Friday, April 15, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Second game rally lifts JHS to sweep at PA

Leader sportswriter

The Jacksonville baseball team has seen its share of tough breaks this season, but has improved as the season’s progressed. That improvement showed in Tuesday’s 5A-Central doubleheader against Pulaski Academy, as the Red Devils swept the Bruins by scores of 8-0 and 10-5 at Wildwood Park in west Little Rock.

Jacksonville (7-12, 5-3) cruised in game one of the twin bill behind nine hits and a complete game shutout performance on the mound by Brandon Hawkins. In the nightcap, Pulaski Academy (8-9, 3-3) jumped out to an early lead, but the Red Devils answered with a six-run fourth inning and held off PA’s late rally to earn the conference sweep.

Jacksonville took advantage of several PA errors in each game, but when the Bruins responded in game two with two quick runs in the first inning before adding three more in the fifth, JHS coach Larry Burrows was proud of the way his team responded, especially when the Bruins had that three-run fifth inning.

“That’s what I’ve been telling them, just keep going,” said Burrows. “They had a two-run inning and three-run inning, but that three-run inning could’ve been worse. In the past, that could’ve turned into a five spot or an eight spot.

“When things weren’t going our way, we held it to a three spot, and that was huge to do that. That’s what I told them. We’ve went through some heartache, but it doesn’t need to be for nothing. We need to just keep getting tougher and I think we showed a little bit of that tonight.”

Jacksonville played as the home team in game two of the league doubleheader. Pulaski Academy took an early lead with a two-run home run over the left-field fence off the bat of three-hole hitter Caden Haws in the top of the first inning.

The Red Devils answered with one run in the bottom of the first on an RBI ground-rule double by Caleb McMunn, and the score remained 2-1 PA until the fourth inning, when JHS reeled off six runs.

Game two starting pitcher Brandon Hickingbotham led off the bottom of the fourth with a standup double to center field. Wesley Williams came in to run for Hickingbotham. He advanced to third base on a sac fly to right center by Caden Sample, and scored the game-tying run on a Javan Wakefield double to the wall in left center.

Wakefield scored the go-ahead run on Caleb Smith’s double to the left-field wall the next at-bat. Jordan Wickersham was then hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second. Tyson Flowers hit into a force out at third base the following at-bat, but Kam Whitmore lined one off the left fielder’s glove to score Wickersham and Flowers and give JHS a 5-2 cushion.

Whitmore went to second base on that play, and advanced to third on a passed ball with two-hole hitter Mike Havard at the plate. Havard walked that at-bat, and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Whitmore scored from third on the wild pitch, giving JHS a 6-2 lead.

Havard then scored on a single to right field by Trent Toney, capping the six-run fourth inning. The Bruins added their three runs in the fifth to make it a 7-5 game, but Jacksonville responded with three runs of its own in the sixth.

In that inning, JHS scored runs eight and nine on a Toney single to left field. Whitmore and Havard scored on the play, and a scary moment occurred as Havard crossed the plate.

Havard was able to score all the way from first base because of an errant throw home from left field. As the ball sailed over the PA catcher’s head and to the backstop, Havard came home and after he had crossed the plate, the throw from the backstop hit the home plate umpire in the side of his head. He took a few wobbly steps before falling to the ground.

He was helped off the field a few minutes later and appeared to be doing relatively OK after about a 15-minute delay, but couldn’t continue. The field umpire then moved behind the plate to close the game.

When play resumed, Toney advanced to third base on a passed ball and scored on a 4-3 groundout by Hickingbotham to set the final score. Hickingbotham then retired the side in the top of the seventh to give the Red Devils the conference sweep.

Jacksonville outhit Pulaski Academy 10-6 in game two. Toney was the only player with multiple hits in that game, finishing 2 for 3 with three RBIs. Hickingbotham threw all seven innings, finishing with four strikeouts.

The Red Devils’ first four runs of game one were unearned. They scored two in the first inning before adding one each in the second, third and fourth innings to lead 5-0. Jacksonville’s fifth run was scored on a Havard sac fly to left field. Whitmore scored on the play. He singled the previous at-bat before stealing second base and advancing to third on a passed ball.

Jacksonville didn’t score in the fifth, but added another run in the sixth before reeling off two more in the seventh to set the final score. The Devils outhit the Bruins 9-4 in the first game. Pulaski Academy had five errors in the first game and four in game two. Jacksonville had four errors in the two games combined.

Havard and PA’s Thomas Wheelis were the only players with multiple hits in game one. Havard was 2 for 2 with a run scored and two RBIs. Wheelis was 2 for 3 with a pair of singles. Hawkins finished with eight strikeouts in his seven innings of work.