Friday, June 29, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Two late runs lift Gwatney

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville got a hard-fought win in the first round of the Gwatney Chevrolet Fourth of July Classic on Thursday at Dupree Park. The Gwatney senior team beat Benton 6-4 to open the tournament.

Pitcher Jess Harbin was best at the beginning and end, running into a little trouble in the middle innings.

He faced only 10 batters in the first three innings, but the one player he didn’t get out, Benton’s Colton Welch, nailed a solo home run over the wall in left field in the first inning to put the visiting team up quickly.

Welch remained a thorn in Harbin’s side the entire game, accounting for four of the seven hits the Jacksonville ace allowed.

After a groundout in the top of the first, Harbin fanned two-hole hitter Alex Wilcox before yielding Welch’s bomb. He then struck out cleanup hitter Ryne Besancon, the first of three strikeouts of the Benton cleanup man.

Jacksonville failed to score in the first inning but was up to bat again quickly in the second after Harbin struck out the side in order.

Jared Wilson got on base with one out when he laid down a bunt and beat the throw to first base. Greg Jones drew a walk and a passed ball moved the runners into scoring position. With two outs, Jacob Abrahamson hit a two-RBI single into right field to put Gwatney ahead 2-1.

After three quick groundouts by Benton, Jacksonville was back at the plate and added two more runs to its lead. Alex Tucker led off with a walk, but two outs followed with Tucker still at first base. James McCranie then got an RBI single to centerfield. Wilson and Jones drew walks and McCranie scored when Benton shortstop Tanner Bates was offline with his throw to first that left Austin Allen safe.

Benton scored two runs in the top of the fourth when the first three batters got base hits. Wilcox singled and Welch got an RBI double and moved to third on the throw home that failed to get Wilcox. Besancon then singled to score Welch, but he was also the first out when he was thrown out by Jones while trying to steal third base.

With two outs and no one on base, Harbin walked Bates, gave up a single to Dillon Oliver and walked Matt Frelin to load the bases. But he got out of the jam by forcing designated hitter Tyler Massey to ground into a 4-6 fielder’s choice that kept Jacksonville in front 4-3.

Benton tied it the very next inning when Harbin continued to struggle with control in the 100-plus degree heat. He hit centerfielder Levon Steward and walked Bates to start the inning. Oliver sacrificed the runners into scoring position and Frelin singled to right field to score one run.

Massey then struck out and leadoff hitter Brad Neighbors was robbed of a hit and at least one RBI when Allen made a diving catch in right-centerfield to end the inning.

Jacksonville got two quick outs in the bottom of the sixth, but put together a two-out rally that scored two runs and set the final margin. Harbin started it by drawing a walk and Xavier Brown did the same. Left-handed hitter McCranie then hit a hard grounder over the top of first base that scored both base runners and gave McCranie his second and third RBIs of the game.

Benton threatened to answer in kind when its first two batters reached base in the top of the seventh. Wilcox drew a walk and Welch singled for his fourth base hit of the game, but Harbin dug in. Besancon and Steward struck out swinging and Harbin ended it by leaving Bates standing and looking at a called strike three.

Jacksonville, 7-9, finished with six base hits.

McCranie and Wilson picked up two apiece to lead the way.

The Chevy Boys were patient at the plate as well, drawing eight free passes with seven walks and one hit batter.

Harbin went the distance on the mound, striking out 10 while walking four.

Jacksonville played Sheridan last night after The Leader’s deadlines, and will continue in the Fourth of July Classic through Sunday.