Wednesday, May 08, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke upset in regional opener

Leader sports editor

Baseball season came to a heartbreaking end for Lonoke on Saturday in the first round of the Region 3 tournament in Heber Springs.

The Jackrabbits, one of the favorites to advance to win and possibly win the state championship, suffered a 6-4 loss to Cave City by committing five errors in the field as well as a few base running blunders that aided the Cavemen in their major upset.

“It was just one of those nights where everything bad came together in the same game and it just bit us,” Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery said. “You hate that it happened when it did. If it could’ve just happened one game later it would’ve been OK. We’d still have a chance to get back to that title game.”

Lonoke had nearly everyone back from last year’s squad that made it to Baum Stadium for the 4A championship game last year, a game that ended with a loss to Shiloh Christian.

“I think this one was harder on them than losing that championship game,” Lowery said. “For one thing Shiloh just beat us, but we could have played much better than we did. I think we maybe overlooked them a little bit, we didn’t hit very well and you top it off with a few key mistakes, and it just culminated in a really bad day.”

The pivotal inning was the top of the fifth when Cave City scored three unearned runs to take a 6-3 lead. Trailing 4-3, the Cavemen scored three runs off one hit, two walks and three Lonoke errors. Leadoff hitter John Battles singled to right field to start the rally.

Trenton Coals then bunted down the first baseline. Pitcher Zack Risner was about to field the ball and would have had a better angle for the throw, but catcher Madison James stepped in to field it, then made a poor throw to first that got past Reid McKenzie.

That left runners on the corners with no outs. Risner then fielded a comebacker to the mound and caught Battles into a rundown between third and home.

After a throw to third base, Nick Graves made a poor throw to home that allowed Battles to escape the rundown and score the tying run. Devin Burns walked and Lowery pulled Risner from the mound and put in Blake Gooden.

Gooden struck out the first batter he faced, but committed an error when a bases-loaded bouncer came back to him. His throw home was way off the mark, allowing another run to score. The third run scored when Gooden walked Alex Piazza on the next at bat with the bases still loaded.

Lonoke got one back in the bottom of the sixth. Gooden doubled with two outs and scored when Guy Halbert singled to drive him home.

Gooden did a good job on the mound, not allowing the Cavemen to threaten in the sixth and then escaping a huge jam in the seventh caused by two more Lonoke errors.

Right where the fielding errors stopped, the base running errors began.

In the bottom of the sixth, Risner got on base with no outs thanks to a Cave City throwing error. Lowery brought in Elijah Segrist to run for Risner, but he was picked off during the next at bat.

Lonoke was back at the top of the lineup in the bottom of the seventh, but Shane Pepper popped up to second base and Christian James struck out. Gooden then doubled down the right field line, but he tried to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out by several steps to end the game.

Lowery says he waved Gooden around.

“I did. I was trying to get something going for us. I knew when it left the box, with Blake’s speed, he’d have a chance. The kid that took the cutoff throw was still way out in the outfield and I knew he’d have to make a great throw to get him, and that’s what he did. He was right on the money with it. That’s the other thing about this game. Cave City played great. You have to take your hats off to them. I have a lot of respect for coach King and how hard those kids play. We knew it would be a tough game.”

Lonoke finishes the season 17-7, but only lost twice since spring break. Graves led the team in batting average, playing 14 games and hitting .517. He had a .691 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .793. He also hit two home runs.

Madison James led all players who played all 24 games.

He hit .500 with two home runs, three triples, eight doubles and 29 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .571 and slugged .786. Halbert and Gooden each had earned run averages below 2.0 this season, both throwing mostly relief in conference games and starting some non conference.

Halbert threw 22 innings with 30 strikeouts and a 1.59 ERA. Gooden threw 22 1/3 innings with 27 strikeouts and a 1.85 ERA.

Risner was the main pitcher this season, throwing 44 2/3 innings. He finished with a 9-2 record, struck out 41 and had a 4.70 ERA. Garrett Spears went 2-1 with a 4.23 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 29 innings.