Tuesday, July 29, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney out in two at state

Leader sports editor

Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team was the first team eliminated from the state tournament in Bryant, losing its first two games 9-3 to Mountain Home and 6-2 to Cabot.

In game one on Saturday morning, starting pitcher Derek St. Clair struggled out of the gate. Mountain Home-Locker Room’s first five batters reached base on two walks, a hit batter, a single and a double. St. Clair then struck out Brody Ninemire, and got Austin Jacobelli to line into a 6-4 double play, but not until three runs had scored, two off of Hayden Hall’s two-RBI double.

Jacksonville, 9-13, was poised to keep up with Mountain Home, getting two of those runs back in the bottom of the first inning.

Courtland McDonald hit a leadoff single off starting pitcher Mason Smith, but was thrown out on a 6-4 fielder’s choice by Ryan Mallison. After a fly ball out to center field by Blake Perry, Greg Jones walked and St. Clair hit a single to center field to load the bases. James Tucker then roped a line drive down the third baseline to make it 3-2.

St. Clair found his groove after the inning-ending double play in the first. After the two-RBI double in the first, St. Clair allowed just two base runners in the next 15 at-bats, yielding one double to leadoff hitter Skylar Culyer and hitting cleanup hitter Kyle Stevens for the second time.

But the Locker Room squad’s bats suddenly came to life with two outs in the fifth. With nobody on base, three-hole hitter Austin Gardner doubled to right-center field. Stevens then got revenge for the two plunks, lacing a line drive off St. Clair’s foot that careened high into the air and landed in shallow center field. The ball took so long to come down, Gardner was able to score without a throw.

St. Clair needed a few moments to try and walk off the pain, but didn’t appear to be the same. The next two batters roped two more doubles to left field to give Mountain Home a 6-2 lead. Tucker took the mound in relief of St. Clair and threw one pitch to get a 6-3 groundout and end the inning.

Jacksonville got one back in the bottom of the same frame. Mallison was hit by the first pitch of the inning and moved to third on a double to right field by Perry.

Jones then hit a high fly ball to deep left field, scoring Mallison and making it 6-3.

Tucker pitched a scoreless sixth, but gave up two runs in the seventh. Gardner hit a leadoff single to left field. Stevens then, trying to completely even up the score for the two plunks, caromed a line drive off Tucker’s shin for an infield single that left runners on the corners.

Hall then hit a sacrifice grounder to shortstop that scored Gardner. After a groundout by Ninemire, Jacobelli singled to left to score Stevens and give Mountain Home an 8-3 lead.

Mountain Home’s final run came in the top of the ninth off two walks and two base hits.

In Sunday’s game against Cabot, Jacksonville held a 2-0 lead after three innings and was still tied at two apiece going into the seventh, but didn’t have the pitching depth to keep Cabot at bay for nine full innings.

Meanwhile, Tillery took the mound in the fourth inning in relief of Zach Patterson and held Jacksonville scoreless over the last six innings.

Jacksonville scored its two runs in the third inning off the hard-throwing Patterson, who has signed with Arkansas State.

The rally started with a leadoff single by Mallison. He moved to second on a sacrifice by Perry and Jones struck out for out number two. St. Clair then reached on an infield hit and both runners stole to move into scoring position. Tucker then hit a two-RBI double to the wall in right field to make it 2-0.

Cabot scored one in the fourth and one in the fifth to tie the game, and it stayed that way through the sixth. Centennial Bank added one more in the seventh then broke it open with three more in the eighth to set the final margin.

Brandon Hickingbotham threw seven and a third innings and was outstanding through seven, but ran out of gas in the eighth.

Through seven innings, Hickingbotham gave up three earned runs on just four base hits striking out four and walking three. But he gave up three hits, hit one and walked another in the eighth before yielding to Perry.

McDonald and D.J. Scott each went 2 for 4 to lead Jacksonville offensively. Gwat-ney Chevrolet finishes.