Saturday, April 12, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils win two in double dip

Leader sports editor

The top four baseball teams in the 5A-Central Conference faced each other this week, and a pair of crucial doubleheaders has left Jacksonville alone atop the standings, at least for the time being.

The Red Devils pulled off a 7-1, 2-1 sweep of rival Sylvan Hills at Dupree Park on Wednesday, while Pulaski Academy and Little Rock Christian Academy split their doubleheader on Tuesday. Despite the current league standings, Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows isn’t putting too much into Wednesday’s accomplishment.

“A sweep in April doesn’t mean very much,” said Burrows. “This tonight is just what it is, two really good wins.”

The Bears entered the series fresh off an outstanding trip to Orlando, Fla., where they hammered the baseball and utterly dismantled four 6A teams from the Chicago area. The offensive prowess on display in Florida was not there on Wednesday.

“I’m just going to give Jacksonville credit,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “We had a lot of opportunities and just didn’t come through. And their pitchers did a good job of working out of those situations. They were just a little better than we were.”

Jacksonville took the lead in the hotly-contested nightcap with an unearned run in the top of the third inning. Blake Perry’s grounder to shortstop couldn’t be gathered in time for a throw. Perry moved to second base on a wild pitch. Two batters later with two outs, leadoff hitter Courtland McDonald fought a 0-2 pitch off to right field to score Perry.

The Bears tied it in the bottom of the fourth when Jacob White hit a leadoff single to center field, stole second base, moved to third on a sacrifice grounder by Charlie Roberts and scored on another by Hunter Heslep.

Jacksonville reclaimed the lead in the top of the fifth. Perry hit a one-out single and tried to score all the way from first base when Deaundre Harris doubled to the wall in center field. But Brandon Baoni’s cutoff throw from behind second base got Perry at the plate.

McDonald then hit his own double, again with two strikes, down the right field line to score Harris and set the final margin.

Sylvan Hills put up a serious threat in the bottom of the fifth, loading the bases with no outs, but Jacksonville pitcher James Tucker struck out the two and three hitters, and got White to fly out to center field to get out of the jam.

“That was just toughness,” Burrows said of Tucker. “(Derek) St. Clair got out of a similar situation in game one. I don’t think either one of them had their best tonight, but they’re tough. This team is tough.”

Tucker struck out the first two batters of the sixth inning to record four of his six strikeouts in his last two innings on the mound. He finished the game with six innings pitched, allowing five hits while fanning six and walking one. Kaleb Reeves pitched the seventh inning. He hit one batter and walked another, but got a strikeout and two infield pop-ups for the save.

Connor Poteet had a good outing as well. He went the distance giving up just four hits while striking out five and walking three.

McDonald went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBIs for Jacksonville, while White led Sylvan Hills with two hits and a run scored.

In game one, Jacksonville wasted little time in jumping all over Sylvan Hills’ staff ace Heslep. The first three batters got base hits with Reeves’ single scoring McDonald and putting Brandon Hickingbotham on third base. Greg Jones drove in Hickingbotham with a sacrifice grounder and Reeves scored on a fly out by Tucker.

Sylvan Hills scored in the top of the second on two base hits and two walks, but left the bases loaded as St. Clair ended up striking out the side.

The Red Devils added to their lead with four runs in the second inning, and ran the starting pitcher off the mound. With one out, Perry and Harris drew back-to-back walks and McDonald got an RBI base hit on a 1-0 pitch. Hickingbotham then walked and Reeves drove in two runs with a bases-loaded hit.

Marcus Long took the mound for the rest of the game for the Bears, and held Jacksonville to just one run over the next four innings. Heslep’s night ended after one and a third innings. Long threw five and two-thirds, giving up seven hits and one earned run.

Jacksonville got four of those hits in the third inning, but failed to score when Ryan Mallison was thrown out at home. The final run came in the fifth inning on a leadoff hit by St. Clair and an RBI knock by Harris.

St. Clair went the distance for the Red Devils, giving up four hits while walking four, hitting one and striking out nine.

Jacksonville added a wild 16-9 win over Hot Springs Lakeside on Thursday at Dupree to improve to 13-3 overall and 6-0 in league play.

Sylvan Hills, 10-5, 3-3, takes part in the Valley View tournament this weekend, and gets back to conference action with a doubleheader against Helena-West Helena Central on Tuesday in Sherwood.

Pulaski Academy is now 5-1 in the Central while Little Rock Christian Academy is 4-2. The Warriors also split a doubleheader with the Bears on March 18.