Saturday, April 20, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers sweep out West Memphis

Leader sports editor

West Memphis led briefly in game one before crumbling, then rallied late in game two but fell apart again as the Cabot Panthers picked up two more conference wins Tuesday to extend their overall winning streak to six games. Cabot swept the Blue Devils 14-4 and 9-2 to move to 6-4 in league play and put themselves in good position to make the playoffs with four conference games remaining.

“That’s what you want to do is start playing your best ball in late April and hopefully keep it going in the state tournament in May,” Cabot coach Jay Fitch said. “We’re hitting the ball the best we have all year. Riley Knudsen is in our four hole and he’s crushing it for us right now. But you look at the way this thing is set up and eight wins might not get you in this. That’s a little frustrating to think about, but we still have a lot of work cut out for us.”

The Blue Devils scored two runs in the top of the third and one in the top of the fourth to take a 3-2 lead in game one. The Panthers responded with three runs in the bottom of the fourth, then blew the game open in the fifth inning.

Cabot got seven runs off four hits and four walks to take a 12-3 lead and assume control of the game. West Memphis got one back in the top of the sixth, but Cabot scored two in the bottom of the same frame to end the game on the sportsmanship rule.

The Panthers took a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning of game two, but after a pitching change, couldn’t get much offense going.

Cabot pitcher Zachary Patterson breezed through innings one, two, four and five, pitching three-up, three-down ball in all four frames. But West Memphis scored twice in the third inning to cut the Panthers’ lead in half.

Patterson walked Blue Devil seven-hole hitter Ryan McNabb to start the third. He struck out the next batter, but speedy nine-hole hitter Bryce Hamrick reached on a bunt single. One wild pitch and one passed ball scored McNabb. Hamrick moved to second on the wild pitch and stole third base. He also scored on the stolen base when the throw from home sailed into left field.

West Memphis relief pitcher Gray Fenter kept the Panthers off balance at the plate through six innings and the Blue Devils started to mount a rally in the bottom of the sixth to threaten to tie the game.

Hamrick led off by again reaching on a bunt single. Patterson then walked leadoff hitter Tyler Crouch to put two on with no outs.

Fitch pulled Patterson and put Knudsen on the mound. He got two-hole hitter Harrison Cole to pop up a bunt down the first baseline, that came down and hit Cole in the back as he was running to first base for the first out of the inning.

Knudsen then used the spaghetti move to coax Hamrick into breaking for third base before Knudsen was committed to home plate. A run down ensued and Hamrick was thrown out at third.

“That was a huge out for us,” Fitch said. “They were threatening and had their best hitters coming up. That was a great move and the right time by Riley. He’s really been playing well lately.”

Fenter then grounded out to first base to end the rally, and Cabot added five runs in the top of the seventh to blow the game open.

Cole Thomas led off with a walk and Ryan Logan reached on an error at first base. Casey Vaughan tripled to drive in two runs and Knudsen singled to drive in Vaughan. Kason Kimbrell reached on an error at shortstop that scored Knudsen. Dustin Morris then hit a deep fly ball to right field that was dropped, allowing Kimbrell to score and set the final margin.

In the two games combined, Knudsen went 5 for 6 with two walks, two doubles and four RBIs. Vaughan and Morris each had two base hits in game two.

Though Cabot is playing well, Fitch is still hesitant to get too confident.

“All year long we’ve been a team that would play great and then not play so well,” Fitch said. “We challenged them after sweeping Central. I told them they had the potential to be really good, but they have to start putting good games back to back. They’ve really responded since then and hopefully it will continue. We have a really tough road trip ahead at Jonesboro, and Searcy after that. So we’ve got some really quality baseball teams up ahead of us.”