Tuesday, May 20, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devil bats go quiet in state upset

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s baseball season came to a disappointing end Monday in the semifinals of the class 5A state baseball tournament. The Red Devils could not find the answer to the pitcher they were facing, committed a string of early errors and otherwise endured a lot of bad luck in a 7-0 loss to Pulaski Academy, 17-11, at Dupree Park.

The Red Devils had swept the Bruins in a conference doubleheader just two weeks ago at the same field, but weren’t able to duplicate that on Monday. Pitcher Colin Castleberry kept the Red Devil hitters off balance all game long, despite working on short rest after pitching seven innings and more than 120 pitches on Friday.

“The day belonged to Castleberry,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “When you get this far, you have to hit and you have to score. Everybody’s either throwing their third guy or working on short rest, so you have to hit. We just didn’t do it. We didn’t seem in sync the whole game. We were pressing for some reason. I felt like going in we were the best-hitting team in the tournament, but hats off to Castleberry. He did a great job.”

Pulaski Academy catcher Blake Wiggins, who has signed with Arkansas but is also considered by some scouting agencies as one of the nation’s top 40 high-school prospects, also put on a show, hitting two home runs and picking off a Jacksonville base runner at second base.

His first home run came with two outs and two strikes in the first inning and gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead. It stayed 1-0 until the top of the third inning, despite two Jacksonville errors in the second inning.

Back at the top of the lineup to start the third, PA leadoff hitter Tony Chacko singled to left and Bryce Bartlett followed with a single to right to put runners on the corners. Jacksonville intentionally walked Wiggins to load the bases with no outs. Jacksonville pitcher James Tucker then issued his only unintentional walk of the game to Merritt Osment to drive in Chacko and make the score 2-0.

Hunter Freeman hit into what should have been a double play with a grounder to shortstop, but Derek St. Clair didn’t field the ball cleanly, and his hurried throw to second was off-line and sailed into right field, allowing two runs to score and leaving runners on the corners once again.

Caden Haws then hit a fly ball to deep center field that scored Osment.

Castleberry hit the first batter he faced, but retired the next 13 in a row before Jacksonville’s Ryan Mallison broke up the no-hitter in the fifth inning with a single just beyond second base. St. Clair then reached on an E6 to put two on with one out, but Castleberry struck out the next two batters.

Wiggins hit his second solo home run in the top of the fifth inning to make it 6-0.

Jacksonville leadoff hitter Courtland McDonald got the Devils’ second and last base hit to start the bottom of the sixth inning with a double down the third baseline.

But on the next at-bat, a breaking ball in the dirt caused McDonald to think about trying to steal third. By the time he decided against it, it was too late. Wiggins caught him too far from second base and came in behind him with the throw for the first out of the inning.

Jacksonville relief pitcher Kaleb Reeves walked the bases loaded with one out before giving up an RBI single to Chris Hays to set the final margin in the top of the seventh.

The Bruins got only five base hits, but Jacksonville helped them out with five walks, two hit batters and five errors.

Castleberry went the distance, giving up just two hits while striking out eight

Saturday’s 6-2 quarterfinal win against Vilonia was a better night for Jacksonville. Playing in front of a standing-room only crowd at Hickingbotham Field, the Red Devils fell behind 2-0 in the second inning when Vilonia eight-hole hitter Cody Earnhart followed a Jacksonville error with a two-run home run to right-center field. But they were the only two runs the Eagles would score and the deficit didn’t last long.

Playing as the visiting team, Jacksonville, 24-6, got both runs back in the top of the third. Laderrious Perry got a leadoff single and Deaundray Harris’ sacrifice bunt turned into a base hit when he beat the throw to first. McDonald then sacrificed the runners to second and third and Blake Perry walked to load the bases. Reeves then walked to drive in a run, and Greg Jones’ fly ball to center field scored Harris and tied the game.

No one scored in the fourth, but Jacksonville added three in the fifth on one swing of the bat. After seniors Harris and Blake Perry walked, fellow senior Reeves hit a three-run blast over the fence in right-center field to make it 5-2.

“I can’t really say too much about those three without getting choked up,” Burrows said of his seniors. “They’ve done it right. They’ve worked hard and improved so much. They’re all three great kids and they mean a lot to this baseball team.”

Vilonia loaded the bases with two hits and a walk in the bottom of the seventh. Leadoff hitter Drew Estes stepped to the plate representing the tying run, but he popped up foul to the first base side, where Harris made a leaping catch next to the fence, catching the ball with his bare hand after it initially popped out of his glove.

St. Clair went the distance on the mound and gave up just four base hits – three to Earnhart. He struck out six, walked one batter and hit one. Seven-hole hitter Chase Marshall got Vilonia’s other hit, while the first five batters in the Eagle lineup combined to go 0 for 14 with five strikeouts.

Harris went 2 for 2 with one walk and scored three runs for Jacksonville. Jones also had two base hits, including a double, and two RBIs. Reeves went 1 for 3 with four total RBIs.