Tuesday, March 28, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Rabs acquit selves nicely

Leader sports editor

After advancing to the semifinals of the Central Arkansas Invitational, the Lonoke Jackrabbits lost their last two games of the event. But the 4A team isn’t down in how it played against 7A power Catholic High, 10-4, and defending tournament champion Conway, another 7A team, 5-2.

Against Catholic on Friday, the Jackrabbits were up 4-1 after three innings, but gave up two in the fourth, five in the fifth and two more in the sixth before rain ended the night early.

On Saturday in the third-place game, Lonoke led 2-1 after two innings, but the Wampus Cats posted three in the third and one in the fourth, and that’s how things stayed the rest of the way.

First-year Lonoke coach Chris Foor, a longtime assistant at perennial power Sylvan Hills, believes his team is headed in the right direction.

“We approached this tournament with the idea of going all out to win those first two games, and we accomplished that,” said Foor. “We wanted to save our pitching these last two because we’ve got a conference doubleheader coming on Tuesday. But I still think we competed well. I think we showed we could compete with some of the top 7A teams in the state. We want to build this thing into a program that can do that year in and year out.”

Lonoke (6-7) got on the board in the second inning against Catholic on Friday. Caleb Horton hit into a fielder’s choice that got Keith Lingo thrown out at second for the second out of the inning. Christian Cooper walked and both runners stole a base.

Kameron Cole then singled to drive in one run, and an error at third base off the bat of Casey Martin scored another for a 2-0 Lonoke lead.

That became 3-0 in the top of the third, but Lonoke had an opportunity for more. Haven Hunter, Cade Stewart, Tallon Swint and Lingo hit four-straight singles to start the inning, but one run was all the team could muster from the phenomenal start.

Catholic got one back in the bottom of the third when nine-hole hitter Eric Moll hit a solo home run to start the inning. Lonoke pitcher Ryan Truelove got the next three batters out in order to preserve the Jackrabbit lead.

Cole got another base hit to start the fourth inning, and scored on a double by Martin for a 4-1 Lonoke lead.

Catholic pulled to within one run with a one-out rally in the bottom of the fourth. Luke Wewers doubled to right, Noah Bray tripled for the RBI, and William Plafcan singled to score Bray to make it 4-3.

Catholic (8-4) got another solo home run to start a five-run fifth inning. Leadoff hitter Cameron Tissue sent the ball out to left field. Ethan Fowler and Evan Hiatt hit back-to-back singles and Cody Hogg was hit to load the bases. Seth Van Dover popped up to shallow center field for the first out, but Truelove hit Bray to drive in another run. Plafcan popped up to shortstop for out number two, and a base hit by Blake Burney drove in two more runs. The final run scored on a passed ball to put Catholic up 8-4.

Tissue, Fowler and Hiatt got three consecutive base hits off relief pitcher Noah Mulligan for the final two runs of the game in the sixth inning.

Lonoke was the home team against Conway, and the Wampus Cats took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks to a mental error by Stewart at first base. Leadoff hitter Parker Gavazzi bunted right back to pitcher Hunter Kyzer, who fielded the ball easily was ready to throw to first in plenty of time for the out, but Stewart was a no show at first base until it was too late to get the speedy leadoff hitter.

Gavazzi then stole second base and reached third on a sacrifice grounder by Kolby Reck. Another sac grounder to second scored Gavazzi.

The lead didn’t last long. Martin slammed a home run over the fence in left field to tie it up with no outs in the bottom of the first. Dalton Smith then doubled to right. He moved to third on a grounder by Haven Hunter, and scored on a grounder by Stewart to put the Jackrabbits in front.

That was it for Lonoke’s offense. Conway pitcher James Hicks gave up a pair of two-out hits in the third inning before snagging a hard comebacker by Swint to end the inning. Hicks was replaced in the fourth by Jackson Hull, and Hull threw four innings of no-hit relief to keep the Jackrabbits at bay.

Horton walked with one out in the fourth, and Smith reached on an error at first base with one out in the fifth, and those were Lonoke’s only two base runners over the final four innings.

Conway (8-3) scored three runs on just one hit in the top of the third, and that was just supposed to be a sacrifice bunt, but Gavazzi placed the bunt perfectly and used his speed to reach base after McCall Dail was hit to start the inning.

A 3-2 fielder’s choice failed to get Gavazzi at the plate. Cade Tucker walked and an error in left field led to two more runs.

Lonoke’s final run came in the fourth inning, and without a base hit. Eli Davis and Dail were consecutively hit to start the inning, and then advanced on a balk. Gavazzi was finally thrown out on his third infield grounder of the game, but recorded the RBI with the sacrifice to shortstop that set the final margin.

Catholic, the tournament host, went on to win the 16-team tournament, beating Watson Chapel 5-0 in the championship game on Saturday.