Friday, June 02, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Jr. wins three

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Junior American Legion team picked up three more wins on Tuesday and Thursday, running its record to 5-1 early in the season.

On Tuesday, the Gwatney Chevrolet squad swept Vilonia in a home-opening doubleheader. On Thursday, it won a strange game over the Cabot A team 6-5 in the Jacksonville Junior Invitational at Dupree Park.

The Chevy Boys jumped ahead 4-0 in the bottom of the first inning on Thursday, indicating a possible duplicate of its 21-8 win over the same team last week in the Sheridan tournament. But that wasn’t to happen on Thursday.

The Centennial Bank squad tightened up on defense and took advantage of some Jacksonville mistakes to get back into the game.

Gwatney won it in the bottom of the last inning after a series of odd occurrences. With the score tied 5-5, Ethan Gray and Coleton McGee drew back-to-back walks, and moved into scoring position on a wild pitch.

Back at the top of the order with runners at second and third and no outs, Gwatney almost didn’t pull it off. Leadoff hitter Robert Johnson failed twice to bunt, then hit one back to pitcher Austin Calhoun. He checked the runner at third and got the out at first.

Cabot coach Steven Moore then called for an intentional walk of Payton Williams, but Williams reached for a high, outside pitch and hit a weak grounder back to Calhoun for the second fruitless out. Cabot pitched to Bryce Overman. He first hit a pop fly into foul territory down the left field line, but it was dropped, giving Jacksonville new life.

Overman then hit a third-straight ball back to Calhoun. This time the pitcher had to make a stretching stab to make the stop, and instead of going to first, he went home with the throw and threw it away, allowing Gray to score the winning run.

Despite the loss, Moore was pleased with how much better his team played than in the first meeting with Jacksonville.

“They kept battling and that’s what you want to see,” said Moore. “We played much better than we did last week against them, and they’ll keep getting better.”

Jacksonville sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning, starting with Johnson, who drew a leadoff walk. Williams hit a hard grounder to third base that was mishandled. With one out, Caleb Anderson singled to drive in a run, and Jaylon McGee walked to load the bases. Ryan Ready then walked to drive in a run, and Gray singled for an RBI that made it 4-0.

Jacksonville starting pitcher Jacob McCaa struck out three batters in the top of the second, but the first one scored. Ethan Hance swung at a wild pitch for strike three, then reached base when he beat the throw to first. He stole second base, moved to third on a 4-3 sac grounder by Reid Blackwell, and scored on a passed ball.

Gwatney went down in order in the bottom of the second, and Cabot added two more runs in the top of the third. Logan Bufford hit a leadoff single, but was picked off by McCaa and tagged out on a 1-3-4-3 rundown. Blackwell and Mark Abselica then drew back-to-back walks, prompting a pitching change.

Leadoff hitter Zach Eveleth then doubled off Clay Burrows to drive in one run, and Braylen Moore scored Abselica with a sacrifice grounder that made the score 4-3.

Jacksonville’s fifth run came in the bottom half of the same inning. Ready hit a one-out single and stole second base. Justin Dennis was hit by a pitch and Gray walked to load the bases. With two outs, Johnson drew an RBI walk that made it 5-3.

Cabot scored twice in the top of the fifth as time was running out on the tournament’s two-hour time limit. Coy Lovercheck led off for Cabot and reached on an error by Ready in left field. Evan McCoy then singled before Burrows balked the runners to second and third with no outs.

Burrows then struck out Ethan Hance, but that was also on a strike-three wild pitch. Lovercheck stayed put at first after the pitch hit the backstop, but he scored when catcher Alex Moss threw wild to first base, leaving everyone safe and the score 5-4.

Gray took the mound for Jacksonville, and struck out the next two batters, but not before one more wild pitch allowed the game-tying run.

In Tuesday’s doubleheader with Vilonia, Jacksonville won by scores of 7-5 and 15-2.

In game one, Jacksonville got three runs in the second inning on four walks and two base hits. They got four more in the last inning on three base hits and two walks. Williams and Burrows each went 1 for 1 and walked twice. Jaylon McGee and Justin Dennis had the other two base hits.

After walking six and hitting another in game one, Vilonia’s pitching got even wilder in game two. The first two batters, Coleton McGee and Williams, were hit by pitches.

Overman singled for an RBI, but there would be six more wild pitches throughout the inning as those three all came around to score. Ironically, the Vilonia pitcher also struck out the side in that inning.

Gwatney added three more runs in the second inning on one base hit and four more walks. The game ended in the middle of the fourth after Jacksonville added nine more runs on five walks, three hit batters, two base hits and an error in the bottom of the third.

Gwatney finished with five base hits, nine walks and five hit batters. Coleton McGee led the way, going 2 for 2 with three runs scored. Dennis got the win on the mound, giving up one hit and no runs over three innings of work, with four strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter.