Saturday, May 07, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Big error in ninth puts LHS into stat

Leader sports editor

The Lonoke Jackrabbits earned a crucial victory in the first round of the Class 4A East Regional at Lonoke Ballpark on Thursday. The Jackrabbits’ nine-inning, 5-4 win over the Brookland Bearcats wasn’t how you draw them up, but it was good enough to earn a berth in the Class 4A state playoffs that begin next Thursday in Ashdown.

Lonoke interim coach Nick Smith knows his team must clean up its defense in order to make a deep run in the state tournament, but is proud of how the team has persevered through the terrible circumstances surrounding the loss of its head coach late in the season.

“It affected them when it happened,” said Smith of former coach Darrick Lowery’s resignation after inappropriate text messages to a student were discovered. “But they have come together and rallied around each other. This is all on them. I have nothing to do with it. They set a goal. They’ve battled through adversity and they’ve persevered. I’m so proud of them and proud to be a part of it.”

Both teams scored three unearned runs. Lonoke got an outstanding performance from Haven Hunter on the mound. He had a perfect game going through three innings before Brookland leadoff hitter Ryan Reeves singled to start the fourth.

Tyler Harrell walked and Landon Jones singled to load the bases with no outs, but Hunter got out of the jam with minimal damage.

He struck out cleanup hitter Jake Algee. Ben Robinson hit a fly ball deep enough to score Reeves, but Hunter fanned Glen Harmon to keep the Jackrabbits within a run.

The Jackrabbits then scored two runs on a walk and three Brookland errors in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead.

Brookland tied the game in an eventful sixth inning. Harrell singled to second base. An error in right field left Harrell and Jones at second and third. Algee tried to lay down a sac bunt, but hit right back to Hunter, who underhanded it to Gabe Rooney at the plate.

Harrell hit the breaks and tried to get back to third, where Jones was already standing.

Rooney tagged him just a few feet from third, but no one covered home in his place. Jones spotted the empty plate, and as soon as Rooney turned his back, Jones ran by him and scored, tying the game.

That’s how it stayed through regulation. Things looked bad for Lonoke when the Bearcats scored twice in the top of the eighth on two more Lonoke errors, but the bats came alive in the bottom half.

Hunter and Casey Martin got back-to-back singles to start the inning. Kade Stuart ripped a line drive to deep right field for an out as both base runners moved up.

With runners moving, Savonte Rountree singled to center field to drive in both runs and tie the game.

An error at first base put Brookland’s leadoff man on to start the ninth inning, but Martin struck out the next two batters and got the fourth to fly out to center field.

Lonoke won the game without recording an out. Talon Swint drew a leadoff walk and nine-hole hitter Kameron Cole singled to right field.

Caleb Horton bunted perfectly down the third base line where Trevin Winkles should have held onto the ball. Instead, he tried to get the lead runner out at third, and threw wildly into left field, allowing Swint to trot home for the winning run.

Martin got the win on the mound for his three innings of work. He struck out six, walked two and gave up one bunt single.

Hunter threw six innings, recording six strikeouts with one walk, just four hits and one earned run.

He was also the only player in the game with multiple base hits, going 2 for 4 and stealing two bases.