Tuesday, March 06, 2012

SPORTS >> Panthers clip Jacksonville at Classic

Leader sports editor

The first round of the Red Devil Classic baseball tournament was not a kind one to local teams. Host team Jacksonville, along with Cabot, Sylvan Hills and Beebe, all lost their opening games on Saturday.

Cabot opened the tournament losing 2-1 to Little Rock Christian Academy. Beebe fell 4-1 to Little Rock Central, Sylvan Hills lost 4-2 to Greenbrier and the Red Devils fell 14-8 to Vilonia.

That set up a second-round matchup between old rivals Jacksonville and Cabot on Monday. Cabot (3-1) was looking for some revenge from last year’s 27-4 shellacking at the hands of the class 6A champions, and got a modicum of it, beating the host team 6-3 in seven innings to advance to the consolation bracket final.

“I’d played them every year since I started coaching and never lost to them,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. “That is until last year and they got just about all of it back with that one game.

Cabot jumped out to a 4-0 lead with three runs in the second and another in the top of the third.

Casey Vaughan got the Panthers’ first run. After getting hit by a pitch, Chipper Morris singled and Jordan Castillow was hit by pitch to load the bases. Leadoff hitter Bryson Morris then doubled to drive in all three runners.

Jacksonville (0-3) helped Cabot out in the third inning after Kason Kimbrell led off with a single. After a strikeout, Justin Goff and Zachary Patterson each reached on errors, with Kimbrell scoring on the E7 off Patterson’s at bat.

Jacksonville got a lot of it back with one swing of the bat in the bottom of the third inning.

With one out, Jacksonville’s lead off hitter Tanner Burks and two-hole hitter Kaleb Reeves got back-to-back singles to put two runners on for Arkansas Razorback signee and centerfielder D’Vone McClure.

McClure fell behind in the count, but made up for when Cabot pitcher Dustin Morris hung a curveball high in the strike zone. McClure knocked over the left field fence to make it 4-3, where it stayed until the top of the seventh.

Cabot added two runs to the lead after the first three batters of the inning reached base. Bryson Morris walked to start things off. Kimbrell popped up a bunt down the first baseline. Jacksonville pitcher Blake Perry couldn’t get to it before it hit the ground, then threw over first base to leave runners on the corners. T.C. Carter then singled to centerfield to score Morris from third. Goff sacrificed to put runners at second and third and Jacksonville intentionally walked Patterson to load the bases. That decision almost turned nightmarish. Casey Vaughan put a major charge into the ball, but it died right at the left-field fence, scoring just Kimbrell from third. That made it 6-3.

“I have a feeling you’re going to see a lot of ours go like this,” Fitch said. “We’re going to have to fight and claw sometimes with all these young pups we have.”

Jacksonville tried to rally in the bottom of the seventh.

Eight-hole hitter David Williams caught Cabot by surprise when he bunted down the third baseline with two strikes. The throw probably wasn’t on time anyway, and went wild over Pattrson’s head, leaving Williams safe at second with no outs.

Derek St. Clair then singled to shallow right field on a 1-2 count to put runners on the corners, still with no outs. Pitching out of trouble, Vaughan, in for relief, fanned Burks and Reeves to bring up McClure. Fitch opted to walk McClure to load the bases, bringing the winning run to the plate.

Senior Jesse Harbin made good contact, but his ground ball went directly to shortstop Cole Thomas, who was playing up the middle, for an easy 6-4 fielder’s choice to end the game.

“They didn’t get anything really hard off of him,” Fitch said of Vaughan. “But it was good for him to face a little adversity and get out of it like he did. That’s valuable experience he can draw from later on.”

Because of expected rain, the tournament will finish on Wednesday instead of the scheduled Thursday. Jacksonville will take on Beebe at 3:30 at Dupree Park. Sylvan Hills will face Cabot at 4 p.m. at Mike Bromley Field in the Sherwood Sports Complex. The third-place game and title game will be played successively after the Jacksonville-Beebe game at Jacksonville’s Dupree Park. The title game will feature Little Rock Christian Academy, which beat Vilonia 8-7 on Monday, against Tuesday’s late winner between Little Rock Central and Greenbrier.