Sunday, June 01, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney juniors split at Morrilton Sloughing around in mud

Leader sports editor

The Gwatney Chevrolet junior team played a doubleheader in the mud Wednesday in Morrilton – or most of one. Because of rain delays, the two teams called off game two in the fifth inning when Wednesday became Thursday. Jacksonville led game one 4-0 before falling apart in the fifth inning and losing 9-7. They led game two 6-2 when the clock struck midnight.

“I don’t know if you’d call it playing baseball or not,” said Gwatney coach Bob Hickingbotham. “We got out there and sloughed around in the mud for about six hours. We didn’t hit the ball very well and we didn’t play very good, but 90 percent of that is my fault. We hadn’t had them out there practicing enough. We just haven’t had a chance to.”

After a scoreless first inning, Hickingbotham decided to try to use the field conditions to his advantage, and began bunting nearly every batter. The strategy worked. When Morrilton was able to field the ball cleanly, throwing the wet, muddy ball on a line to first base proved difficult. Several throwing errors, combined with a few walks, led to Jacksonville taking an early lead.

The Chevy Boys maintained that lead until the roles were reversed in the bottom of the fifth inning. Jacksonville pitchers walked five batters and fielders committed five errors. Combined with three base hits, Morrilton put nine runs across the plate in the decisive inning.

“We just made a whole bunch of mistakes in the field and we walked the whole ball park,” Hickingbotham said. “That was just a terrible inning. We made a little comeback with the bats, but we were too far behind.”

Jacksonville added a run in the top of the sixth and two more in the seventh before making the game’s final out.

Hickingbotham was pleased with the pitching effort he got from game-one starter Colton Goodman, who plays high-school ball for Des Arc. He also thought Tyler Montgomery of North Pulaski showed potential.

“Those two pitched pretty well,” Hickingbotham said. “Montgomery got hurt for the second time. He got hit in the head. I think he’s going to be a pretty good player but it’s hard to tell. He’s been out there twice and had problems both times. But he’s showing some potential.”

A total of 24 players made the trip to Morrilton. Hickingbotham is still approaching games with a focus on seeing everyone play more-so than winning.

“There’s just so many of them,” Hickingbotham said. “If I had more help I’d go ahead and certify two teams. We have plenty to do that with. But as it is, I’m probably going to have to eliminate some of them. We played all 24 of them. Everybody who didn’t play in game one played in game two.”

The game-two players hit it well and built a comfortable early lead. Morrilton scored two runs just before the game was halted.

“We didn’t even start the second game until 10:05,” Hickingbotham said. “Some of these kids are still in school. So we just had to end it. Probably should’ve done it earlier.”

Jacksonville will finally play a home game when they begin play in the Gwatney Chevrolet Junior Invitational on Monday.

“We’re going to try to practice some before the tournament because that’s the main reason for the mistakes,” Hickingbotham said. “We’ve got a lot of pretty good little ball players on this junior team. Once we get the best nine out there on the field, I think they can be pretty good.”