Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SPORTS >> Zone 3 jumbled, seedings unsure

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville and Cabot enter postseason play with positive runs in recent games. But the tournament-seeding process for the Zone 3 senior American Legion baseball tournament is going to be a mess, or it may be very easy. Somehow, the six-team division ended up with a four-way tie for first place. Cabot, Jacksonville, North Little Rock and Russellville each ended the regular season with 7-3 records against teams in their own zone.

The coaches and American Legion officials meet tonight to work out the seedings for the tournament. The top two seeds will get a bye in the first round, which could turn out to be crucial in a tournament with so many teams so equal.

Who gets the byes, and therefore saves their starting pitching, will be the crucial aspect.

“I’ve been doing this a long time and this has never happened,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said.

There are tiebreaker rules in place, but with such an extreme situation, it could come down to drawing names from a hat.

“I don’t like it but that looks like what it’s coming down to,” state deputy commissioner Jarrel Howard said.

All four teams split their season series with each other, and all four won both games against Conway and Sylvan Hills, giving each team seven wins and three losses.

Conway and Sylvan Hills also split and ended with 1-9 records, but Conway won the two-way tiebreaker and will get the No. 5seed. Jacksonville and Cabot each have winning streaks heading into postseason play.

Cabot had won three in a row heading into last night’s regular-season finale against Fort Smith, as well as winning five of its last six.

Jacksonville has won seven straight, with its last loss coming on June 20 at North Little Rock.

In its most recent games, the Centennial Bank squad hammered Sylvan Hills 17-1 on Friday, then beat Little Rock Blue 4-3 on Saturday for its fourth consecutive victory.

It also played at Fort Smith last night after Leader deadlines for a final tune up before postseason play.

Cabot got 16 base hits, walked twice and saw three batters hit by pitches, giving it 21 base runners in the lop-sided win over the hosting Bruins.

Defensively Cabot got another gem from Cole Nicholson, who went the distance with a two-hitter, albeit just a three-inning distance.

Six Cabot batters had multiple hits in the game, with Brandon Surdam and Casey Vaughan leading the way with three hits and two RBIs apiece.

Bryson Morris, Justin Goff, Tyler Erickson and Chip Morris each had two hits in the win.

Saturday’s was an unusual affair, with Cabot coach Jay Darr trying to get some final work in for several pitchers before postseason play begins on Thursday.

Seven pitchers threw one inning each as Cabot held off the Little Rock squad.

Bryson Morris, who entered in the fifth inning after Little Rock’s final run, got the win.

Jacksonville surprisingly had to come from behind last Friday to beat Conway, but ended up doing so in dominant fashion, winning the game 16-6.

The Gwatney squad is still nursing some injuries to key players. Centerfielder Colt Harmon has been out since leaving early against Sylvan Hills last Thursday. Second baseman Kenny Cummings also left that game early, and has played sparingly in the last two regular-season games.

“We’ve got to have them,” Hickingbotham said. “I’ve only got 13 on the roster and you have to have 12 in order to play in the tournaments.”

The tournament is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Thursday at Burns Park.