Friday, March 31, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Mound dominance leads to Cabot win

A brilliant pitching performance kept Conway scoreless until the Cabot Panthers could finally push a run across the plate in the eighth inning Tuesday at Brian Wade Conrade Field.
Statistically the game shouldn’t have been so close. Cabot totaled 11 hits to just two for the Wampus Cats (8-4, 1-2), but the Panthers never could get a hit with runners in scoring position.

Cabot pitcher Logan Gilbertson, however, never let Conway sniff a run. He threw all eight innings, throwing just 91 pitches while striking out six and walking one. Conway never got a runner to second base.

Meanwhile, Cabot had runners in scoring position several times. The Panthers got their leadoff hitter on base in four separate innings. They got two runners in scoring position with one out in the fourth, and loaded the bases with two outs that same inning.

In the sixth, Cabot’s first two batters singled, and the bases were loaded with one out. But they couldn’t get a run across.

That finally changed in the eighth, though it wasn’t because of a timely hit. Cabot did get two base hits. With one out, Bobby Joe Duncan singled to right field. With two outs, Caleb Harpole singled to shallow center, putting runners at first and second.

Conway relief pitcher Cade Tucker then, literally, threw the game away. Tucker threw a wild pitch on ball two to Kyler Franks that moved both runners into scoring position. After another ball, Tucker’s ball-four pitch was also wild, allowing Duncan to score the game-ending, winning run.

Cabot coach Ronnie Goodwin reminded his team several times throughout the game to relax and enjoy the excitement. He even admonished them once in the sixth inning that they were too tight.

“Games like this are nerve-racking if you let them be,” Goodwin said.

“I was sitting there throughout the game, saying to myself that we’re winning every aspect of this game. We’re not committing errors. We’re not walking people. We’re hitting the ball. So I just tried to tell them, slow your heart down. Breathe a little bit and stay positive that something’s going to happen. If the blood pressure is getting too high in this situation, what’s it going to be in the playoffs when every game is probably like this? That’s why it comes down to the mental game. Who can stay strong mentally and who is going to cave in.

“So you try to learn to be confident. Stay in the moment and control the things we can control,” Goodwin said.

Of Conway’s three base runners, two were followed by double plays. Every shutout has at least one defensive gem. For Cabot on Tuesday, that came from center fielder Caleb Harpole in the sixth inning. Nine-hole hitter Parker Gavazzi hit a one-out single off Gilbertson. Leadoff hitter McCall Dail then smacked a hard line drive in Harpole’s direction that looked like it would drop for a base hit. But Harpole made an outstanding catch, and then fired a strike to first base that beat Gavazzi back to the bag for the 8-3, inning-ending double play.

Cabot (10-5, 3-0) is still two-projected starters away from being full strength. Harpole is playing center field in place of Razorback signee Evan Hooper, but Goodwin has been very pleased with the group that has taken the field this season.

“The next two weeks we’ll finally have everybody, but I’m really proud of the guys we’re putting out there,” Goodwin said. “Our pitching has been really good down the line. Logan Gilbertson has absolutely been big time for us, but we’ve had several that have been throwing well all year. Pitching, I know, is going to give us a chance, so it’s making sure we execute; just stay the course, stay positive and good things are going to happen.”