Tuesday, July 05, 2011

SPORTS >> Gwatney gets yet another late win

Leader sports editor

There were more seventh-inning heroics for the Gwatney Chevrolet senior American Legion team Sunday in the championship game of the annual Fourth of July Classic the team hosts at Dupree Park. This time, though, seventh-inning heroics weren’t enough. It also took 10th-inning heroics, and finally 11th-inning heroics, but the Jacksonville squad finally got an 8-7 win over Sheridan to earn the tournament title.

Tied at seven runs apiece in the bottom of the 11th, with Jacksonville never having led in the game, Xavier Brown hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice that left him standing on first base with two outs.

Nick Rodriguez was hit by the next pitch to move Brown into scoring position. Alex Tucker then singled to left to score Brown with the game-winning RBI.

It was just Jacksonville’s fifth base hit of the lengthy contest, and two of those were in the scoreless eighth inning, but Gwatney found other ways to push runs across the plate and get the win.

“It’s always somebody different,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said of Tucker’s game-winning hit. “We’ve had to do this a lot this year and I think every time it’s been someone different come through for us. This team just does a good job of hanging in there and somehow making things happen.”

Jacksonville couldn’t touch Sheridan starting pitcher Tyler Latham. He carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but only a 3-2 lead after Jacksonville got two runs in the sixth without a hit.

Tucker and Austin Allen drew back-to-back, one-out walks. Tucker advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball. Leadoff hitter Jacob Abrahamson then drew a third-consecutive walk, putting runners on the corners. Abrahamson was caught in a run down, and during the melee between first and second, Allen scored to make it 3-2.

The three straight walks were the first sign that Latham was vulnerable. In the first five innings, he faced the minimum 15 batters, giving up no hits and striking out 10.

Needing another run to extend the game in the seventh, Jacksonville got it quickly. The powerful bat of Patrick Castleberry met the hard fastball of Latham solidly, sending it high over the scoreboard in left-centerfield and deep into the picnic park across the street behind Hickingbotham Field.

Three innings later, Sheridan, which only had four hits through eight innings off Gwatney’s Jesse Harbin, began to touch the Jacksonville ace regularly. Four of the five batters Harbin faced in the inning reached base on three hits and an error, with one being thrown out at home. The Yellowjackets’ Landon Moore then hit his second home run of the game, a three-run shot that made it 7-3.

Needing four runs to stay alive, Jacksonville got it all with two outs, and with just one base hit.

Against various Sheridan relief pitching, Jacksonville drew two walks and two hit batters to score one run. A wild pitch scored a second, and a two-run single by Abrahamson tied the game to set up Tucker’s game winner in the 11th.

Nick Rodriguez threw two innings of relief to get the win on the mound for Jacksonville.

He also accounted for one of the base hits, with Kenny Cummings getting the other. Rodriguez and Tucker, the seven and eight hitters in the lineup, led the team in on-base appearances, reaching three times each in five trips to the plate.

The win was the second tournament title for Jacksonville this season, and lifted its overall record to 14-3.