Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils get upset by host of tournament

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – The senior heavy Jacksonville Red Devils entered the 5A state baseball tournament as one of the favorites and with hopes of winning a second state championship in four years. But that was hope was burst against an even more senior-heavy team and tournament host Harrison. The Goblins scored all of its runs in one huge inning and upset the 5A-Central champions 7-3 Friday in the quarterfinal round.

Offensively, the story for Jacksonville was one of missed opportunities. The Red Devils also scored all three runs in the seventh, but had at least one runner in scoring position in all but two innings. They put runners at second and third in the fifth and sixth innings, but came away empty.

“Even down like that, I felt like if we could’ve pushed any of those runs across in the fifth or sixth, we would’ve come back and won it in the seventh,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “If you’re down 7-2 instead of 7-0, even that changes things when you start putting runners on base like we did in the seventh.”

Jacksonville (23-7) loaded the bases with no outs in the final inning, and while it did manage to manufacture ways to get those base runners across the plate, it didn’t come up with another base hit to keep the rally going.”

The decisive fifth inning was all Harrison. Jacksonville committed no errors, though there was one fly ball to right field that should have been an out had Laderrious Perry not slipped and fell on the wet outfield grass. Other than that, the Goblins simply had a great inning.

Two drag bunts were placed perfectly and at unexpected times for base hits. The bunting strategy forced the Red Devil infield to play in, resulting in hard ground balls that got through that otherwise would not have had the infield been playing at normal depth. And when small ball put runners on, the Goblins came through with power.

The inning included three doubles into power gaps that each drove in at least one run. One, a two-run shot to left-center field, came on an 0-2 pitch just as it seemed Jacksonville might begin to get out of the jam.

“It wasn’t like we were kicking it around,” Burrows said. “They just executed everything they did. We talked about pulling (pitcher James) Tucker, but we only had one bad pitch. That 0-2 changeup was the only pitch I wish we had back. Other than that he was throwing good pitches. He’s good. He was hitting his spots. They were just hitting it.”

Tucker went back to the mound in the sixth and retired Harrison in order, including two strikeouts before being replaced by Brandon Hickingbotham in the seventh.

Harrison’s roster included 13 seniors on a team that expected to compete for a state championship this year. Though the Goblins had a disappointing regular season that resulted in a third-place finish in the 5A-West, they’ve been the best-hitting team in the tournament so far.

The seven runs against Jacksonville was the Goblins’ lowest total in the tournament. They beat Hot Springs Lakeside 9-7 in the first round, and mercy-ruled Magnolia 11-1 in five innings in the semifinals, ending that game with back-to-back home runs.

“I didn’t realize they had that many seniors, but they played like an experienced team,” Burrows said.

The head Red Devil says goodbye to eight of his own seniors, including seven who have been at least part-time starters for three years.

“It hurts,” Burrows said. “It hurts. My heart breaks for them because I know they wanted to win that championship together. But at the same time, my heart’s full because of them. It was a great group, a fun group. They worked hard, won a lot of games and we had a lot of fun.”