Tuesday, April 16, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> N. Pulaski can’t hold early lead at Lonoke

Leader sportswriter

A strong start by North Pulaski did not hold up as Lonoke quickly overcame an early deficit and turned it around completely in a 14-6 nonconference rout at Lonoke Park on Friday.

Lonoke senior Blake Gooden went 3 for 3 and was a single away from hitting for the cycle during the Jackrabbits’ comeback victory over the fast-starting Falcons.

The Jackrabbits (13-6) celebrated senior night by starting all upperclassmen, and the Falcons took advantage of a rusty Reid McKenzie on the mound to start the top of the first inning. McKenzie walked the first three batters before giving up a grand slam home run to North Pulaski cleanup hitter Austin Allen for a 4-0 Falcon lead.

Guy Halbert took over for McKenzie and also walked four batters, leading to one more run for North Pulaski, but by the end of the first inning, the Jackrabbits had rallied to take an 8-5 lead.

“With it being senior night, we wanted to start all of our seniors,” Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery said. “We’ve got nine this year, so we got everybody out there. We pitched Reid out there, he hasn’t pitched a ton this year. We wanted to get him at least a couple of innings in there, obviously it wasn’t his day, that happens. We brought Guy in, and he did a good job of holding it together for us, and we finally got our bats going.”

North Pulaski starting pitcher T.J. Waters started out on the right path in the bottom of the first by retiring Lonoke leadoff Shane Pepper with a groundout to shortstop and striking out Essick Shephard for two fast outs, but it didn’t take long for the Jackrabbits to figure out Waters’ unconventional southpaw-sidearm delivery. The next four Lonoke batters recorded hits before a hit-by-pitch, walk and two more hits.

Senior Blake Gooden started things off with a triple to right center, followed by a single for Halbert that scored Gooden. Madison James then doubled to center to drive in Halbert, and Zack Risner doubled to score James, cutting the lead to 5-3. McKenzie was hit by a pitch and Garrett Spears walked to load the bases.

Dustyn Perkins kept things going for Lonoke from the bottom of the order with a single grounder to center that scored Risner and McKenzie to tie the game, and Pepper’s single to right scored Spears to give Lonoke its first and only lead at 6-5. An infield error on Shephard’s grounder allowed Perkins to come home, while Pepper stole his way to third and rushed the plate when North Pulaski tried to make a play at second against a steal by Shephard to give the Jackrabbits an 8-5 lead.

Lonoke added two more runs in the bottom of the third inning, and North Pulaski scored in the top of the fourth inning when Billy Crews was hit by a Halbert offering to reach first. Crews advanced on a single by Austin Allen and a walk for Troy Allen that loaded the bases against fresh Lonoke pitcher Christian James, and finally came home when Billy Rogers hit an infield single to make it 10-6. Austin Allen also tried to reach home on the play, but was tagged out at the plate by catcher Madison James.

“It’s special, especially since we have such a big group of seniors,” Lowery said of the dramatic win on senior night. “I’ve had these guys since they were ninth graders, that was my first year here, so it’s extra special to me to have them all the way through. We definitely wanted to get a win for them.”

Gooden pulled off the biggest hit of the night in the bottom of the fourth inning for Lonoke when he sent a fast grounder up the middle with Pepper and Shephard both on base. Allen misplayed the ball in centerfield and had to give chase, which allowed Gooden to use his fast footwork to go all the way around for an inside-the-park home run, giving Lonoke a commanding 14-6 lead.

“It’s pretty rare,” Lowery said. “I saw it get by the centerfielder, and I knew he would have a chance. They weren’t able to get to it quickly, so I knew he would have a chance at it. He’s definitely got some speed, he had a triple earlier in the game. Anything is possible with him, because he’s going to hustle out of the box and get what he can get.”

Gooden finished with a home run, triple, double and three RBIs. Halbert was 2 for 3 with a double. For North Pulaski, Austin Allen was 2 for 3 with a home run and four RBIs.