Wednesday, March 27, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke hammers the Hounds

Leader sportswriter

After five innings of play, it looked as if Lonoke would easily end its 4A-2 Conference meeting against Newport with a blowout victory. However, the Greyhounds made it interesting with a sixth inning rally, but the Jackrabbits responded in the bottom part of the inning to win 14-7 Monday at the Lonoke baseball field.

“It was an ugly, windy game for both teams,” said Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery. “We both made some mistakes to help each other out. We hit the ball well. We scored every inning. That was one of our goals, just to try and keep tacking on at least one every inning. So I was pleased with that.

“Pitching, I thought we did a good job. You know, with the wind and them poking it out there every once in a while, that’s going to happen. All in all, a pretty good day.”

Led by shortstop Blake Gooden’s four RBIs, the Jackrabbits led 8-2 after three innings of play. The highlight of Gooden’s day was a three-run home run over the left field wall in the second inning that gave Lonoke (8-5, 2-0) a five-run lead.

Newport (4-4, 1-1) managed to get a run on the board in the top of the fourth, but in the bottom part of the inning, Jackrabbits’ catcher Madison James hit a two-run home run that towered over the wall in straight centerfield that put the home team up 10-3.

Lonoke grabbed its biggest lead in the fifth with a bloop single to left field by cleanup hitter Guy Halbert that drove in Gooden, making the score 11-3. Newport didn’t lie down and quit, and finally got some key hits off starting pitcher Zack Risner in the sixth.

Risner was solid through the first five innings, but the Greyhounds started connecting consecutively in the sixth, scoring four runs to cut the Jackrabbit lead to 11-7. Garrett Spears came in to relieve Risner, and put an end to the Greyhounds’ rally.

Lonoke responded by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth to get back to a comfortable seven-run lead. The Jackrabbits scored all three runs in the inning with two outs. Nick Graves started the two-out rally with a line-drive single to right centerfield.

Graves moved to second base on a passed ball, and leadoff hitter Shane Pepper drove in Graves the next at bat with a line-drive single of his own, this one to straight centerfield. It was Pepper’s fourth hit of the day.

A stolen base allowed Pepper to score from second as two-hole hitter Christian James hit an RBI-single to right field. James also stole second, and set the final score after crossing home plate on a fly ball to centerfield by Gooden, which was dropped by the Newport centerfielder.

The Greyhounds actually outhit the Jackrabbits, last year’s class 4A state runner-up, 15-12. But Lonoke had timely hits, and committed just one error to Newport’s four. Risner earned the win as he struck out seven and had no walks.

Even though Lonoke got the win, the head Jackrabbit sees a lot of areas where his team will need to improve if it wants to put itself in position to make another postseason run comparable to last year’s.

“There are always things we can work on,” Lowery said. “Pitching wise, we threw a few too many pitches today. That’s one thing we’ve always been keen on is trying to keep our pitch count down. And then we just need to eliminate some mental mistakes. We still had some mental mistakes today.”

Newport had seven different players with multiple hits, but Lonoke had a solid day at the plate as well. Pepper’s 4 for 4 outing led all batters. Halbert and Madison James had two hits each. Christian James, Gooden, Risner and Graves had a hit apiece.

Lonoke took a break from conference play yesterday with a game against Des Arc at home, and will resume 4A-2 play tomorrow at Southside Batesville. That game starts at 4 p.m.