Friday, July 25, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney can’t hold lead, loses in semis

Leader sportswriter

CONWAY – Thanks to several early Fort Smith miscues, the Jacksonville-Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team jumped out to a six-run lead over the favored Kerwins Sportsmen team in the semifinals of the Zone 1 American Legion tournament at Hendrix College on Tuesday, but Fort Smith was able to steadily battle back and escape with a 10-8 win.

Jacksonville scored three runs in the first inning alone, all of which were unearned, and led 6-0 at the end of three by scoring a run in the second and adding two more in the third.

However, Fort Smith, who entered Tuesday night’s semifinal as the only unbeaten team left in tournament play with a 3-0 record, scored four runs in the fifth and seventh innings to get back in the game.

The Kerwins Sportsmen team was able to hold the Chevy Boys scoreless in the final three innings of play, and scored runs in the eighth and ninth innings to set the final score.

Jacksonville, the home team on the scoreboard, held Fort Smith scoreless in the top of the first inning, and Gwatney leadoff hitter Courtland McDonald started things off for Jacksonville with a single to left fieldJacksonville with a single to left field in the bottom part of the inning.

McDonald stole second base before cleanup hitter Greg Jones reached via walk. Shortstop Derek St. Clair walked the next at-bat to load the bases, and first baseman Brandon Hickingbotham was next up for Jacksonville, batting in the six hole.

Hickingbotham hit a hard chopper to the mound that was fielded cleanly by the Fort Smith pitcher, but the throw to first was way high, and the errant throw allowed the first two runs to score.

As Hickingbotham ran to second on the same play, another errant throw followed by the Fort Smith first baseman, and as the ball sailed into left-center field, St. Clair scored with ease to give the Chevy Boys a 3-0 cushion.

In the second inning, Jacksonville’s D.J. Scott reached base safely on an infield single to shortstop, and teammate Laderrious Perry tried to advance Scott to second base the next at-bat with a bunt. However, Fort Smith was able to get the force at second for a fielder’s choice.

Perry later stole second base then third on a bad pickoff attempt, and scored shortly after on a wild pitch, which put Jacksonville on top 4-0. In the bottom of the third, Hickingbotham singled to right field to start things off for Jacksonville, and starting pitcher James Tucker was hit by a pitch the following at-bat.

Two outs and three batters later, Ryan Mallison drove in Hickingbotham with a single to right field, and Tucker scored the next at-bat on a single to the gap in left field by Blake Perry.

The score remained 6-0 Jacksonville till the fifth inning, when Kerwins scored its first four runs of the game. Jacksonville’s final two runs came in the bottom of the sixth.

Blake Perry led off that inning with a single, and Jones followed with a single to center field. With no outs, St. Clair laid down a sac bunt that turned into a bunt single, and even though St. Clair would’ve beaten the throw regardless, the throw to first was made, but off the mark.

The errant throw allowed Blake Perry to score with ease, which made it 7-4 Jacksonville, and put Jones and St. Clair at third and second base. After St. Clair’s single, Hickingbotham sent Jones across the plate with a sac fly to left field, and that gave the Chevy Boys an 8-4 lead.

Fort Smith rallied its next at-bat in the top of the seventh with another four-run inning, tying the game at 8-8, and Kerwins took the lead for good the next time around in the top of the eighth.

The Kerwins leadoff man walked to start the inning, and advanced to second base the next AB on a single by Jorden Lawrence. A 6-3 groundout followed, putting the go-ahead run at third, and Jacksonville’s relief pitcher balked with the go-ahead run at third, which allowed that run to cross home plate and give Fort Smith its first lead of the night at 9-8.

Fort Smith’s next insurance run came in the top of the ninth. Leadoff hitter Colby Demato hit a stand-up triple to open the inning, and he scored three batters later on a single to right field by cleanup hitter Houston Kennedy.

Jacksonville had two on in the bottom of the ninth, but failed to get either runner home, which allowed Fort Smith to move on to Wednesday’s final against Cabot.

Even though Jacksonville lost Tuesday, it still qualified for the state tournament that starts today in Bryant by being one of the top four finishers in the Zone 1 tournament, along with North Little Rock, Fort Smith and Cabot. Jacksonville finished the Zone 1 tourney with a 2-2 record.

Jacksonville was outhit Tuesday 16-10. Mallison and Blake Perry led the Chevy Boys with two hits each, while teammates McDonald, Jones, St. Clair, Hickingbotham, Tucker and Scott had one hit apiece.

Demato led Fort Smith, and all batters, at the plate, going 4 for 6 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

Jacksonville plays Mountain Home in the first round of the state tournament at 10 a.m. today.