Friday, June 26, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> No-hitter lifts Blue juniors

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet Blue team committed three errors in the early goings of its first-round game of the Sheridan American Legion Baseball Junior Invitational Tournament against Benton Sportshop, but got a no-hitter from starting pitcher A.J. Jackson, which helped Jacksonville to a dominant 10-2 win.

Jacksonville, playing as the home team, scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning to take a 1-0 lead, but committed its three errors in the top of the second and went scoreless after its next at-bat, which gave Benton a 2-1 lead after two.

The Gwatney Blue team, though, upped its play in every way after that, not committing another error for the remainder of the game while scoring four runs in the third and five more in the fourth to set the final score and win its fifth-straight game in the process.

“That’s a good team right there,” said Gwatney Blue coach Clayton Sample of Benton. “They beat us earlier this year, so these guys had a little revenge in them, but we kind of started out dead.

“A.J. Jackson threw a no-hitter, but the three errors we had counted for those two runs. I felt this team was dead – everybody kind of dropped their heads a little bit. I got them together and said, ‘Guys, it’s like a funeral out here. I mean, I hear nails in a coffin. So let’s live-in up and have fun.’

“Then that was that inning we put four runs on them on one hit, but I’ll take it all day long.”

Kam Whitmore, who scored Jacksonville’s first run of the game, walked to get things going for Gwatney Blue in the bottom of the third. Kylan Kendall came in as Whitmore’s courtesy runner. He stole second base before two-hole hitter Tyson Flowers walked.

Caden Sample then walked and Kendall scored on a passed ball to tie the game at 2-2. Jackson walked the following at-bat to load the bases and D.J. Stirgus and Jayden Loving were each hit by a pitch.

Loving was hit with the bases loaded, which sent Flowers home and gave Gwatney a 3-2 lead. Ryan Rosel hit into a 6-5 fielder’s choice the next at-bat, but picked up an RBI on the play as Sample scored to make it a 4-2 game.

Ean Collie was then plunked to load the bases before Isaiah Cain walked to send Loving across the plate for the final run of the inning. After a second-straight scoreless inning from Benton, Jacksonville put the game away with its five runs scored in the bottom of the fourth.

Sample got the fourth-inning rally started with his second hit of the game – a single to shallow left field. Jackson walked and Stirgus was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Loving then walked to earn an RBI as Sample scored the first run of the fourth.

Jackson scored from third base the next at-bat on a ground ball to shortstop off the bat of Rosel. Rosel reached safely on the E6. With the bases loaded, Collie was hit by a pitch, allowing Stirgus to score, and two batters later, Whitmore drove in the game’s final two runs with a two-out single up the middle that scored Loving and Rosel.

Jackson struck out the side in the top of the fifth, and as a result, the game ended because of the eight-run lead after five innings sportsmanship rule.

Jacksonville had just three hits Thursday, with Sample going 2 for 2 with two runs scored. Whitmore had the only other hit of the game.

On the mound, Jackson struck out seven batters in his five innings of work, and gave up just two walks, while Benton’s pitchers combined for 10 walks.

Gwatney Blue (6-6) continued pool play last night after deadlines and will play again today at noon against Morrilton. The semifinals and finals of the tournament will be played tomorrow at Sheridan. Look for details of the rest of the tournament in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.