Friday, June 26, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Big third lifts Gwatney Red

Leader sportswriter

A plethora of walks and some untimely errors put Jacksonville’s Gwatney Chevrolet Red team in a 4-0 hole against Hot Springs Village after two-and-a-half innings of play in the first round of the Sheridan American Legion Baseball Junior Invitational Tournament on Thursday, but Jacksonville responded with six unanswered runs in the bottom of the third to win 6-4.

The walks were plentiful from the start, but timely defensive plays by both teams kept the game scoreless after two innings of play. Hot Springs Village, though, broke the scoreless game in the top of the third with its four runs.

Hot Springs Village, playing as the visiting team, managed just one hit in the third inning off starting pitcher Jordan Wickersham, but three of the four base runners that scored that inning reached base via walk and three of those runs scored were the result of two errant pickoff throws to first base. The fourth run came on a passed ball that should’ve been caught.

Despite the sloppy inning, Jackson-ville (4-5) responded and took the momentum and the lead its next at-bat in the bottom half of the inning. Gwatney Red two-hole hitter Trent Toney led off the inning with a walk, and Wickersham walked as well before Chance Perry loaded the bases with a single to right field.

Still with no outs, Jacksonville’s Isaac Green drew a walk to score Toney and make it a 4-1 game. Devin Dodson grounded out to first the next at-bat, but picked up an RBI as Wickersham scored.

Foster Rash followed Dodson’s at-bat with a walk, and two batters later, Jonathan Smith tied the game at 4-4 with a two-out, two-RBI double that sailed just over the HSV shortstop’s glove.

Leadoff hitter Caleb Smith drew a walk the following at-bat, and Toney, batting for the second time in the inning, set the final score with a two-RBI single to left field that sent Rash and Smith across the plate.

Cody Johnson took the hill in relief of Wickersham in the top of the fourth, and gave up just one hit before earning the save, as the game ended after the top of the fourth because the two-hour time limit expired.

Jacksonville outhit Hot Springs Village 4-2. Wickersham earned the win. He allowed just one hit in the three innings of work, but also gave up 11 walks. Hot Springs Village didn’t do much better in that category, giving up a combined seven walks.

Gwatney Red coach Marvin Helsley attributed the high number of walks to a smaller strike zone than usual.

“The umpire had a small strike zone, and both teams were battling that,” said Helsley. “Both teams were battling, trying to get that coffee-can strike zone to where we could do something with it. It took long, and it took a while for our bats to get settled down.

“What’s been good about our bunch is we’ve been scrappy all year. So I wasn’t worried about (Hot Springs Village) being up three or four runs. We have a scrappy group that can battle back and have battled back. So I’m proud of our guys for how they keep fighting.”

Toney, Perry, Rash and Smith combined for Gwatney Red’s four hits Thursday. Gwatney Red continued pool play in the tournament yesterday after deadlines and will play again tonight at 7:30 against the tournament hosts.

The semifinals and finals of the tournament will be tomorrow in Sheridan. Look for details of the rest of the tournament in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.