Tuesday, May 01, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Devils lose benefit to Rockets

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville baseball team battled the 7A Central leading Catholic Rockets to the bitter end on Saturday in an Arkansas Activities Association benefit game at Dupree Park. But the end was still bitter for the Red Devils, as the Rockets got two runs in the seventh inning and won 7-6.

“We played well,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “We walked too many though. If we had pitched a hair better things would’ve been different.”

Jacksonville’s pitching walked seven. Four of the players that walked scored. The first three Rocket runs all followed walks.

Catholic’s leadoff hitter walked in the first inning and later scored. The first two Rocket batters to step to the plate in the second inning walked and scored.

The bats came alive in the third inning as Catholic got two doubles and a single to score two more runs and stretch its lead to 5-1.

Jacksonville freshman Derek St. Clair started and threw the first four and one-third innings. He has been solid most of the season, but struggled on Saturday.

“That’s going to happen,” Burrows said. “He’s pitched really well for us all year long. He just didn’t have it this time. He’ll be back. He’s a good pitcher.”

The Red Devils cut Catholic’s lead to 5-3 in the bottom of the third and tied the game in the bottom of the fourth.

Burrows put sophomore Blake Perry on the mound with one out in the fifth inning and the Red Devil defense turned a double play to get out of a jam. Catholic threatened again in the sixth inning, but another double play thwarted the Rocket rally.

The score remained 5-5 until the top of the seventh when Catholic put two runs on the board to take a 7-5 lead. Jacksonville got one back in the bottom of the seventh and had the tying run on first base when the game ended.

“I was pleased with how we competed,” Burrows said. “Catholic’s been in the 7A semifinals the last four years in a row. They have a really strong program. That’s why we play them at this time every year. We want to see some strong pitching before the tournament.”

Jacksonville and Catholic also wanted to avoid a long hiatus between games. Most teams play their AAA benefit games before their first official game. Jacksonville and Catholic began scheduling theirs at this time of year when the AAA reduced the number of non-tournament games allowed from 24 to 22.

“It left everybody with a big gap somewhere in their schedule,” Burrows said. “If we didn’t have this one scheduled for this week, we’d have gone a whole week without a game.”

Jacksonville centerfielder D’Vone McClure scored three runs off 1 for 3 hitting with an RBI. Shortstop Jesse Harbin went 1 for 3 with a sacrifice fly and two RBIs. Tanner Burks got one hit and scored two runs.

The Red Devils (6-6, 12-14) hosted a doubleheader against West Memphis on Tuesday to close out regular-season play. Jacksonville has already qualified for the state tournament, but needs a sweep in that series to get a five seed. Losing either game drops the Devils to the six seed, the same bottom seed they had last year when they won the state championship.”