Friday, July 26, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville beats Texas state champ at regionals

Leader sports editor

BRYANT – A couple of base running errors cost Jacksonville two runs, but the Chevy Boys still pounded out 14 base hits to beat Texas state champion Texarkana Tigers 8-4 Friday in the first round of the Junior American Legion Mid-South Regional tournament.

The two teams were tied at four after two innings and it stayed that way until a three-run fifth for Gwatney – all four with two outs.

“Well we just kept hitting it,” said Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham. “You keep hitting the ball and you’ll finally get a couple of runs. We messed up a couple getting thrown out at home, but they played well. I was worried about it because we didn’t come ready to play. They’re not used to playing this early and it just wasn’t a good start to the day.”

While the day may have started poorly, the game did not as Gwatney (34-5) took an early lead with two runs in the bottom of the first. Texarkana then scored four runs on one hit in the top of the second, and Jacksonville got two in the bottom of the second to tie the game.

In the decisive fifth inning, Gwatney first baseman James Tucker got a one-out single to centerfield and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by D.J. Scott. Laderrious Perry then doubled to right field to score Tucker from second and give Jacksonville a lead it would not relinquish. Pitcher Derek St. Clair and second baseman Ryan Mallison hit back-to-back RBI singles to make it 7-4. Blake Perry then doubled down the line in left field.

Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham waved Mallison around at third. It looked like the throw would beat Mallison so he stopped about two thirds of the way to home plate, but the throw was off line When he restarted, it allowed the pitcher to cover home plate, and catcher Triston Carlow relayed to him to get Mallison out at home and end the inning.

Jacksonville added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth while St. Clair overcame early control problems to shut down the Tigers over the final five innings.

Jacksonville got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning, and continued to hit the Tigers’ pitching well throughout the game.

Mallison got Gwatney’s first-inning rally started with a one-out walk. Blake Perry then hit a line drive off the pitcher’s glove and made it to first base for an infield single. Greg Jones grounded out to first base and advanced the runners into scoring position. Clinton McDonald then drilled a triple through the power alley in left-centerfield for two RBIs.

Texarkana (30-10) got four runs on one base hit in the top of the second when Jacksonville pitcher St. Clair began to struggle to find the strike zone. He continued to struggle for the remainder of his time on the mound, but ground his way to the victory.

St. Clair finished by giving up six hits, four walks, and three hit batters while striking out nine.

“I’ve never seen him struggle like he did in that inning,” Hickingbotham said. “In that second inning he couldn’t find the strike zone anywhere. But I’ll tell you, he came back and got better and better. I knew if he ever found his groove his curveball would kill them.”

He hit Brayden Ward, the first batter of the second inning, before getting a strikeout and a groundout to third base. But with two outs, St. Clair walked three in a row; with nine-hole hitter Kemon Freemon’s walk driving in Ward.

Leadoff hitter Eron Sonson then hit a bases-clearing double down the third baseline to give the Tigers a 4-2 lead.

The Chevy Boys got two back to tie the game in the bottom of the second on four-straight base hits, and would have taken the lead if not for a base running blunder by right fielder Laderrious Perry.

Perry was the first batter to reach base, getting on via an E6. St. Clair then singled to put runners at first and second. Ryan Mallison hit a bloop single to shallow right field and Laderrious Perry overran third base and the throw came in behind him. Caught in a rundown, Perry was tagged out at home plate on the 4-5-2 out.

Blake Perry then singled to score St. Clair and Jones singled to drive in Blake Perry to make it 4-4.

St. Clair and Blake Perry each went 3 for 4 to lead Gwatney offensively. Mallison went 2 for 3 while McDonald and Tucker each went 2 for 4.

“McDonald is killing the ball right now,” Hickingbotham said. “He was one of them I was worried about this morning. He didn’t get here until about 15 minutes before the game, but he came through.”

Jacksonville will face the Little Rock Cobras at 5 p.m. today. The Cobras scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to beat Kentucky state champion Paducah 2-1.

The last time Jacksonville played Little Rock. Cobras’ coach Cody Perrin pulled his players off the field and forfeited while trailing 6-3 in the fourth inning of the state semifinals for what he deemed rude behavior by a Jacksonville fan.