner on the base paths.

The third hit James gave up proved costly. Miller drew a walk and was replaced on the paths by pinch runner Marcus Long. With two outs, Jimmy Sanderfur doubled to right field to score Long and send the game into extra innings.

The eighth saw controversy. Pine Bluff’s seven, eight and nine hitters were due up, but the team skipped the eight-hole hitter.

Sylvan Hills, though, didn’t notice until leadoff hitter Kirk Baugh batted in the nine-hole spot. According to the rule book, once a pitch is thrown to an improper batter, he becomes the proper batter, making Sylvan Hills’ protest of the batting order void.

Relief pitcher Hunter Heslep had already struck out the first two batters he faced. Baugh got a hit, but Heslep then finished off the side by striking out Austin Lewis.

In the bottom of the ninth, Heslep led off and reached base on the first error of the game by either team, and it proved costly.

Sanderfur struck out, but Chase Imhoff reached on an infield single to third, bringing Reid Fawcett to the plate.

Fawcett, already with one of the few base hits in the game, singled to centerfield. There could have been a play at the plate as Foor sent Heslep around third just as the ball reached the Kell centerfielder, but the ball rolled past him all the way to the wall, giving Fawcett the game-winning RBI.

“Reid has been our leader all season long,” Foor said. “He’s a coach on the field, and in the last two weeks, I think he’s only made maybe five outs. He’s been huge for us.”

Sylvan Hills played tournament host North Little Rock in the winners’ bracket final last night after Leader deadline. Look for details of that game and the rest of the tournament in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.