Friday, June 22, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville shut down in nightcap

Leader sportswriter

Hits were few and far between for Jacksonville, particularly in the late going as winning North Little Rock pitcher Tyler Schaller seemed to strengthen with every frame during a 4-0 shutout victory for the Optimist Colts at Dupree Park on Thursday in an American Legion senior zone game.

Schaller gave up a pair of hits in the first inning and a few scattered hits throughout, but ultimately struck out nine batters while the defense behind him negated two of those hits with heads-up plays that caught Jacksonville runners off guard and off the pads.

Jacksonville (5-7) used a collection of pitchers to try and make its way through the seven-inning affair, starting with James McCranie, who gave way to Jarred Wilson in the top of the sixth. Wilson got in a bind in the top of the seventh, which led to Alex Tucker limping the Chevy Boys home on the mound.

The junior team had won big over the Colts in the first game of the twin bill, but with a number of those players called on for double duty in the senior game, it led to a lineup that appeared out of gas for the most part in the final frames.

“We’re probably playing the kids to where they’re about to wear out on me,” Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham said. “They’re young kids, and we’ve been playing a whole lot. This is nearly 20 games for them. We’ve got some problems with some of the older ones right now that we’ve got to try and get worked out, and some other things that’s creating some problems.”

Derek St. Clair was one of those players appearing in both games. St. Clair led off the bottom of the first inning with a single to shallow right, but the decision to take two did not work out, and he was tagged out at second. Jessie Harbin followed with a two-out double to right but was left stranded when Xavier Brown grounded out to second.

Those were the only hits for Jacksonville until the bottom of the third inning, when St. Clair came up for his second turn and doubled to right. Through the final four innings, Harbin and Troy Allen were the only Jacksonville batters to record a hit against Schaller.

McCranie did his best to keep pace with Schaller through the first four innings, giving up only one hit during that time. But the Colts started to get to him in the top of the fifth inning, and the switch at the mound in the sixth seemed to affect Jacksonville’s defense as a whole.

“We’re a little bit short handed pitching wise,” Hickingbotham said. “When Jesse’s not on the mound, we just kind of have to hope, try to get someone out there that can maybe go four or five innings. We’re not hitting the baseball very good right now; we’ve got to get better than that. Our older kids right now are struggling with play, really.”

The Colts took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Jacob Stripling double to left field and later scored on an error at first base. That’s how the score remained until the top of the fifth, when John Chapman singled to center and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dillon Richardson. The middle of the season is providing for some frustrating situations for Hickingbotham, now in his 39th season as head coach over the Jacksonville American Legion program.

“We’ve got three guys who work all the time and not coming to practice,” Hickingbotham said. “And it’s making it difficult on some other people. Some of them need to work, and I understand that, but if you don’t practice, you can’t play very good.”