Friday, April 08, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Hillside Bears win twice in crazy twinbill

Leader sports editor

On a night when coaching meltdowns and drama outside the field of play almost overshadowed the game itself, the Sylvan Hills baseball team pulled off an important sweep of Jacksonville at Dupree Park on Tuesday. In doing so, the Bears staked their claim to sole possession of first place in the 5A-Central Conference. They entered Tuesday’s varsity doubleheader, which they won by scores of 6-4 and 4-2, tied with Pulaski Academy for first place, but the Bruins split their doubleheader at Beebe on Tuesday.

Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows, already somewhat perturbed by what he felt was bad officiating in game one, lost it in the early goings of game two, and was ejected for his over-the-top objection to balls and strikes, which included kicking dirt on the umpire.

Play was stopped on several occasions after the ejection as umpires had fans removed from behind the outfield fence and from the grandstand.

“It didn’t even feel like a baseball game there for a while,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “I was just proud of my guys because they never seemed to get too distracted by it. I think, at one point, we had what I would call a lull. But we never got too caught up in all that other stuff that was going on.”

Jacksonville scored first in game one and had momentum when a delayed interference call took a run off the board and abruptly ended the inning.

Kameron Whitmore hit a leadoff single and was standing at third base with two outs when Brandon Hickingbotham hit the first of three-straight singles off Sylvan Hills pitcher Nick Fakouri. Hickingbotham was on second when Javan Wakefield singled to left field. The ball came close to hitting Hickingbotham, but the field umpire made no call. Hickingbotham came around to score to put Jacksonville ahead 2-0. Tipton protested that the ball did hit Hickingbotham, and after a conference between umpires, Hickingbotham was ruled out, the run was taken off the board and the inning was over.

The scored stayed 1-0 until the top of the fourth inning when Sylvan Hills posted three runs. Fakouri hit a leadoff single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Zack Douglas. Carson Sanders then singled and Ryan Lumpkin nailed a two-run home run over the fence in left field for a 3-1 Bears’ lead.

Jacksonville answered right back in the bottom of the fourth. Caden Sample walked and Wakefield singled to put two on with no outs. After a groundout by Cody Savage moved the runners into scoring position, Trent Toney hit a two-RBI single to tie the game.

Jacksonville then committed three errors in the top of the fifth to give up two runs on no hits.

The Red Devils (5-11, 3-3) were able to get one back in the bottom of the sixth when Wakefield and Toney walked and Wakefield scored on a base hit by Caleb Smith. Sylvan Hills set the final margin with a run in the top of the seventh. Mackenzie Seats scored on an RBI base hit by Carson Sanders, and Seats then closed the game in the seventh.

Fakouri threw six innings for Sylvan Hills. He allowed four earned runs on eight hits with no strikeouts and four walks. Sylvan Hills (12-3, 6-0) committed one error. Seats walked one and fanned one in his inning of work.

Brandon Hawkins went the distance on the mound for Jacksonville. He also gave up eight hits and four earned runs and walked four, with five strikeouts.

In game two, tensions started running high in the top of the first inning when Hickingbotham was called out on a borderline high strike-three call to end the half-inning. They got worse in the bottom of the first when catcher Wakefield tossed what he thought was a clear two-out strike three back to the mound and started running to the dugout, only to have the umpire signal ball and call the players back onto the field. Fakouri, the batter at the plate, then hit an RBI single to center field for a 1-0 SH lead.

Then in the top of the second, Smith was called out on a breaking ball chin high and Burrows came unglued, resulting in his ejection.

The Bears added a run to their lead in the bottom of the second after Ty Flowers flubbed a routine grounder by Sanders, and pitcher River Hunt hit an RBI single with two outs.

Sylvan Hills made it 3-0 in the top of the third on back-to-back doubles by Seats and Fakouri. Whitmore then saved a run and ended the inning when he threw out Fakouri’s courtesy runner, Kyle Clayton, at home after a single to right field by Lumpkin.

Wakefield kept his monster night going in the top of the fourth with a leadoff home run, making him 4 for 4 with a walk, two RBIs and three runs scored on the night. He was later called out on another controversial strike three for the only at-bat in both games combined he failed to get on base.

Savage replaced Hickingbotham on the mound with one out in the fourth after a double by Bryce Allen and an error in left field by Smith. Savage got leadoff hitter Michael Coven to pop up to second base, and Mike Havard made a running catch at the wall in center field to get JoJo Craft for the final out and get the Red Devils out of another jam.

Sylvan Hills then scored its final run in the bottom of the fifth. Seats singled before going all the way to third base on consecutive wild pitches by Savage. Fakouri hit a hard grounder to third where Caleb McMunn made a nice play to freeze the lead runner and get the out at first. Savage then fanned Douglas, and was almost out of the jam when Lumpkin got the run in with a single to left field.

Jacksonville scored the final run in the top of the seventh inning on a walk by Smith and an RBI double down the right-field line by Sample.

Burrows didn’t want to talk much about the umpires, but said his team will bounce back.

“I just told them sooner or later something is going to break our way, and we’re going to start getting these breaks instead of them all going against us,” said Burrows. “We’re going to keep working like that’s what’s going to happen. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to keep working like that’s what’s going to happen.”