Wednesday, March 28, 2012

SPORTS >> Late mistake thwarts Bears’ rally

Leader sportswriter

It was the championship game before the Sylvan Hills Bears faced serious adversity in the Central Arkansas Invitational tournament Saturday at Little Rock’s storied Lamar Porter Field. They trailed tournament host Little Rock Catholic 5-0 after an inning of play, rallied late, but the early mistakes cost the Bears the tournament championship as the Rockets squeaked by with a 5-4 win.

Sylvan Hills should have tied the game in the top of the sixth inning, but a base-running error turned what should’ve been a five-run rally into four. Trailing 5-4 with two outs, Sylvan Hills pinch runner Nathan Thomas stumbled as he approached home and failed to touch home plate. The Catholic catcher tagged him on appeal as he was walking back to the dugout and the umpire called him out.

“We didn’t play our game,” Tipton said. “Our game is we don’t walk people, and we don’t make errors. In the first inning, we walked people and we made errors and we got beat.”

J.D. Miller started the game on the mound for Sylvan Hills (9-4, 2-0), but struggled from the start. Miller walked three batters and hit two more in the inning, which gave Catholic (8-3, 0-2) too many opportunities to put runs on the board.

Leadoff hitter Michael Haun crossed home plate on a wild pitch to give Catholic a 1-0 lead, and Clayton Gretchell scored after Cole Boardman hit a double off the wall in right center for the Rockets’ second run of the game.

Miller almost pitched his way out of the jam, but with the bases loaded, Mason McKay hit a two-out double that cleared the bases and gave Catholic the 5-0 lead.

Carasquillo came in to relieve Miller and the score remained 5-0 until the top of the sixth. Eller singled and stole second to start the inning, and Carasquillo hit a hard line drive to right center that allowed Eller to cross home plate with ease.

The Bears held Catholic scoreless once again in the bottom of the sixth, but had to get things going offensively in order to try and make the dramatic comeback.

Sylvan Hills wouldn’t go down easy as Hunter and Freeling got on base to start the final inning, and Boone singled to send Hunter home. Eller followed with a sacrifice fly that allowed Freeling to score. Jacob White reached base on a two out error that allowed Baioni to score the final run for the Bears.

With runners on second and third with two outs, the Bears ran out of luck as Catholic pitcher Andrew Mashburn struck out T.J. Burrows to end the game.

Sylvan Hills committed two errors in the game and left nine runners on the bases. It was an uncharacteristic game for a team that is used to feeding off of the opponent’s mistakes, not the other way around.

“I really think in this game we showed our inexperience as far as mentally,” Tipton said. “They (Catholic) jumped out and this is the first time we’ve been down five. I really thought we let it bother us for a while. The thing I liked is then we kind of settled down and got back in it and battled back and had a chance to win.

“That does make me happy. I thought too for a while that we were kind of feeling sorry for ourselves. It kind of got to be the blame game, but it’s like I said, we’re going to be successful when we don’t walk people and we don’t make errors. We made more errors tonight than we’ve made the last four games.”

After beating 7A powerhouse Fayetteville in the opening round of the tournament, Sylvan Hills used its pitching and stellar defense to beat Russellville 7-3 in the second round Friday at Benton High School.

Lance Hunter earned the win for the Bears, as the right-hander struck out seven, walked four, and allowed three runs through five and a half innings.

“Once again we pitched well,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton about the win. “Lance Hunter got out there and competed well on the mound for us. Again, we had some key hits. They made some mistakes and we were able to take advantage of those mistakes.”

Russellville committed five errors and Sylvan Hills capitalized on nearly every opportunity as the Bears scored four unearned runs against the Cyclones.

Sylvan Hills wasted no time setting the tone as the Bears scored two of their seven runs in the first inning. Dylan Boone started things off with a one out single, and three and four hitters Connor Eller and David Carrasquillo both reached base on Russellville errors.

Hunter Heslep doubled with the bases loaded, sending Boone and Eller across home plate to give the Bears a 2-0 lead. Russellville answered with a run in the top of the second, but the Cyclones’ mistakes continued once they got back in the field.

After reaching base on another Russellville error, Dalton Freeling stole second, and after advancing to third on a ground ball by leadoff hitter Brandon Baioni, Freeling crossed home plate on a wild pitch.

Sylvan Hills added two more runs in the fourth, and two more in the fifth to take a comfortable 7-1 lead. Russellville added its final two runs in the top of the sixth when Eric Turner hit a double that sent Hayden Hipps home.

Turner then stole third base, and James Reasoner singled to send Turner home to set the final margin. Carasquillo came in to relieve Hunter, and the Bears (8-3, 2-0) had little trouble finishing off the Cyclones (7-3, 2-0).

Sylvan Hills played later that night in the semi-final round of the tournament, and beat the host Benton Panthers 6-3 to advance to the final against Catholic.