Saturday, April 19, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Two big innings lift JHS over NP

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s baseball team stayed perfect with a doubleheader sweep of crosstown rival North Pulaski on Wednesday at Dupree Park. The game was scheduled to be on North Pulaski’s field on Tuesday, but Sunday’s torrential downpours made that end of Dupree Park unusable, so the two teams met on Hickingbotham Field the next day.

Game one was a miserable one for the officially recognized host school, as Jacksonville won 19-0 in four innings. Game two was close for four innings, until a 7-run fifth lifted the Red Devils to a 13-4 victory.

Jacksonville’s Derek St. Clair tossed a phenomenal game in the opener. St. Clair threw a no-hitter and was one walk from a perfect game. He got the leadoff hitter to groundout to shortstop to start the game, then walked Jordan Walter. From there, St. Clair struck out the next 11 batters in a row before the game ended in the fourth on the 15-run mercy rule.

Jacksonville had trouble adjusting to North Pulaski freshman Caleb McMunn’s slower approach in game two. The Red Devils got their early runs largely from North Pulaski errors and capitalizing when McMunn struggled with control. Otherwise, McMunn got the 5A-Central leading Red Devils to pop it up numerous times for easy outs.

Jacksonville pitcher Blake Perry also struggled with his control, and North Pulaski made good use of it, especially Ean Collie. He went 2 for 3 and drove in all four of the Falcons’ runs in game two. Three of the four he drove in got on base via base on balls.

Jacksonville was the home team in game two, and took an early lead in the bottom of the first inning without a base hit. Courtland McDonald’s routine grounder to second base was mishandled.

He stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice grounder by Brandon Hickingbotham. Kaleb Reeves then walked and stole second, and McDonald scored on the throw to second base.

The lead didn’t last long. North Pulaski scored two runs in the top of the second. McMunn drew a leadoff walk and Tyler Montgomery was hit by a 1-2 pitch. Hunter McPherson’s sacrifice bunt didn’t work and McMunn was thrown out at third. But Collie came through with a two-run double to deep left-center field to bring both base runners around. Collie tried to steal third, but was gunned down by Greg Jones and Brandon Bridges flew out to left field to end the rally.

Jacksonville tied it in the bottom of the second. St. Clair drew a leadoff walk and stole second base. Perry then singled to left field for the RBI. The Red Devils then took a 5-2 lead with a rally in the bottom of the third.

Reeves started it off with a leadoff single, and that’s where the rally should have ended. Jones flew out to left and James Tucker grounded out to shortstop, but Ryan Mallison’s routine pop up to second base was missed, leaving him safe at first and Reeves at third.

St. Clair then doubled down the right-field line to score both runners. He then scored off another RBI base hit by Perry.

North Pulaski answered with two runs in the top of the fourth on one hit. The Falcons loaded the bases with no outs when Perry walked Fred Thomas and McMunn. A pitch in the dirt advanced the runners, leaving first base open. Perry then struck out Montgomery on a breaking ball in the dirt that got by Jones behind the plate. Jones gathered the ball, but his throw drew Hickingbotham off of first base, leaving everyone safe.

Jones made some amends for the series of follies that led to loading the bases when he picked off Thomas at third base. Perry then struck out McPherson for the second out, but Collie came through with another base hit to score the two base runners.

Jacksonville loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth but was unable to score.

Hickingbotham took the mound for Jacksonville in the fifth. He committed a fielding error and walked two batters to load the bases, but also struck out the side to get out of the jam.

Jacksonville finally broke it open in the bottom of the fifth after McMunn left the game after walking or hitting three of the first four batters. Collie, who started on the mound in the run-rule shortened first game, took the mound in relief, and it was a wanted change for Jacksonville, who is more comfortable against harder-throwing pitchers.

St. Clair and Perry drew the walks before D.J. Scott put down a bunt single that loaded the bases. McDonald took a pitch to the hip to drive in one run. Hickingbotham then singled to left field for one RBI, and another run scored when the ball was misplayed. Reeves then hit a double down the left-field line for two RBIs and Jones walked. Tucker then hit a two-RBI shot to left field to make it 12-4. Though there were still no outs after eight batters, Jacksonville did not score again.

The Red Devils added a run in the sixth when Reeves doubled again, stole third base, and then walked home after the throw from to third sailed into left field.

Jacksonville led just 1-0 after two innings in game one before scoring 15 in the third inning on eight hits, three walks, one hit batter and five North Pulaski errors.

Reeves went 3 for 3 with two walks, two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored in game two. Perry went 2 for 2 with two walks and two RBIs, and St. Clair went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBIs.