Friday, July 14, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot seniors top Jacksonville

Leader sports editor

Cabot took advantage of a brief moment of pitching struggles from Jacksonville’s Brandon Hawkins, and got an excellent performance on the mound from Michael Shepherd to beat the Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team 3-2 Wednesday at Dupree Park.

Every run for both teams was scored in the first inning. Hawkins, who walked no one in his last outing, and has walked fewer than 10 all season, walked four in the first inning. He also gave up a leadoff single to Blake McCutchen and an RBI double to Dillon Thomas as his team fell into a 3-0 hole.

In the bottom of the first inning, Shepherd wasn’t struggling to find the strike zone, but he did struggle momentarily to keep the ball down. The result was three-straight base hits for Jacksonville. Kameron Whitmore continued his impressive season, getting a base hit to start the game for the 11th time in 17 games. Trent Toney followed with another single before Caden Sample doubled to right field to score Whitmore.

Brandon Hickingbotham made the first out with a fly ball to the wall in left field, which also scored Toney from third.

With two outs, Caleb Smith hit a hard line drive to right field, but Logan Edmondson made a running catch just before the ball landed in fair territory down the line. It proved to be a crucial play, because it would have scored the tying run.

“The defense was great tonight,” said Cabot coach Casey Vaughan. “No errors. That was big because they put it in play more than we did. Michael Shepherd was outstanding. The first three guys hit him, but he only gave up three more the rest of the game. He’s so composed, doesn’t get rattled. He wanted to go back out there in the last inning, and he had plenty left. But we just thought bringing (Bret) Brockinton in to throw his heat was the thing to do.”

Still clinging to the 3-2 lead, Brockinton pitched the seventh inning for Cabot (10-8). He got two quick groundouts to third base before walking Jayden Loving. He then struck out Jonathan Smith, a pitch after a line drive landed just foul down the right-field line.

For Jacksonville, Hawkins struck out the final two batters of the first inning, and dominated the rest of the way.

He got into a brief jam in the fifth inning when Brian Tillery hit a line-drive double to the wall in centerfield to start the inning. Thomas then singled to third base, but Tillery couldn’t advance, leaving runners at first and second with no outs.

Edmondson then hit a line drive right to Sample in right field, and Tillery, thinking it was a base hit, got doubled up at second base on the 9-4 double play. After walking Brody Schluter, Hawkins got Michael Crumbly to fly out to left field to escape the early trouble.

Jacksonville got leadoff base hits by Hickingbotham and Loving in the fourth and fifth innings, but neither advanced beyond first base.

From behind the plate, Cabot catcher Rail Gilliam picked off Hickingbotham in the fourth inning. In the fifth, an infield pop-up, a fielder’s choice and a 4-3 groundout followed Loving’s leadoff base hit.

All six of the Centennial Bank squad’s base hits came from the top three in the lineup. Thomas went 3 for 4 with two doubles. McCutchen went 2 for 4 and Tillery was 1 for 3 with a double and a walk.

Toney was the only Gwatney Chevrolet player with multiple hits, going 2 for 3 at the plate. Whitmore, Sample, and Hickingbotham went 1 for 3 while Loving went 1 for 2 with a walk.

Hawkins went all seven innings, giving up six hits and three earned runs while striking out nine and walking five.

It’s the second time this season that Cabot has struggled with Hawkins and still got a win.

After going scoreless for five innings, Cabot scored five runs after Hawkins left the mound to win 5-3. After that game, Vaughan was disappointed in his own team. On Wednesday he praised Jacksonville’s 6-foot-4 southpaw.

“That guy is just really good,” said Vaughan, who played as a junior at Arkansas State this past season. “He pitched for Valley (Mississippi Valley State) last year, and we played them. So I knew what he was capable of.”

Shepherd gave up six hits in six innings with three strikeouts and zero walks.