Friday, June 09, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney starts 2-0

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville senior American Legion team put together a pair of wins to start its season this week. The Gwatney Chevrolet squad beat Searcy 8-3 on Wednesday, and then hammered Stuttgart 14-0 on Thursday. Both games were at Dupree Park.

In the most recent outing, Jacksonville pitching dominated the Ricemen’s lineup, giving up just one hit, that in the fifth and final frame as the contest ended on the sportsmanship rule of 10-runs after five innings.

Starting pitcher Jordan Wickersham got two outs on two pitches in the top of the first inning before struggling momentarily with control. He walked the next three batters to load the bases before striking out Mills Bethea to end the inning.

There were no such struggles in the next two innings. He again got two quick outs in the second inning and ended the half frame with a strikeout of Patrick Pewell.

In the top of the third, leadoff hitter Mike Smith made the first solid contact, hitting a deep fly ball to right-center field, where Caden Sample made a running catch for the first out. Wickersham then fanned Keaton Coker and John Hoskyn to end that frame in short order.

Meanwhile, the Jacksonville offense was building a 9-0 lead over those first three innings. It started with a line-drive single by leadoff hitter Kameron Whitmore in the bottom of the first inning. Trent Toney then hit a ground ball to shortstop that was booted by Bethea.

Sample tried to bunt the runners up, but it went right to the mound and resulted in a 1-5 fielder’s choice. However, a passed ball on the next at-bat resulted in the same outcome, runners on second and third with one out. Toney then scored on a close play at the plate after a wild pitch.

With a 2-0 count, Brandon Hickingbotham hit a hard one-hopper back to the mound. Pitcher Mike Smith leaped and deflected the ball to between first and second base, resulting in an RBI infield single and a 2-0 Jacksonville lead.

In the bottom of the second inning, DeBoious Cobbs reached on a one-out bunt single. Whitmore and Toney then walked to load the bases before Cobbs scored on another wild pitch.

Sample then hit a two-RBI double to the fence in left field to make it 5-0. Three more walks combined with Wickersham getting his helmet knocked off by a pitch resulted in two more runs for the home team by the end of the second inning.

Whitmore walked again to start the third, but was thrown out on a 6-4 fielder’s choice by Toney. Sample and Hickingbotham got back-to-back singles, with Hickingbotham picking up his second RBI and leaving runners on the corners. Tyson Flowers hit a fly ball to deep right field to score Sample and give Jacksonville a 9-0 lead.

Jayden Loving took the mound for Jacksonville in the top of the fourth and got three-straight outs, including a strikeout to end it.

Jacksonville then added five more runs in the bottom half.

It started with three-straight singles by Wickersham, Caleb Smith and Cobbs, leaving the bases loaded with no outs. Whitmore then walked for the third-straight time to make it 10-0.

Toney did the same before Sample hit another single to right field to drive in two more runs before being thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

Hickingbotham followed with his third RBI at-bat of the game to set the final margin.

Ean Long pitched the fifth inning for Gwatney. He got two quick groundouts before issuing a walk. An error at shortstop and a base hit by Coker, Stuttgart’s first of the game, loaded the bases. Long then got Hoskyn looking to end the contest.

Sample led Jacksonville offensively, going 3 for 4 with a double and four RBIs. Hickingbotham went 3 for 3 with three RBIs.

Cobbs went 2 for 3 while Whitmore went 1 for 1 with three walks and scored three runs. Smith and Wickersham got the other two base hits for the Chevy Boys.

Wickersham gave up three walks and struck out four in his three innings of no-hit ball.

On Wednesday, Jacksonville got a great start on the mound by Brandon Hawkins, but didn’t begin to pull away from Searcy until the bottom of the fourth inning.

Hawkins struck out the side in just 11 pitches to start the game. He gave up a base hit in the second, but got two more strikeouts. An error put one on in the third, but Hawkins fanned two more to make it seven Ks, one hit and zero walks in three innings of work.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville got a run in the bottom of the first after a leadoff double by Whitmore was followed by two walks and a sacrifice grounder by Loving. They added another run in the second when Caleb Smith reached on an E7 and scored on a sacrifice by Toney.

Searcy scored two runs in the fourth on two walks and a base hit before Hickingbotham replaced Hawkins on the mound. But Jacksonville reclaimed the lead with three in the bottom of the fourth.

Smith again reached on an error, this time at third base. With one out, Whitmore was hit by a pitch before Toney walked and Sample singled to drive in two runs. Hickingbotham hit into a 4-6 fielder’s choice, but the grounder scored Toney for a 5-2 lead.

Searcy got one back in the sixth inning of a pair of singles, but Jacksonville answered with three more in the bottom of the sixth.

A hit batter and two walks were followed by a two-RBI base hit by Sample, and Toney scored on a fly ball by Hickingbotham to set the final margin.

Jacksonville will play a junior/senior doubleheader against Paragould starting at 1 p.m. today at Dupree Park, and will host Sylvan Hills starting at 6 p.m. Monday.