Tuesday, May 06, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Jackrabbits win district

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits’ baseball team defended its 4A-2 District tournament title Saturday, beating Clinton 11-1 at the Lonoke Ball Park to earn the No. 1 seed in the upcoming East Regional tournament that will also be hosted by Lonoke.

Lonoke was already assured of a spot in the regional tournament by winning the regular-season title undefeated and earning a bye in the district tournament to the semifinals. There they handled Stuttgart 10-2 for the third time this season, then went on to hammer Clinton in the district championship game.

“The kids played well and hit the ball the whole game,” said Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery of the district final. “We were able to finally put some nice at-bats together in that last inning and pull away with it.”

Lonoke scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning to put an early end to the championship game. It mirrored the way the team finished off Stuttgart on Friday.

In that game, Lonoke led 5-2 going into its last at-bat before posting five insurance runs for the win.

Mikey Shinn started on the mound and picked up the win in the semifinal game. Nick Watson threw a complete-game victory in the win over Clinton.

“Nick did a great job of keeping their hitters off balance,” Lowery said. “He kept them from ever really threatening until we were able to put some offense together.”

Lonoke closed its regular season with a road win over North Pulaski at Dupree Park on Monday. For the third-straight game, the Jackrabbits got a huge inning in their last at-bat. The difference on Monday was that they needed it to rally for the win.

Lonoke trailed 8-5 going into the seventh inning, but scored eight runs on three hits for a 13-8 win as the Falcons’ pitching and defense collapsed.

“I think we had a little bit of a letdown from Saturday,” Lowery said. “We did not come out focused. But give North Pulaski credit. They were focused and they played a good baseball game. They outplayed us for six innings. They made some mistakes in the seventh and we were able to capitalize on those.”

Lowery’s squad now prepares to face Gosnell at 10 a.m. Friday.

Gosnell had a disappointing district tournament, but should present a difficult matchup for the Jackrabbits, having beaten two teams that have beaten Lonoke.

“They’re not your typical four seed,” Lowery said. “We got a little bit of an unlucky draw there, but this group knows that.”

A senior-laden Lonoke squad lost its regional opener last year and missed out on the state tournament after winning the district tournament.

That team had its sights set on a second-straight run to the state championship game and got caught overlooking a four seed. Lowery doesn’t think that’ll happen this year.

“That team last year just expected to win and move on,” Lowery said. “This team is younger but they’re pretty mature. There wasn’t a lot of celebrating on Saturday. This team is different from last year. It’s two totally different attitudes. They know they’ve got a tough opponent ahead and a lot of work left to do.”