Friday, March 28, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> JHS wins three to end GSC Classic

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville baseball team finished the Gulf Coast Classic tournament with three-straight wins after dropping the opener 1-0 to the No. 5 team from Alabama. After the loss on Monday, the Red Devils beat Heritage Christian Academy, a 1A school from Indianapolis that brought a 14-5 record into the game, 16-0.

They followed that with a 4-1 win over McGill-Toolen, another 6A team from Mobile, Ala. The Red Devils closed the tournament on Thursday by beating the hosting Gulf Shores Dolphins 13-2.

“We had a good time and we played pretty well,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “That makes it worthwhile.”

Against Heritage Christian, the Red Devils got a complete-game shutout on the mound from sophomore Brandon Hickingbotham. He gave up four hits while striking out five. He was also one of three Red Devils to get three base hits in the game. Deaundre Harris and Derek St. Clair also got three hits.

St. Clair, hitting in a new position in the lineup, had a monster game with a double, a triple and six RBIs.

“He got a little better this week,” Burrows said. “I moved him to the seven hole and I liked it a lot better. It gives us a little speed at the bottom of the order, and it gave him an opportunity to drive in some runs. Our middles have been getting on base quite a bit.”

Hickingbotham, who has the team’s second-highest batting average at .526, moved into the two-hole.

“I like it,” Burrows said. “I like how it went this week anyway.”

James Tucker went the distance against McGill-Toolen, 13-13. The Red Devils were out-hit 8-3, but committed no errors as Tucker worked his way out of a few jams.

“Tucker threw really well,” Burrows said. “He’s showing some toughness working out of some jams. They can hit. I think they swung it better than Hillcrest. They were a big team and we just didn’t give them anything.”

Tucker also got a two-out, two-RBI double in the first inning to score Hickingbotham, who had hit a one-out single three batters earlier, and Greg Jones.

“He crushed it,” Burrows said of Tucker’s hit. “It would’ve been gone at our park, but that field was huge.”

In the second inning, St. Clair drew a walk and stole second base. Blake Perry moved him to third and Harris drove him in, both with sacrifice grounders.

McGill-Toolen got its lone run on three-straight, one-out base hits in the fourth inning. With two runners in scoring position, Tucker got out of the crunch with a strikeout and a groundout.

He also drew a walk to start the sixth inning. Caleb Smith was his courtesy runner and he stole second base. St. Clair then hit a two-out double to drive in the last run of the game.

Perry started and got the win against Gulf Shores. Caleb Reeves threw the last inning for the save.

Courtland McDonald and Reeves each got three base hits, and Hickingbotham added two more.

“We have a lot of confidence in him,” Burrows said of his sophomore. “We talked all fall about how we expect him to swing it. He’s going to have a high average.”

Jacksonville, 7-3, gets back to local competition when they travel to Little Rock on Tuesday for a 5A-Central doubleheader against McClellan.