Saturday, May 17, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Devils advance to next round

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville baseball team blew a three-run lead in the seventh inning, but scored in the bottom half to beat Lakeside 7-6 in the first round of the class 5A state tournament at Dupree Park on Friday.

The Red Devils went into the seventh with a 6-3 lead, but a two-run error by center fielder Courtland McDonald was followed by an RBI base hit to tie the game.

But it was Lakeside who made three huge mental errors that helped Jacksonville rally for the win.

“That’s the kind of thing that happens in the state tournament,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “What you have to do is persevere through it and overcome it. I really felt like if we could get that next guy out, we were going to come back and score.”

Jacksonville didn’t exactly get the next batter, at least not until he was a base runner. After the RBI base hit by Jon Youngblood that tied the game, Jacksonville pitcher James Tucker walked pinch hitter Reece Nickles. But Nickles tried to steal second with Youngblood standing on it, and got picked off by catcher Greg Jones to end the inning. Two fielding mistakes by the Rams helped make the difference in the bottom half.

Ryan Mallison capped his monster day with his second double off the right-field fence to lead things off. Derek St. Clair then put down a perfect bunt to move Mallison to third and reached base safely when no throw came from third baseman Bo Ritter.

St. Clair then alertly noticed no one was covering second base and trotted in to put two runners in scoring position. Relief pitcher Jon Youngblood then got just what he wanted when D.J. Scott hit a grounder to third, but after checking Mallison back to third, Ritter again didn’t attempt to get the runner at first. That loaded the bases with no outs. Deaundray Harris struck out, but McDonald redeemed himself with the game-winning base hit straight over second base.

“Mallison came up huge for us,” Burrows said. “He’s a six-hole hitter who was hitting leadoff for us in that situation, and he just went up there and did what he’d been doing and doubles off the wall.”

St. Clair started on the mound, but had a disastrous outing and faced only six batters. He hit two, walked three and gave up a two-RBI single. Greg Jones caught the leadoff batter stealing, but it was the only out recorded with St. Clair on the mound. After St. Clair hit six-hole hitter Tanner Rice, James Tucker took the mound to strikeout Jon Youngblood and get Tanner Crumpton to fly out to centerfield to stop the bleeding at 2-0.

“Tucker made a big difference coming in and changing the pace for us and getting some outs,” Burrows said. “I don’t really know what went wrong with St. Clair, but Tucker did a great job. Now we get to throw out No. 1 guy on day two. I’ve never been able to do that before.”

Jacksonville got four runs in the bottom of the second inning to take a two-run lead. The rally started with Ryan Mallison singling to right field and St. Clair hitting an infield single on a slow roller to shortstop. Brandon Hickingbotham bunted into a 5-6 fielder’s choice at third base, but the throw was not in time to get Mallison at third. An error at shortstop off the bat of Deaundray Harris that scored Mallison and left the bases loaded.

Blake Perry then drew an RBI walk. Kaleb Reeves hit a hard line drive between first and second that Tanner Crumpton snagged. He got Reeves at first, but Hickingbotham scored from third on the play. Greg Jones then singled to left field to score Harris that ended the scoring in the inning.

The Rams made it 4-3 when Chase Willingham sent the first pitch of the third inning over the wall in right field. Reeves answered in kind with two outs in the fourth when he sent a line drive over the fence in right to make it 5-3.

Lakeside was back in business when a double and two walks loaded the bases in the top of the fifth, but Tucker got Brandon Hall to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat.

The Red Devils added a run in the bottom of the sixth inning when Clinton McDonald hit a leadoff single, moved to second on an E6, stole third base and scored on a wild pitch by reliever Youngblood.

Mallison led all hitters going 4 for 4 at the plate with two doubles and scored.

McDonald went 3 for 5 with a double and a run scored and an RBI. St. Clair also got two base hits and scored a run.

Tucker threw six and two thirds innings, giving up seven hits and two earned runs while walking four and striking out two.

Jacksonville outhit Lake-side 10-7. They will face Vilonia at 5:30 p.m. today in the quarterfinal round. The Eagles beat Batesville 10-0 to open play on Friday. They also own a win over Jacksonville this season, beating the Red Devils 7-2 in the second game of the season in the Red Devil Classic.