Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bears fall in semis to defending champs

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – Sylvan Hills’ run in the 5A baseball tournament came to an end Saturday just one game away from playing for a state championship. The Bears fell 10-4 to defending state champion White Hall after building a 3-0 lead in the first two innings. The Bulldogs, the No. 4 seed from the 5A-South, have won two of the last three state championships, each time as a four seed. They will play tournament host Harrison on Saturday in this year’s championship game.

Sylvan Hills’ four starting seniors were phenomenal in the tournament. Marcus Long took over on the mound in the first round after Hunter Heslep was hit in the head by a thrown baseball, and shut down the Batesville Pioneers to clear the way for a comeback victory. Blake Maddox held 5A-South champion Watson Chapel to one run in the quarterfinal round.

In the semifinals, Heslep broke his left foot on his first at-bat, fouling three pitches off the top of it, but finished the game and went 3 for 4 with an RBI and two runs scored, not knowing the foot was broken until X-rays revealed the extent of the injury the next day.

Lukas Burrow hit almost .500 for the tournament, including two doubles and scored four runs. Outfielder Nathan Thomas went 6 for 10 at the plate in the tournament with four doubles.

“I’m really proud of my seniors,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “They really pushed the team concept and helped these kids learn and get better. We’d lost in the first round five years in a row. They helped us break that and get started on another run. Hopefully these juniors, sophomores and freshmen we had in the dugout will learn from it and keep going. A few of them told me they could almost taste it. I told them don’t forget that and bring that back with you next season.”

Because he had only thrown three and a third innings on round one, Long had six and two-thirds innings left of his three-day allowed total. He picked up right where he left off in the first two innings. The senior southpaw struck out four in the first two frames as the Bears built their lead.

Heslep hit the RBI base hit in the first inning. In the second, Thomas hit a two-run double to put the Bears up by three.

Tipton, though, felt like the strike zone changed on Long later in the game, rendering him less effective.

“They stopped giving us anything on the outside,” said Tipton. “Marcus isn’t going to overpower you. Marcus’ forte is hitting his spots perfectly. If you make him throw right down the middle he’s not going to be as effective.”

White Hall scored four runs on four hits in the fourth inning to take the lead, but in the fifth, things fell apart for the Bears.

White Hall scored five runs on just three hits in an inning that included two Sylvan Hills errors and a home run by Kirk Baugh that made it 9-3.

In the quarterfinal round, Sylvan Hills beat 5A-South champion Watson Chapel 8-1. Maddox got the complete-game victory, giving up seven hits while striking out five and walking three.

Sylvan Hills (19-12) scored one run in each of the third and fourth innings before blowing the game open with six runs in the sixth. Carson Sanders hit a two-run double, the first of three-straight doubles by the Bears. Burrow hit one to drive in Sanders, and Thomas followed with another one to score Burrow.

“We made a good run and I think we learned a lot about how to play the game of baseball towards the end,” Tipton said. “We learned it’s going to be a battle. Early in the season it seemed like we went into every game wanting to blow people out, and when it didn’t go our way, it was a big letdown. But when you play good teams, you’re going to win by one or just a couple of runs most of the time, and things can turn at any time.

“And they didn’t quit. When you’re up and you’ve got all that excitement and energy, and then all of a sudden you’re down and it looks like it’s not going to happen, it’s tough. But they kept battling and I’m proud of that. Give White Hall credit, too. They’re the defending state champions and they played like it. We got them down early and had all the momentum, and they didn’t quit. They played like you’re supposed to.”