Tuesday, May 08, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Carlisle grinds to regional title

Leader sports editor

A gutsy return to the mound, a show of power and a team’s resiliency to win shorthanded all helped make the Carlisle Bison the East Region champions and a No. 1 seed in this week’s class 2A state tournament in White Hall.

Nothing came easy for the Bison, who played their semifinal game minus one starter. They beat Magnet Cove 5-1 on Thursday, Conway St. Joseph’s 14-13 on Saturday and Conway Christian 7-6 Monday.

“It’s just resiliency,” Carlisle coach B.J. Greene said after beating Conway Christian. “At times this year we’ve had a really bad habit of sort of coasting through the middle innings and we did that again today. But this team has found a way to either hang on or come back when they had to.”

Carlisle pitcher Tommy Inman suffered a horrible start on Saturday, giving up four earned runs and getting run off the mound with just one out in the first inning against Conway St. Joseph’s. He made up for the bad start on the mound with a 3 for 4 performance at the plate, including a walk, single, double and triple to help his squad come back to beat the Bulldogs in the bottom of the last inning.

Then on Monday, against the 2A-5 North regular-season and tournament champions, Inman was spectacular on the mound. He went six and a third innings, gave up just two hits and no earned runs while striking out four and walking two.

“Words can’t even describe how proud I am of Tommy Inman,” Greene said. “He just didn’t have it on Saturday. To come back and pitch the way he did, against an even better team. That took some guts. The only reason I took him out was because he was coming up to the top of the order and I didn’t want them to see him again. He was phenomenal.”

Conway Christian still made it interesting. The Eagles came to bat in the bottom of the seventh trailing 7-4. After Inman walked the nine-hole hitter with one out, Greene brought Chris Hart to the mound. The first two batters he faced got base hits. Leadoff hitter Jacob Callaway got single to right field and pitcher Andrew Dather singled down the third-base line to score a run. Will Smith, Hart’s replacement at shortstop, committed an error that allowed another run to score to make it 7-6 with one out.

Hart then fanned cleanup hitter Mark Stevenson. Tyler Ratliff then hit a blooper to shallow right field, where second baseman Austin Allen made a great catch running backwards to end the game and preserve the victory.

It wasn’t all great defense for Carlisle though. The Bison committed five errors, including three at shortstop. The biggest though, came in the bottom of the fifth with Carlisle leading 5-0. Both hits Inman gave up came in that half inning. The fist was a leadoff double by Josh Helms. Josiah Smith then flew out to left field and Inman hit the next batter. Nine-hole hitter Paul Henderson then reached on an error by Hart at short, his second of the game. That loaded the bases. Callaway then hit a one-hopper back to Inman. The ball bounced out of Inman’s glove. Inman then fell trying to retrieve it. He was able to crawl to the ball and throw the lead runner out at home, but the Bison weren’t able to turn a double play that would have gotten them out of the inning. Dather then singled to centerfield with two outs and the bases still loaded. Carlisle centerfielder Hayden Hoover charged in and tried to short-hop the ball in his glove side, but missed. The ball rolled all the way to the fence, allowing all three base runners and Dather to score, making it 5-4 with one swing of the bat.

Carlisle answered with two in the top of the sixth. Reed led off with a single to centerfield and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hoover. Hart then reached on an error at third base and Inman doubled to right field to score Reed. Conway Christian walked Trey Wilson, who had hit a towering home run in the first inning. Dather then hit Deric Herring with the bases loaded to drive in Carlisle’s final run of the game.

Wilson’s home run in the first inning was good for two RBIs. Inman reached after striking out on a wild pitch that got by the Eagle catcher.

The Bison added a run in the third when Hoover walked, stole second, got to third on an infield single by Hart and scored on a passed ball.

Two more runs scored in the third inning, Herring doubled to left field with one out. Ricks then reached on an error deep in right field. Josh Mathis advanced the runners with a groundout, and freshman Dylan Brazeal got a two-RBI base hit to straightway centerfield to make it 5-0.

The Bison will play Gurdon at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Greene believes the best baseball in the state is played in the South.

“The state champion is going to come from one of these two regions,” Greene said. “It didn’t really matter where we finished. Anyone, one seed through four seed, is going to get a tough draw facing that region. Gurdon, I honestly believe has the best pitcher in the state. If we can get past him, we can beat anybody.”

Gurdon won its first-round game at regionals, but lost the next two to get a four seed. Pitcher Zach Gooding faced the minimum 21 batters and struck out 18 in his last outing.