Saturday, May 03, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Bears show growth in game-two win

Leader sports editor

Sylvan Hills relief pitcher Hunter Heslep held on by a thread, but came through in the clutch as the Bears earned a doubleheader split with Pulaski Academy Thursday at Wildwood Park in Little Rock.

The home team won the opener 11-5 after a six-run first inning before Sylvan Hills came back for a 5-1 win in the nightcap.

Southpaw Marcus Long started on the mound and threw four innings of one-hit ball before running into some trouble in the fifth.

Long walked two batters and gave up two singles and a run before yielding to Heslep, who inherited loaded bases and the Bruins’ two and three hitters coming to the plate.

He promptly struck out Bryce Bartlett before taking on Arkansas signee Blake Wiggins. Wiggins worked the count full before fouling off a fastball. Heslep then reached in the bag and pulled out a huge breaking curveball that got Wiggins swinging off balance for the strikeout.

The strikeout preserved a 1-1 tie. In the bottom of the fifth, T.J. Burrow gave the Bears their lead back with a solo home run just inside the right-field foul pole – his first homer of the year.

The sixth inning was feast or famine for Heslep. He walked two before striking out Cayden Hass, then walked them loaded with one out before striking out Kyle Collander and Jack Holmes to get out of that jam.

“He likes it with the bases loaded,” said Bears’ coach Denny Tipton. “He could’ve made it easier but he got the job done.”

The Bears then put some breathing room between themselves and the Bruins in the sixth inning. With one out, Connor Poteet became the first of five-straight batters to reach base when he walked. Mackenzie Seats singled to center field and Chase Imhoff walked to load the bases.

That was the end of the night for Pulaski Academy pitcher Tony Chacko. Chris Hayes took his place and promptly hit Burrow with his first pitch to score Poteet. With the infieldplaying in on the grass to try to get the force out at home and prevent any further runs, Jacob White hit a grounder up the middle that scored Seats and Imhoff and set the final margin.

Heslep got Chacko to fly out to start the seventh inning. It was the eighth batter he faced and the first that didn’t either walk or strike out.

Bartlett grounded out back to Heslep and Wiggins popped up just foul of first base for what should have been the final out, but the ball was dropped. Wiggins then doubled to the wall in straightaway center field, but the rally stopped there as Heslep fanned cleanup hitter Merritt Osmond to end the game.

The Bruins’, 16-8, 8-2, win in game one locked the Bears into the four seed from the 5A-Central in the state tournament, and sparked an odd coaching strategy by Bears’ coach Denny Tipton before the start of their 5-1 win in game two.

He had every player swap his jersey with a teammate.

“There’s been a little bit of ‘how did I do’ with this team,” said Tipton. “We’ve got two weeks left before state. I told them I just want two weeks of them playing for each other, and not worrying at all about themselves. Play for your teammates.”

The reason for the jersey swapping was, however, the secondary issue for Sylvan Hills’ success. Tipton worries that the team has begun to learn how to lose.

“We have had so many bad breaks this year, it’s almost like we’re waiting to see when that bad break is going to come,” Tipton said. “They have to learn, they’re good enough to go all the way, but they have to learn to expect good things to happen, and play with that confidence that whatever the situation, we’re going to turn things around. If they don’t learn to play with that confidence, they just won’t go very far.”

Blake Maddox led the Bears offensively with two base hits in game two. Imhoff got two hits to lead the team in game one.

Sylvan Hills, 18-8, 8-4, added a doubleheader sweep of McClellan on Friday. They will host North Pulaski on Tuesday at the Sherwood Sports Complex.