Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Colts second at tournament

Leader sports editor

Three wins in pool play and a semifinal victory over Jacksonville got the North Little Rock Colts American Legion team in the championship game of its own Memorial Day tournament, but Pine Bluff Tigers’ pitcher Brandon Wade thwarted the Colts’ momentum.

Wade threw a complete-game three hitter as the Tigers (5-0) took the tournament championship with a 2-1 victory.

First batters faced was the only problem for North Little Rock pitchers.

North Little Rock starter Preston Oberling was just as impressive as Wade. He gave up just three hits in five innings of work and left with the score tied 1-1. The only damage he allowed was by the first batter of the game. Tirrell Moore ripped a line drive over the head of Colt right fielder Zane Vanetta for a standup triple. He scored two batters later on a wild pitch as Oberling struggled to find the strike zone in the first inning.

After giving up the triple and two walks in the first, Oberling dominated the next four innings. The Tigers managed just two infield singles as Oberling struck out five and walked none the rest of his time on the mound. 

Jason Askins took the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning and faced three-hole hitter Jordan Stargell to start things off. It was also a disaster and proved to be the difference in the game. Stargell lived up to his famous baseball surname, ripping a line drive into the power alley in left-centerfield. Stargell made it an easy stand-up triple and actually stopped at third base, but after assessing how slowly the Colts were getting the ball back to the infield, headed for home and made it safely for an inside-the-park home run.

Wade, needing three outs to close the game with a win, struck out Jake Sandefur and Ty Houser, then got tournament MVP Lawson Dumon to pop up to shortstop.

Wade, who had thrown a one-hit shutout on Friday, was named the tournament’s outstanding pitcher after his seven-strikeout, three-walk performance against the Colts.

It wasn’t all bad news for North Little Rock (4-1) on Monday. The Colts came from behind to beat Jacksonville 5-4 in the semifinal game.

Most of the runs for both teams were unearned. North Little Rock stumbled out of the gate and gave up three runs in the top of the first inning. But tied it in the third.

Zach Rathbun singled to centerfield, but centerfielder Courtland McDonald mishandled the first hop, allowing Rathbun to sneak into second base. Ben Bailey moved Rathbun to third with a sacrifice grounder and Trey Kimbrell flew out to left field for the RBI.

Gwatney pitcher Jon Finley walked Jake Sandefur with two outs. Dumon then pinch hit for Dustin Blair. Finley put Dumon into an 0-2 hole, but the tournament MVP worked his way back to a full count. After fouling off a couple of curve balls, Finley served up a 3-2 fastball that Dumon was sitting on. He drilled it over the 375-foot sign in straightaway centerfield, despite a light breeze blowing straight inward from that direction.

The shot tied the score, but it didn’t stay that way for long.

Jacksonville regained the lead on a leadoff double by Blake Perry, followed by a two-out passed ball that allowed Perry to score.

That lead didn’t last long either. Dawson Burge took the mound for Gwatney in the fifth inning and got two groundouts to first base. Oberling then reached on an error by Derek St. Clair at shortstop. He stole second and scored on a single by Rathbun to tie the game for the second time.

North Little Rock won it with an unearned run with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. Colts’ leadoff hitter Danny Mitchell singled to star the rally. He then made it to second when Burge’s seventh pick-off throw was in the dirt and got by Deaundrey Harris.

Jacksonville intentionally walked Chandler Thompson to try to set up a force and got just what it wanted. Oberling hit another grounder to shortstop, but St. Clair’s throw to second was off the mark and pulled Ryan Mallison off the bag and forced him to make an off-balance throw to first that wasn’t in time.

With the bases loaded, Burge walked Rathbun to score the game-winning run.
Rathbun was the only player in the game to record more than one hit. He went 2 for 3 with two RBIs.