Friday, May 03, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Wildcats finally fall, still first in league

Leader sports editor

North Little Rock suffered its first conference loss on Tuesday, but bounced back to earn a split with rival Little Rock Central at Buddy Coleman Field in Little Rock. North Little Rock dropped game one 5-1 but won game two 3-0.

Despite the loss, the Wildcats need just one win in today’s makeup doubleheader with Jonesboro to earn a No. 1 seed in the state tournament that begins next Thursday in Rogers.

“We’d love to win both of them,” said North Little Rock coach Randy Sandefur. “But let me put it this way, we’re going to do everything we can to win that first one, and we’ll see what that leaves us with.”

Pitching was good on Tuesday, even in game one, but the Wildcats couldn’t solve the puzzle that Central lefty Noah Burks was throwing at them. North Little Rock wasn’t precise in the field either, committing six errors.

“We went to sleep with our gloves,” Sandefur said. “You get down 5-0 to a guy who’s carving you up, it makes it tough. It could very easily have been a 2-1 or 3-2 game. We left seven on base, but that guy on the mound had a lot to do with that. He threw a really crafty game. He kept us off balance, changed speeds. He just did a really good job. I’m glad he’s a senior.”

North Little Rock didn’t have nearly as much trouble with Central’s ace, Joey Abraham. Abraham is a junior with several Division I offers and has verbally committed to Vanderbilt. But he was outshined by North Little Rock starter Dillon Howell, who gave up just two hits in seven innings of work. He struck out four and only threw 87 pitches.

“It’s unheard of to have 87 pitches in seven innings,” Sandefur said. “He told me after game one, he said ‘coach don’t worry, I’m going to pick us up’, and boy he did. He was really masterful.”

North Little Rock scattered eight hits against Abraham, who Sandefur believes can become dominant with some more experience.

“We had some really good at bats and got the pitch count up on him,” Sandefur said of Abraham. “But here’s the deal with him. When he learns to pitch; he’s a thrower right now, but whenever he learns to pitch, it’s Katie bar the door with that kid. He’s got the stuff to be totally dominant.”

North Little Rock (22-4, 11-1) hosts Jonesboro at noon today at Burns Park.