Wednesday, July 03, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> NLR wins tournament title

Leader sportswriter

North Little Rock’s senior American Legion team dominated every team in its path on the way to the Jacksonville American Legion Classic tournament championship as the Colts closed the tournament with a dominant 12-1 mercy-rule win over Hot Springs Lakeside in the title game Sunday at Dupree Park.

The Colts (22-1) opened the tournament with a 9-3 win over the tournament host on Wednesday, came back Friday and scored 11 unanswered runs in the third inning of their second-round game against Conway to win 11-0 in four innings, and scored 11 more runs in the third inning of the championship game against Lakeside to all but clinch the tournament title.

The only downside to North Little Rock’s play in the tournament was that it took a couple of innings for the lineup to find any rhythm at the plate, but when it did, it was like a positive snowball effect.

“I’m disappointed that when we get runners on second and third and we have less than two outs, particularly when we have one out, you’ve got to put the bat on the ball and we’ve had trouble doing that several times this year,” said Colts coach Robert Hopkins.

“We’ve been hammering on that a little bit when that’s happened, and next inning they came out and responded with a big inning. That’s kind of how it’s been. They see the pitcher once around and then they seem to get it going after that.”

The Rams (8-7) scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the second inning, but North Little Rock responded its next at bat in a huge way. Nine-hole hitter Will Hopkins led off the top of the third with a single to left field and leadoff hitter Justin Weigle followed with a single to centerfield.

Dylan Huckaby grounded out the next at bat, but Dylan Boone followed with his second stand-up double to right-centerfield, which scored both Hopkins and Weigle to give the Colts a 2-1 lead.

Boone scored the next at bat on a single to centerfield by cleanup hitter Nick Cleveland. Designated hitter Landon Hearnes followed with a single to the gap in left field and J.D. Miller drove in Cleveland with a single to the same spot.

Left-fielder Jack Partlow then came to the plate and grounded into a 4-2 fielder’s choice, but catcher Gunner Allen drove in Miller the next at bat with a single to the right-field gap, which gave the Colts a 5-1 lead.

Hopkins then came back to the plate for the second time in the inning and hit a routine grounder to second base, but reached safely on an E4. Weigle made the Rams pay for it the next at bat with a double off the top of the fence in left field, which allowed Cody Hattabaugh, Allen’s courtesy runner, and Hopkins to score to make it an 8-1 game.

Weigle advanced to second base on a passed ball and scored the next at bat on a single to the left-field gap by Huckaby. Boone followed with his third stand-up double of the game, this one to right-centerfield, to score Huckaby.

With Cleveland at the plate, Boone advanced to third and scored on a pair of passed balls to make it an 11-1 game. Miller set the final score in the top of the fourth with a solo home run that towered over the fence in left-centerfield.

“We just have to keep doing what we’re doing,” Hopkins said. “The thing I’ve enjoyed most about this team, which I’ve preached ever since I’ve coached Legion, is the two things you can control is the pitching and your defense, and our pitching and defense has been stellar, knock on wood, all year long.

“It was again in this tournament and we’ve got lots of moving parts still. We haven’t had our full complement of players except for one time against Benton at the start of the year. So I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the pitching staff has performed and our defense has just been excellent. If you do that and you scrap together a few runs here and there good things happen.”

The game was called at the conclusion of the fifth inning because of the sportsmanship rule. Connor Eller earned the win on the mound for North Little Rock. He gave up one run on four hits and recorded two strikeouts. He gave up no walks.

Boone’s three doubles led all batters. He also had three RBIs. Allen, Miller and Weigle had two hits each, while Huckaby, Cleveland, Hearnes and Hopkins had one hit apiece. The Colts outhit the Rams 13-4.

In the second round against Conway, Boone got the win on the mound as he gave up just three hits and recorded four strikeouts. Like Eller in the title game, he gave up no walks.

Hopkins led all hitters in that game, going 3 for 3 at the plate. Huckaby was 2 for 3 with four RBIs, and Miller, Eller, Allen and Evan Johnson each had one hit.

The Colts play at Paragould today before traveling to St. Louis on Friday for another tournament. They’ll play a total of four games on Friday and Saturday, and depending on how they do in those games, they could play Sunday.