Friday, March 15, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot gives No. 1 big tussle

Leader sportswriter

The top-ranked Charging Wildcats swept the visiting Cabot Panthers in the two teams’ 7A/6A East Conference-opening doubleheader on Tuesday. North Little Rock won the first game 5-2 and took the second game 8-5 at DeJanis Memorial Field in Burns Park.

In each game the Charging Wildcats pulled out to early leads. In the first part of the twin bill, North Little Rock (7-1, 2-0) scored three runs in the second inning, and two more in the third to take a 5-0 lead. Cabot (4-4, 0-2) didn’t score until the top of the seventh, after winning pitcher Preston Oberling was pulled from the game.

Oberling struck out nine Panthers in six innings of work, which was pleasing to the head Charging Wildcat, Randy Sandefur.

“He did a tremendous job,” Sandefur said of Oberling. “We didn’t have any errors and we spread the ball around pretty good. We were real patient with their lefty, because we knew that he was probably going to try and get us out of the zone a few times. But we stayed back and we really did a good job of pitch selection when we hit the baseball.”

Chipper Morris and Casey Vaughan scored Cabot’s two runs in the top of the seventh to set the final score of the first game. The Panthers had just three hits in game one, and committed five errors in the field. Unfortunately for Cabot, the mistakes continued in the second game.

Charging Wildcat cleanup hitter Chandler Thompson led off the second inning of game two with a high fly ball between first and second base. Thompson reached first safely as the routine fly was dropped, the result of three different Panther infielders calling for the ball and trying to make the catch.

Thompson moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jarrod Smiatek, and scored the next at bat as Dillon Howell reached base on another Panther error, this one an E3. Thompson scored with ease as the throw to first was well off the mark.

“Man, we just didn’t get it done defensively,” said Cabot coach Jay Fitch. “I think in this doubleheader we had 11 errors. I don’t know that we’ve ever done that. I’m just trying to think of the last time we played that poorly on defense. I don’t think we’ve made that many all year, and then to come into our first conference game and to do that, it’s disappointing.

“We know we have to fix some things defensively, and what’s so confusing about that is we haven’t done that all year. It’s not that the plays were just really hard plays. Some of those were just routine plays that we just didn’t make. So that’ll get you beat against the number one team in the state.”

North Little Rock gave itself a lot of cushion in the fourth inning, scoring seven runs to push its lead to 8-0. University of Arkansas signee Alex Gosser started the rally with a one-out solo home run off the scoreboard in right centerfield.

Howell drove in North Little Rock’s third run of the game on a RBI-single, and Spencer Byrd, who picked up the win on the mound in the second game, followed with a three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Charging Wildcats up 6-0.

Gosser picked up his second RBI of the inning after walking with the bases loaded. River Warnock scored on the play, and Evan Peters scored one-batter later as Thompson also walked with the bases loaded.

Cabot finally got on the board in the fifth as Coleman McAtee scored from third base on a grounder by Brent Dean. The Panthers added four more runs in the top of the sixth, and had two runners on base in the seventh with the tying run at the plate, but Grayson Cole’s swing was just under the closer Howell’s pitch, and Cole hit a routine fly ball to end the game.

Byrd struck out seven, walked three and gave up just one run in five innings of work in game two. Gosser led North Little Rock with two hits. Smiatek, Howell, Byrd and Warnock also had a hit in the second game.

The Panthers outhit the Charging Wildcats in the second game 8-6. Riley Knudsen had two of those hits. Morris, Cole, McAtee, Kason Kimbrell, Ryan Logan and Conner Vocque had a hit apiece.

Both Cabot and North Little Rock will play again Thursday in the Little Rock Catholic invitational tournament before resuming conference play next week after spring break. The Charging Wildcats continue 7A/6A East play March 26 in a doubleheader at West Memphis. The Panthers continue conference play March 27 in a doubleheader against Marion at home.