Friday, March 18, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot splits with Searcy

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Panther baseball team split with Searcy in the first 7A/6A-East Conference doubleheader of the season Thursday at Brian Wade Conrade Memorial Field in Cabot. The Panthers lost the first game of the twin bill 6-4 before breaking a 3-3 tie with four unanswered runs in the seventh inning of game two to win 7-3.

In game one, Cabot (4-2, 1-1) couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start. The Panthers scored all four of their runs in the first inning and led 4-0 until the top of the fourth, when the Lions scored five runs to take the lead for good. Searcy (5-1, 1-1) added an insurance run in the top of the sixth to set the final score of game one.

It was a competitive game, and that competitiveness carried over to game two. The Panthers, playing as the visiting team on the scoreboard, trailed 2-1 heading into the fifth inning.

Cabot loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fifth with Eric Larsen at the plate. Larsen came through with a clutch two-RBI single that scored teammates Jake Slunder and Blake McCutchen and gave the hosts a 3-2 lead.

Searcy answered with the game-tying run in the bottom half of the inning to make it 3-3 entering the sixth. Neither team scored until the top of the seventh, when Cabot scored the remainder of its runs.

Catcher and three-hole hitter Denver Mullins hit a one-out double to right-center field to start the rally, and on the same play, Mullins advanced to third base because of an errant throw to second from the outfield.

Brian Tillery came in to run for the Panther catcher, and Larsen was intentionally walked the following at-bat. Second baseman Bobby Joe Duncan then came to the plate, and with runners at the corners, Larsen stole second.

Searcy catcher Andrew Stanley came up throwing to second, and as he did so, Tillery took off for home. Stanley’s throw to second was a bit high and to the right of second base, and the ball deflected off of shortstop Hayden Bowman’s glove and rolled into shallow right field.

Tillery scored on the play to give Cabot a 4-3 lead and Larsen went to third on the same play. Duncan then hit into a 4-3 groundout for the second out of the inning, but the hit drove in Larsen to give the Panthers a two-run lead.

Dylan Thomas reached on an error at shortstop the next at-bat, and Braden Jarnigan singled to right center the next at-bat. With runners at the corners and two strikes on Logan Kirkendoll, Jarnigan purposely got caught in a rundown. As the Searcy infielders were trying to get Jarnigan out, Logan Edmondson, Thomas’ courtesy runner, took off for home.

The Searcy second baseman turned to throw for home, but lost his balance trying to make the transition from focusing on Jarnigan to Edmondson, and as he fell to the dirt, Edmondson crossed home plate to give Cabot a 6-3 cushion.

“That is a first and third play that we run,” said Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin of that play. “With two strikes on the hitter, the odds of him getting a hit obviously decrease significantly. It’s a play we call force balk early break.

“We hope the pitcher balks. If he doesn’t balk, it’s his job to stay in the rundown as long as he can and hopefully this guy (at third) can score when we get all of the attention on that base runner between first and second.

“I’ve run that play for four years in high school baseball and I think that’s the first time we’ve actually called it and run it to perfection. But yeah, it was a designed play. With a lead, you just try to put a little pressure on them and see if, you know, they’ll give you another one. Just trying to steal one there with two strikes on the hitter is all we were doing.”

After that play, Jarnigan stole second base, and then Kirkendoll hit a routine ground ball to shortstop, but the throw to first was dropped, and Jarnigan scored on the play to up the Cabot lead to 7-3.

In the bottom of the seventh, pitcher Michael Shepherd, who took to the hill in the sixth inning in relief of Brett Brockinton, struck out the first two batters he faced, looking. He then plunked Lion leadoff hitter Luke Dixon before two-hole hitter Jacob Rose hit into a 4-3 groundout to end the game in Cabot’s favor.

Shepherd didn’t give up a hit (just the hit batter) in the two innings pitched, walked just one Searcy batter and finished with two strikeouts in the winning effort.

“Michael Shepherd was huge in the game,” Goodwin said, “coming into a tight game right there. He came in in a tie game and kept it tied for us to take advantage of opportunities in the seventh inning. Brockinton pitched well, got us through five innings.

“Our pitching was outstanding. We made a couple of 0-2 mistakes we shouldn’t make, but everything that happened today I feel is fixable, and it’s only five, six games into the season. It’s about playing your best in May and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

Each team had five hits in game one. McCutchen, Kirkendoll, Larsen, Duncan and Brockinton combined for Cabot’s five hits. Searcy’s Austin Allen earned the win on the mound in that game. He threw the first six innings of game one, finishing with a game-high six strikeouts.

In game two, Larsen, Caleb Harpole, Mullins and Jarnigan each had a hit for the Panthers, with Larsen adding two RBIs.