Tuesday, July 19, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville Seniors finish

Leader sports editor

Conway’s Senior American Legion coaches repeatedly protested to Jacksonville’s batting order, pitch counts and pitcher availability, but they couldn’t do much about the actual Jacksonville players in the batter’s box Sunday during the American Legion Senior State Tournament at Hendrix University.

The Senior Chevy Boys racked up 14 base hits, drew 11 walks and took a pair of HBPs to hammer the tournament hosts 16-6 and advance to the round of eight in the two-weekend event.

Things went awry after that for the Chevy Boys. On Monday, the team suffered a season-ending, 12-6 loss to Little Rock.

New, strict pitch counts were a major issue for almost every team, and it caught up with Jacksonville on Monday, as did a terrible defensive effort.

“In a normal year, I’d throw my best pitcher who hadn’t pitched since Friday,” said Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham. “But I lost him (Brandon Hawkins), I lost Brandon (Hickingbotham) and I lost (Mike) Havard. They have to wait five days. I put (Caleb) McMunn out there, and he did OK, but when he hit his limit, we didn’t have anything left.”

Even with the pitching problems, if not for Jacksonville’s seven errors, it could’ve been a different game.

“If we’d just played a little bit of defense, we still could’ve maybe have kept going,” Bob Hickingbotham said.

In Monday’s win, Conway disputed Jacksonville’s batting order twice, and challenged a pitching change on another occasion. When complaints from the visiting dugout changed focus from Jacksonville to the umpires, assistant coach Greg Bowman was thrown out of the park, and threatened with arrest when he tried to re-enter. He left without further incident.

Both teams went down in order in the first inning, and Conway got on the board first in the top of the second. It was an unearned run off starting pitcher Brandon Hickingbotham. Cleanup hitter Christian Hamilton reached on an error at shortstop to start the inning. He advanced to second on the mistake, and to third on a groundout to second base. He then scored on a passed ball, but Jacksonville didn’t stay behind long.

The Chevy Boys took the lead in the bottom of the second with four runs. Hickingbotham drew a leadoff walk and Jordan Wickersham singled to center field. After two pop-ups, Trent Toney hit a two-RBI single to right field, and moved to second on the throw home. Caleb Smith singled to left field and leadoff hitter Tyson Flowers walked to load the bases. Mike Havard drove a two-RBI single to center field for the 4-1 lead.

Conway’s first major protest came at the start of the third inning. Nine-hole hitter Bo Harmon hit a double to the fence in left field, but was thrown out trying to stretch it into a triple on the 7-6-5 relay.

Conway did not like the call and protested vehemently. The next two batters grounded out to end the inning, but not the arguing.

Conway accused Jacksonville of batting out of order in its half of the third, but to no avail. With two outs, Kameron Whitmore doubled down the third base line, and scored on a single by Toney, giving Jacksonville a 5-1 lead.

Conway started the fourth inning with three consecutive base hits, but was only able to produce one run.

Jacksonville did not score in the fourth or fifth innings, and found itself trailing 6-5 by the time it came to bat in the bottom of the sixth. Conway then questioned a potential pitching change when Wickersham started warming up in the bullpen.

Jacksonville responded by scoring five runs in the sixth. Toney, Smith and Flowers drew back-to-back-to-back, one-out walks to load the bases. Havard, Caleb McMunn and Hickingbotham then hit three-consecutive singles for a 9-6 Jacksonville lead. Whitmore later singled to left field to drive in the final run of the inning.

Despite the protest, Wickersham took the mound in the seventh inning. He gave up a single and a walk to start the inning, but picked off the runner at first and followed up with back-to-back strikeouts.

Jacksonville scored one run in the seventh on a walk by Flowers and an RBI double by McMunn. Wickersham walked one in the top of the eighth, but allowed no hits or runs.

Jacksonville ended the game early with five runs in the eighth.

Conway changed pitchers for the fourth time, and hit Wickersham to start the inning. He came all the way around the bases on two wild pitches and a passed ball before Caden Sample flew out to left field. Whitmore and Toney then walked, and after another batting order dispute, Smith surprised the Conway infield by laying down a bunt for a base hit.

Flowers walked to drive in Whitmore. Havard hit into a 4-6 fielder’s choice that also scored Toney. McMunn then singled to drive in Smith and Flowers and end the game on the 10-after-7-mercy rule.

Havard finished with five RBIs, going 2 for 6 at the plate. McMunn went 3 for 5 with a walk and four RBIs. Toney went 3 for 5 with a walk and three RBIs. Whitmore and Smith got two hits apiece. Flowers didn’t get a hit, but did his job as a leadoff by drawing four walks in six plate appearances.

Hickingbotham gave up 10 hits in six innings of work, but only four earned runs. He only had one strikeout, but it came at a crucial time, shutting down a bases-loaded rally against Harmon, who had lined a double on his last at-bat.

Wickersham gave up one hit in his two innings on the mound, striking out three and walking two.

Jacksonville opened the tournament with an 8-5 victory over Benton on Friday. On Saturday, Paragould’s Layne Ditto went off the rails at UCA. Jacksonville had swept a doubleheader against Paragould earlier this season, but Ditto hit for the cycle, including a home run off the top of the scoreboard in the 11-1 victory. Ditto’s homer was one of three by the Glen Sain GMC squad.