Friday, April 24, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils get by NP

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski Falcons gave Jacksonville a scare in game one of a 5A-Central baseball doubleheader Tuesday. The Red Devils prevailed 6-2 in the opener, and then defeated their crosstown rival more easily in the nightcap, 12-0.

Jacksonville pitchers Derek St. Clair and James Tucker each turned in dominant performances. Each held North Pulaski to just three base hits. St. Clair struck out 15 Falcons while giving up two earned runs with four walks and one hit batter.

“We battled their tails off in game one,” said North Pulaski coach Michael Dean. “I thought we might have had a couple of two-out strikeouts that were really close that we didn’t get, and then the next pitch they roped line drives that scored runners. That’s baseball. You have to bounce back from bad breaks. Game two, we just played poorly and that’s on me. I’m still very proud of how they competed initially.”

Playing as the visiting team in game one on Hickingbotham Field, Jacksonville scored in the top of the second on a one-out single by St. Clair, followed by an RBI double to the wall in right-center field by Brandon Hickingbotham.

Jacksonville (15-6, 10-0) made it 3-0 in the third. Greg Jones got things started for the Red Devils by drawing a one-out walk. St. Clair then walked with two outs, setting Hickingbotham up for another RBI base hit, this one a single down the first base line that drove on both base runners.

The Falcons got one back in the bottom of the third inning, despite St. Clair striking out the first two batters of the frame. Leadoff hitter Chris Penn drew a two-out walk and St. Clair hit Dullee Ramer with a 1-2 pitch. Zach Douglass then singled to center field to score Penn and make the score 3-1.

Jacksonville’s D.J. Scott led off with a base hit in the top of the fourth and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Laderrious Perry. After a fly-out, Ryan Mallison singled to right-center field to score Scott from second base.

The Falcons answered in the bottom half. Pitcher Ean Collie and first baseman Brandon Bridges drew back-to-back walks to start things off. Chance Perry then singled to score Collie’s courtesy runner, Hunter McPherson.

Neither team scored in the fifth or sixth innings, but Jacksonville added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Mallison was hit and Caleb McMunn walked to lead things off. Tucker then doubled to center field to drive in the two base runners and set the final margin.

Collie pitched well for North Pulaski. He gave up just six hits, but walked five while striking out two.

Tucker got a five-inning, complete-game shutout in game two. He struck out seven Falcons while walking just one. Meanwhile, North Pulaski’s defense, which went mistake-free in game one, committed five errors in the nightcap.

Falcon pitcher Chris Hildreth struggled with control in the first inning, walking two batters and hitting another. Jones and St. Clair added doubles and an E5 compounded the problems as Jacksonville grabbed a 4-0 lead.

Hildreth settled down and retired the Red Devils in order in the second inning, and gave up one run on two base hits in the third. But things fell apart again in the fourth, especially defensively.

North Pulaski committed four errors while Hildreth walked two and gave up doubles to Caleb Smith and Mallison. None of the seven runs in the fourth were earned, and Hildreth’s pitch count soared to 87 with the 32-pitch inning, ending his night on the mound.

Jacksonville got just six base hits, but four went for extra bases.

Douglass went 2 for 2 with two doubles in game two and 2 for 3 in game one to account for four of the Falcons’ combined six hits.

“They’ve got some players and I figured they would push us,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “They still have a chance to make the playoffs.”

North Pulaski (9-8, 4-6) bounced back on Wednesday with a 15-4 victory over eStem Charter. It didn’t start well for the Falcons. The Mets scored all four runs in the top of the first inning, and still held a 4-2 lead going into the fourth inning. North Pulaski then scored seven in the fourth and six more in the fifth to invoke the mercy rule.

Freshman Brandon McGuire got the win on the mound. He gave up four hits, including three in the first, while striking out two and walking one.

Myles Bush led the way offensively for the Falcons. He went 3 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. Ramiro Urena went 2 for 4 for the Falcons, who compiled 11 hits.

North Pulaski plays McClellan next Tuesday, then hosts Beebe the following Tuesday for what will likely determine the Central’s No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Falcons will have to sweep the Badgers to make it. Beebe split with Pulaski Academy while the Falcons were swept by the Bruins in the first conference doubleheader of the season.