Friday, March 22, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Great pitching effort for naught

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills pitcher J.D. Miller turned in one of the best performances of the year, by any pitcher, in his outing at Burns Park on Thursday in the first round of the Central Arkansas Invitational, and he picked up the loss.

Miller completely shut down class 7A’s No. 2 ranked Springale Har-Ber Wildcats, giving up one hit and never letting a ball, any ball, not even an out, leave the infield through seven innings in a 1-0 loss.

“He threw a heck of a game,” Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton said. “It’s kind of sad. His last two outings have been a two-hitter and a one-hitter and we haven’t produced a single run for him.”

The Bears (4-5) only got two hits off three Har-Ber pitchers, but drew nine walks. The Wildcats got out of several jams with double plays and numerous base-running blunders by Sylvan Hills’ runners.

Har-Ber (9-1) never sent more than four batters to the plate in any inning. The Wildcats drew walks in the first, fourth and seventh innings, and got an infield single in the sixth, which eventually produced the only run of the game. Miller struck out 10 Har-Ber batters in the dominant performance, showing excellent command of his pitches and a solid, calm demeanor on the mound.

“He’s done that this year,” Tipton said. “His first outing at Vilonia he struggled in the first inning and they got five runs off of him. Since then he hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 19 innings.”

The game’s only run came with two outs in the top of the sixth inning when Har-Ber two-hole hitter Gus Vitt broke up the no-hitter with a grounder to the gap between shortstop and third base. Bears’ shortstop Brandon Baoni made the stop, but his throw back to first, with his momentum carrying him the opposite direction, didn’t get there in time to get the speedy Vitt.

The Wildcat left fielder easily stole second base on the next pitch. He broke for third base two pitches later. Catcher Reid Fawcett mishandled the outside pitch. Seeing the passed ball, Vitt broke for home and stumbled just after crossing third base. He kept going for home though and it appeared he would easily be thrown out. But Fawcett had trouble grasping the ball against the backstop and never made a throw to Miller, who was covering home plate.

Sylvan Hills blew prime scoring opportunities in the second, third, sixth and seventh innings. In each of those innings, the Bears had at least two runners on with no more than one out.

They had two on with one out in the second before Jacob White popped up to second base for the second out. Baoni then walked to load the bases, but was picked off by Har-Ber pitcher John Jaro for the third out.

Nine-hole hitter Blake Maddox walked to lead off the third inning and leadoff hitter T.J. Burrows singled to put two runners on with no outs. Charlie Roberts then struck out by missing a bunt, and catcher Justin Rasmussen picked off Maddox for a strikeout/2-6 double play. Chase Imoff then grounded out to third base to end the inning.

Sylvan Hills got its first three batters on base with two walks and a hit batter in the sixth. Roberts led it off, but was picked off on the first pitch to the next batter. Imoff then walked and Miller was hit to put two runners on. But two pop ups followed to end the threat.

The Bears got two on with one out in the bottom of the seventh and the top of the lineup coming up. Burrows ripped a hard ground ball down the first base line, but Har-Ber first baseman Zac DeShazo was squeezing the line and easily made the play. Roberts then struck out to end the game.

“We’ve just shot ourselves in the foot,” Tipton said. “I thought we outplayed them. Neither team had many hits, but we had a lot more opportunities to score than they did. That’s the positive. We can play with anybody when we play up to our capabilities. We battle at the plate. We don’t get blown away, we’re not striking out much. We just have to start turning those battles into hits, and I think we will. I’d rather hit in May than now anyway if I had the choice.”

Bad weather caused the postponement of the night games on Thursday and threw the tournament schedule into disarray. The Bears will be back on the field today, but time and place were not determined at The Leader’s deadlines. They will get back to conference play on Tuesday with a doubleheader at Mills.