Tuesday, March 07, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Panthers win fifth straight at Ozarks

By RAY BENTONLeader sports editor 

A seven-run second inning was all the Cabot baseball team needed, but it kept going anyway, hammering Bentonville 13-3 at the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville on Monday.

It was Cabot’s fifth-straight win after a season-opening loss, and runs the Panther’s record to 5-1.

The Tigers were playing their first game of the season, but Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin believes beating Bentonville is always a good thing.

“They’ve kind of created a monster with that program,” said Goodwin. “Anytime you beat Bentonville it’s a pretty good win. Now are they what they were last year, probably not. They had three Division I pitchers. But they have one of the best coaches in the state and a great program. So it’s always a quality win against a team like that.”

The Panthers belted 10 base hits. Four went for extra bases including home runs by Logan Edmondson and Clayton Gray. Zach Morris threw the first five innings, giving up just four hits while striking out three and walking two. Brodey Schluter threw two innings of relief, giving up two hits while striking out four and walking no one.

Both teams went down in order in the first inning, but Cabot’s big second started with two walks by Dillon Thomas and Houston King. Edmondson sacrificed to move the runners up, and Caleb Harpole singled to score Thomas from third.

Connor Linton took a pitch off the body to load the bases. Kyler Franks then hit a line drive to left that scored Harpole and Linton and gave Cabot a 3-0 lead.

Bentonville tried and failed to get the lead runner on Blake McCutchen’s infield grounder, leaving everyone safe and the bases loaded. Clayton Gray then hit a sacrifice grounder that scored Linton and left Franks and McCutchen safe in scoring position.

Denver Mullins then walked, bringing Thomas back to the plate. The cleanup hitter drove a line drive, bases-clearing double to the wall in center field to put the Panthers on top 7-0.

Bentonville got one back in the bottom of the third, but Cabot added a run in the fourth on hits by McCutchen and then Mullins. Edmondson hit his two-run home run in the top of the fifth inning after King’s leadoff single to give the Panthers a 10-1 lead.

The Tigers made it 10-2 in the bottom of the fifth, but Cabot again answered right away. King hit a two-out double in the top of the sixth, and scored on an error on a line drive by Edmondson.

In the top of the seventh, McCutchen reached on an error before Gray drove one out in right field to put Cabot up 13-2.

Bentonville got a double and a single to start the bottom of the seventh, but Schluter regrouped. He got the third hitter to pop up to second base, and then struck out the next two batters to seal the win.

That victory came on the heels of Cabot winning its own season-opening tournament on Saturday. The Panthers opened pool play and the regular season last Monday with a 7-4 loss to Searcy, but bounced back with wins over Lonoke, Maumelle and Russellville to earn a rematch with the Lions in the championship game.

This time Michael Shepherd and Logan Gilbertson combined to shut out the Lions in a 7-0 victory.

Shepherd threw 5 2/3 innings, giving up just two hits while striking out seven and walking zero.

Gilbertson finished it with no hits, no walks and one strikeout.

Thomas again came through in the cleanup slot. He went 3 for 4 with a pair of doubles. Gray went 2 for 3 with two RBIs and scored two runs. Linton went 3 for 4 and scored three times.

The five-straight wins have come in spite of Cabot starting its season without four projected starters. Razorback signee Evan Hooper and projected cleanup hitter Eric Larsen have been injured.

Gilbertson and starting second baseman Bobby Joe Duncan have been in basketball. Gilbertson, a 6-foot-6 RHP and UCA signee, saw his first action against Searcy in the tournament final.

Duncan is also out with a fractured wrist suffered late in the basketball season. Goodwin has been very pleased with other players stepping up.

“We’re looking at early to mid April at getting those guys back,” Goodwin said. “But I’m very excited about the guys that have stepped in and produced. Guys have really been playing well. We talk about it all the time. You have to have at least two of the three phases of the game show up every night. We’ve been pretty good at that so far. More importantly, we’ve been able to get a lot of guys out there to see who the guys are going to be once we get to conference play. This is a really, really tough league.”