Friday, March 22, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats figure out soft-toss southpaw

Leader sports editor

For a class 4A team that’s starting four freshmen, Arkadelphia held its own with No. 1 ranked class 7A North Little Rock, at least for four innings. The Charging Wildcats eventually figured out the Badgers’ soft-tossing lefty and pulled away for an 8-1 win in the opening round of the Central Arkansas Invitational at Burns Park.

“That’s a solid little team and they’re going to be really good the next few years,” North Little Rock coach Randy Sandefur said. “They’re good now. They’re solid. They don’t make a lot of mistakes.”

Each team committed just one error, but those errors led to the first two runs of the game. North Little Rock got on the board first in the bottom of the second inning. Cleanup hitter Dylan Howell led off with a single to centerfield. Two batters later with one out, Jarrod Smiatek singled to right field. Howell scored from second base when the throw home went past Arkadelphia catcher Austin White.

Arkadelphia got its leadoff hitter on base in three of the first four innings, but could only manage one run off staff ace Preston Oberling. Badger centerfielder Jakahari Howell ripped the first pitch of the game to right field for a line-drive single, but Oberling struck out the side two through four, all three batters going down swinging. Oberling walked the first batter of the second inning but got Danny Spradlin to hit into a 4-6-3 double play, then fanned Jahlon Mitchell to set them down one, two, three.

Arkadeplphia’s only run came in the third, the first inning in the first four that it didn’t put its leadoff runner on base. With one out, nine-hole hitter Cutter Jester walked. Howell bunted him over to second base. John Franklin Matros singled to left field. The shot was hard and shallow and not enough to score Jester from second, but left fielder Danny Mitchell missed it on the hop, allowing Jester to score on the error and tie the game.

Arkadelphia pitcher Jacob Knight sat the Wildcats down in order in the bottom of the third, fanning Oberling for the second time to end the inning and preserve the tie heading into the fourth.

Arkadelphia got a walk and a base hit to put two runners on with one out in the top of the fourth, but Oberling buckled down and got out of the jam. First he picked off lead runner Austin White, then struck out Jahlon Mitchell for the second time to end the inning.

The Wildcats broke the tie in the bottom of the fourth with a single run. Catcher Alex Gosser was hit by a pitch to lead things off. Howell then doubled to the gap in left-centerfield to put runners on second and third. Zach Rathbun scored Gosser’s courtesy runner Heath Land with a sacrifice grounder to second base.

North Little Rock tried to manufacture another run with a squeeze bunt, but didn’t execute it. Smiatek’s bunt bounced high just a couple of feet down the third baseline, where Austin White was able to catch it and easily tag Howell as he was charging home. White even had time to turn the double play, but his throw to first base was off the mark. Knight got out of the inning on the next at bat when he got Jake Sandefur to pop up to second base.

After another three-up, three-down inning by Oberling in the top of the fifth, North Little Rock began to touch Knight. Though the Badger southpaw got out of the inning only allowing two more runs, he was finally chased from the mound early in the fifth. Knight put the leadoff hitter, River Warnock, on by plunking him in the ribs. Warnock stole second base and moved to third on a bunt single by Mitchell. That was it for Knight, who yielded to Griffin Rucker.

“He was a sneaky pitcher with a sneaky fastball,” Sandefur said of Knight. “And let me tell you something, I don’t care what anybody says, nobody likes to face a soft lefty. When they put the other guy on the mound it helped us a lot. Everybody likes to hit fastballs.”

Leadoff hitter Evan Peters drove in Warnock with a ground ball. Oberling then singled to right field to score Mitchell and give the Wildcats a 4-1 lead.

Gosser then singled to put runners at first and second with one out, but Howell hit into a fielder’s choice at third base, and Rathbun struck out for the second time.

North Little Rock (9-1) sealed it with four runs in the bottom of the sixth. Smiatek led off with a double to centerfield and Sandefur singled to put runners on the corners. Smiatek scored on a passed ball.

Rucker then hit Warnock and walked Mitchell to load the bases. Peters then singled to drive in two runs and Oberling walked, prompting Arkadelphia coach Brant Matros to take Rucker off the mound. He gave way to Ty Kosters, who got immediate results by picking off Oberling’s courtesy runner Zane Venetta. After walking Gosser, Kosters got Howell to pop up to third base and struck out Rathbun to end the Wildcat rally.

“We’re playing good fundamental baseball right now,” Sandefur said of his squad. “We’re making all the routine plays you have to make and we’re keeping mistakes to a minimum. We’re getting better at the plate and we’re going to become a good-hitting team. Our approach right now is much better than it was at the start of the season and hopefully it will continue to get better.”

North Little Rock finished with seven earned runs off nine hits. Knight threw four and two-thirds innings for Arkadelphia, giving up four hits and three earned runs while striking out three and walking none.

Oberling threw all seven innings for North Little Rock. He gave up five hits, no earned runs while striking out nine and walking four.

Everyone in the tournament was supposed to play two games on Thursday, but the late games were canceled due to the winter storm that moved in late in the afternoon.