Friday, May 30, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Jr. Gwatney wins final two at NLR

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville junior American Legion team played one game as a complete unit at the North Little Rock Optimist Club’s annual Memorial Day Tournament at Burns Park over the weekend. After falling short in a comeback bid and losing 7-5 to Benton, the Jacksonville team, which features 25 players this year, split in two and took the place of a no-show the rest of the tournament.

In all, it meant Jacksonville teams played six games in three days, and none will likely count towards the official record.

“They had a team that didn’t have enough players so they came to me and asked if we’d split,” said Gwatney coach Bob Hickingbotham. “I tried to split them up pretty evenly – put some pitchers and some kids that could swing the bat on both teams. We didn’t look very good for the most part, but I didn’t expect us to with all that going on.”

Jacksonville lost its next three after losing to Benton, including losses to Little Rock Christian, Arkadelphia and Texarkana, before closing the tournament with wins over Cabot and Little Rock Central.

“We almost came back and beat Texarkana,” Hickingbotham said. “We lost 7-6, but we were down 7-0.”

The tournament results are less of a concern for the head coach as what he’s going to do with enough players for two junior teams.

“It would be great to split them up and just have two teams, but there’s not enough coaches,” Hickingbotham said. “I’ve got 14 or so on the senior team, too, that I’m going to coach. That group is primarily made up of the Jacksonville High School team, with a couple of others added to it. But with this junior team, I’ve got 13 players that are 15-years-old, eight 16-year olds and the rest are 17. Usually I’m crying and whining this time of year wanting players. This year I’ve got more than I know what to do with. I’ve never cut a kid my entire time coaching this team. I really hate to think about doing it now.”

American Legion baseball has seen statewide growth this year, even though a few longstanding programs won’t be fielding teams this year, including Sylvan Hills and Pine Bluff.

There are six teams in Jacksonville’s Zone 3 Senior Conference, and 12 in the junior conference.

The Gwatney senior team didn’t begin practice until Monday, and will begin the summer season with a trip to Morrilton tonight. The junior team plays at Bryant on Thursday.

Find details of those games in Saturday’s edition of The Leader.