Friday, March 24, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> ’Rabbits to semis of CAI

Leader sports editor

When Chris Foor took over as head coach of the Lonoke baseball program, his stated goal was to turn Lonoke, not just into a perennial 4A contender, but also into a program that could compete with anyone in the state. Just 11 games into his first season, early indications are the team is headed in that direction.

The evidence of that came on Thursday, the first day of the annual spring break classic, the Central Arkansas Invitational. The Jackrabbits beat top programs from two larger classifications at Central High, opening the day with a 9-5 victory over 5A Alma, then hammering 6A Jacksonville 13-2.

“This is what we’ve been looking for,” said Foor after the nightcap win over the Titans. “We’ve had some good wins. We’ve beaten some good teams, but we haven’t been consistent. We really put it all together in these two games. We pitched pretty well. We swung the bats really well. We still made a few more mistakes in the field than I’d like to see in the first game, but we got those down tonight. I’m really excited about the direction we’re headed.”

Cade Stewart threw four innings of no-hit ball against Alma. Airedale second baseman Zach Henson finally busted the no-hitter in the fifth with a leadoff double. He later scored after back-to-back two-out errors, but Lonoke already held a 5-0 lead by that point.

The scoring started when leadoff hitter Casey Martin ripped a single to opposite field in right. He stole second base, moved to third on a wild pitch and then scored on a grounder to shortstop by Dalton Smith.

Lonoke (6-5) wasted its next two opportunities to score with base running blunders. Tallon Swint hit a leadoff double in the second inning and moved to third on a wild pitch. After Caleb Horton struck out, Keith Lingo bunted down the first base line, but Swint was very late on the jump and was thrown out at home.

Kameron Cole then led off the third inning by drawing a walk. He moved to third on a double to right by Martin. Smith then grounded to shortstop again and reached safely when Cole tried to score on the play, and was also thrown out easily.

That left runners on the corners with one, and Lonoke started its first big rally from there. Haven Hunter hit a sacrifice grounder to second to score Martin. Stewart doubled to the wall in center field to score Smith, and then scored on a base hit to right field by Swint for a 4-0 Jackrabbit lead.

After a scoreless fourth, Martin, a University of Arkansas signee, sent the first pitch of the fifth over the wall in straightaway center field to make it 5-0.

After Alma’s run in the bottom of the fifth, Lonoke posted three more in the sixth. Horton drew a leadoff walk, stole second and took third on a wild pitch.

With one out, Christian Cooper walked to put runners on the corners, and Lonoke executed a double steal to get the first run across the plate. The throw went to second base, but Alma’s middle infielders seemed unsure if it was supposed to be cut off to keep Horton at third, or let through to get Cooper at second. The result was no one catching the ball at all, which allowed Horton to trot in for the run.

Martin then reached on an error at third base, and Smith doubled to center field to make the score 8-1.

Stewart did not return to the mound in the sixth, and Alma scored three runs. But Stewart did leadoff the seventh with his second shot to the center field wall, and later scored on a single by Cole.

Alma scored the final run of the game off Martin in the seventh, but did it without a hit. After a leadoff walk, a passed ball and an error set the final margin.

That set up a second-round game against Jacksonville, who had beaten Little Rock Central 7-2 earlier in the day. Lonoke’s last game before the CAI was a 7-6 loss to Central on March 16.

That was not evident in this match. Jacksonville scored first in the top of the first inning, and Lonoke answered in the bottom half. Hunter did not give up a hit the rest of his time on the mound, while he and his teammates posted back-to-back six spots in the second and third innings to win in dominant fashion.

The tournament was played with a “10 after four” mercy rule instead of the typical “10 after five” rule in order to stay on schedule, so the game only lasted through the middle of the fourth inning. Despite just three at-bats, Lonoke piled up 12 base hits.

Martin had two doubles and was intentionally walked once. He finished the day going 6 for 7 with three doubles, a home run and scored seven runs.

Stewart went 4 for 6 with two doubles, four RBIs and scored three times.

The tournament wraps up today at Lamar Porter Field in Little Rock.