Tuesday, August 02, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot wins AA American Legion title

Leader sports editor

It’s all about how you finish. That axiom was proven last weekend by the Cabot American Legion baseball team. The Centennial Bank squad beat the Magnet Cove Black Cats twice on Sunday in Sheridan to overcome a terrible start to the season and earn the American Legion AA state championship. Scores were 3-2 and 4-3.

Making it more impressive, the team did it without its head coach, Chris Gross, who missed the final weekend of the tournament due to a death in the family. That left his assistant, Casey Vaughan, to lead the team through a loss to Magnet Cove in the final of the winners’ bracket, and three-straight wins, one over Morrilton and the two in the championship series.

The season was off to a rough start when tryouts were held in May and almost none of the main high school players came out for American Legion. That left coaches with a mishmash of JV players and others who had not played at all in at least a year.

“I’m going to be honest with you, I knew our guys started off rough,” said Vaughan. “I didn’t know what was ahead of us, but I knew they weren’t going to quit. They’ve always had fight in them, so I’m not surprised.”

The deciding game went into the bottom of the ninth when the Tillery brothers teamed up for the game-winning run. Gavin Tillery hit a one-out single to right field before Easton Seidl popped up into foul territory near first base for the second out.

Brian Tillery drilled a double to the wall in center field for the game-winning RBI.

“Brian is a junior player that we played on both teams,” Vaughan said. “He struggled a little bit in this tournament, but he got the biggest hit of the tournament when we needed it most.”

It was Cabot’s only extra-base hit of the game that only saw seven base hits total. Defense was sloppy on both sides and neither team did a very good job of scoring when opportunities were presented.

Magnet Cove finished with 10 base hits to go along with one hit batter and six Cabot errors, but only managed three runs. Cabot drew two free bases and reached five times on Black Cat errors.

“It was a brutal game. I’m not going to lie,” Vaughan said. “It wasn’t clean at all. But you know what, that’s how this team should’ve won the state championship. It was ugly. We should’ve won the game a long time ago. We had a lot of opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of. But what else we didn’t do, we didn’t lay over and die when we lost those opportunities. So I’m proud of them for that.”

Magnet Cove grabbed the lead in the top of the first inning after leadoff hitter Ben Slate reached on the first error of the game. Josh Smeltzer drove him in with an RBI single to left field two batters later.

Cabot pitcher Caleb Wilson held the Black Cats scoreless the next two innings and Cabot scored two in the bottom of the third to take the lead. They were also unearned runs. Logan Edmondson, the tournament MVP, and Koleton Eastham reached on back-to-back infield errors. Brandon Jones then sacrificed one run in and Jack Broyles singled to score Eastham for the 2-1 Cabot lead.

Magnet Cove’s Korey Wasson tied the game in the top of the fifth when he hit a two-out triple to the wall in center field. He scored on the play when the throw to third base went out of the field of play.

Magnet Cove took the lead in the sixth when two throwing errors left a runner in scoring position before Brandon Stovall doubled to left field.

Cabot missed a prime opportunity to score when it loaded the bases with no outs. Gavin Tillery hit a comebacker to the mound for a 1-2-3 double play, and Seidl grounded out to second base to end the threat.

But the Black Cats repaid the favor while just one out away from the championship. With two outs and two base runners from HBPs, Brian Tillery’s grounder to second base was booted into right field by Ethan Bates, allowing Dillon Thomas to score the game-tying run all the way from second base.

Wilson reached his pitch limit in the eighth with the game tied. He scattered nine hits over eight innings, giving up only one hit per inning except for the sixth. He struck out three and walked no one.

Eastham, who had caught 13 innings, took the mound in the ninth and got the win.

The two teams started the championship series on Saturday, but lightning forced it to be postponed with one out in the top of the third, and play resumed Sunday.

Cabot held a 2-1 lead when play resumed after scoring two runs in the bottom of the first. Caleb Harpole started the game with a double, and scored on a sacrifice grounder by Thomas. Edmondson later singled to score Gavin Tillery, who had walked.

It became a 3-1 advantage in the sixth when Seidl hit a one-out triple to right-center field, and scored on a wild pitch.

Magnet Cove scored on an error in the top of the seventh, but Michael Shepherd shut them down to force the “if” game.

Shepherd gave up six hits in earning the win, but none over the last four innings. He struck out four total, and they were all in order from the last out of the third to striking out the side in the fourth.

Cabot beat Morrilton 5-2 on Saturday to advance out of the losers’ bracket and into the championship series. Left-hander Geno Germer threw a complete-game, six hitter in that win.

Cabot scored four runs in the top of the second inning to take a 4-0 lead. Seidl, Tillery, Edmondson and Jones hit four-straight singles, with Jones recording two RBIs with his base hit. Eastham sacrificed another run in and Broyles got an RBI base hit.

Morrilton cut it to 4-2 with one run in the bottom of the second and another in the third. Cabot set the final margin in the top of the seventh. Edmondson singled to center field and advanced to third on an error in the same spot.

He later scored on another RBI base hit by Broyles.

The Centennial Bank team, which started the season with six-straight losses in July, finishes with a record of 17-12.

Edmondson received the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award for hitting .381 in the tournament, including going 6 for 10 with a double, three runs scored and three stolen bases in the final three games.