Friday, April 14, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot keeps finding wins

Leader sports editor

In a game of clutch pitching and squandered opportunities for both teams, the Cabot baseball team once again found a way to win. The Panthers finally did something in the 10th inning that neither team could do in several previous ones at Burns Park Tuesday, get the clutch base hit with runners in scoring position. That resulted in a 6-4 victory over North Little Rock, which completed a sweep of the first 7A-Central round robin and a 7-0-conference mark.

Junior Dillon Thomas stepped to the plate with two outs in the top of the 10th and the bases loaded. It was the last of several similar situations for both teams since the score was tied 4-4 in the fifth inning. This time, however, Thomas smacked a single to left-center field to score Blake McCutchen and Clayton Gray.

Ty Cyr, who was catcher Denver Mullins’ courtesy runner, was thrown out trying to sneak into third after the throw to the plate, but the damage was done.

Cabot relief pitcher Michael Shepherd had been dominant since entering the game in the seventh inning, and the bottom of the 10th was no different. After Drew Menard reached on a throwing error by Thomas to start the inning, Shepherd got Dezmond Cordova to pop up, then struck out Weston McGhee and Zach Freeman to earn the win on the mound.

Four of Cabot’s seven league wins have been by one run, and Tuesday’s game was the fourth to go extra innings against a very strong league. Coach Ronnie Goodwin doesn’t let that go unnoticed.

“One-run games, win or lose, make you better,” said Goodwin. “Games like this make you better, and the fact that we’re finding ways to win those games is encouraging. But at the same time, in a league like this, as fast as you get to 7-0, you can go 0-7. So we don’t want to take anything for granted. That’s a very good baseball team, and we have a ton of respect for those guys.”

Ace right-hander Logan Gilbertson started for the Panthers, and for the first time this year, fell behind early. It was yet another unfamiliar situation for Cabot to be in, and another one in which the team persevered.

North Little Rock scored two runs on just one hit in the bottom of the first inning. Gilbertson had walked one, hit one and Nick Butler reached on an error to load the bases. Chance Harger then doubled to right field to put the home team up 2-1.

Cabot scored in the top of the first on a walk, an error and back-to-back singles by Thomas and Houston King.

“It wasn’t Logan’s best night, but he wasn’t bad by any stretch,” Goodwin said. “I was going to take him out in the sixth, but I still had the confidence in him to where, when he told me he wanted him, I just said, OK then. He’s yours. And he got him.”

The sixth inning was another one the Charging Wildcats look back on with regret. They had the bases loaded with one out when Chase Freeman stepped to the plate. He whiffed a bunt attempt on a squeeze play that got Menard caught in a rundown and tagged out by the pitcher. Gilbertson then fanned Chase Freeman to get out of the jam and end his night.

With the help of another Cabot error, the Wildcats loaded the bases again in the bottom of the seventh with one out against Shepherd. Menard grounded into a 5-2 fielder’s choice. Cordova then hit a hard line drive to left-center field, but the fleet-footed Evan Hooper got under it with no trouble for the final out.

Shepherd sat the Wildcats down in order in the eighth inning. They got their leadoff hitter on base via error in the ninth and 10th innings, but Shepherd remained in charge and fought off any real threat.

Cabot (15-5 overall) grabbed the lead in the top of the second inning. Kyler Franks hit a one-out single before Blake McCutchen tripled to right field for the RBI. He then scored on a sac fly by Gray for the 3-2 advantage.

The Wildcats (13-6, 5-2) got it right back in the bottom of the third with two runs, but a stellar defensive play by Franks kept it from being worse. NLR got a single by Chase Freeman and back-to-back doubles by Butler and Owen Stuckey for a 4-3 lead and no outs. Gilbertson then hit Chance Harger and the runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Maloch.

Menard grounded between second and third, where Franks made a running stop, then made a perfectly placed throw to the plate, and it had to be perfect2= to get the 4-2 fielder’s choice and save another run. Cordova then grounded back to Gilbertson for the final out.

Cabot tied the game in the top of the fifth with singles by Thomas and Duncan, and an RBI groundout by Caleb Harpole.

Cabot finished with 12 base hits to eight for the Wildcats. Thomas went 3 for 6 with three RBIs. Gray went 2 for 4 while McCutchen and Duncan each went 2 for 5. No Wildcat had more than one hit.

Gilbertson got the no decision after pitching six innings and leaving with the score tied. He gave up seven hits, four runs, three earned, with five strikeouts, three walks and one hit batter.

Shepherd got the win for his four innings of relief. He gave up one hit and zero runs on five strikeouts and one walk.

The perfect league mark doesn’t mean Goodwin doesn’t see things his team should do better than it did on Tuesday.

“The first thing you notice is I think we left a small village of people on base,” Goodwin said. “You’d like to see that improve. But all four pitchers made some clutch pitches and got out of some bad situations, and that’s what good pitchers do. We were fortunate enough to be the team to get the key hit first.”

The two teams combined to leave 25 runners on base. Cabot left 13 and NLR 12.

The win gives the Panthers a two-game lead over NLR and Conway, who each stand at 5-2 in conference play.