Tuesday, July 11, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney Junior team advances to final four

Leader sports editor

In Saturday’s first-round victory the Gwatney Chevrolet squad avenged a bad loss from just a week earlier when it beat Stuttgart 11-4. On a trip to Stuttgart the week before, the Ricemen had won 12-0.

Stuttgart’s pitching dominated in the 12-0 game, but that all changed when Jacksonville scored three runs in the top of the first inning on Saturday. It started with back-to-back walks by leadoff hitter Clay Burrows and Bryce Overman.

Austin Ramick then hit a one-out, RBI single to drive in the first run. It was the only base hit of the inning, but the Chevy Boys added two more runs after Alex Moss was hit by a pitch, Ryan Keady walked to drive in a run and Coleton McGee was hit to drive in another.

Stuttgart bounced back to tie thesecond inning. Ramick, who pitched well overall, briefly ran into some control trouble in the second. He issued three walks, hit a batter and gave up a double as the game became knotted at 3-3.

Stuttgart returned the favor in the top of the third. Three-straight walks by Ramick, Caleb Anderson and Moss loaded the bases with no outs. Ready was then hit by a pitch to make it 4-3.

Despite still having the bases loaded with no outs, Jacksonville scored no more runs after a pitching change saw back-to-back strikeouts followed by a line out to third base by Burrows.

Three more walks loaded the bases with one out in the top of the fourth for Jacksonville, and two wild pitches made it 6-3. It was more of the same in the top of the fifth. A hit batter and a walk started it out. With one out, Overman got an RBI single, followed by a two-RBI base hit by Jaylon McGee that put Jacksonville up 9-3.

After a scoreless sixth inning, Jacksonville made it 11-3 on a walk by Overman, an RBI double by Ramick and an E6 off the bat of Anderson. Stuttgart scored a run on two hit batters and a base hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

Jacksonville had only four hits, two by Ramick to lead the way, but drew 17 free bases on 13 walks and four hit batters.

Jacob McCaa was strong on the mound for Gwatney. Though the second inning saw three walks, a hit batter, a base hit and three earned runs, his other four innings of work were dominant. In those other innings combined, McCaa gave up only two walks, zero hit batters, one base hit and zero earned runs while striking out eight.

Ethan Gray pitched the sixth inning and Burrows pitched the seventh to close it out for Gwatney.

In Sunday’s game, Gwatney gave up five runs on one base hit in the top of the second inning and never led in a 9-6 loss to Central Arkansas Christian. After falling into the 5-0 hole, Jacksonville battled to make it close, but left 15 on base in the process.

That moved them to a Monday evening game against Vilonia, and there, Jacksonville got an outstanding performance on the mound by Bryce Overman in a 7-1 victory.

That win moved Gwatney Chevrolet into the final four, but left it still needing two more wins to qualify for state.

Overman pitched all seven innings for Jacksonville. He retired the first six and last six batters in order in the first, second, sixth and seventh innings. He gave up a total of six base hits and finished with four strikeouts and zero walks.

Jacksonville scored first in the second inning when Ready singled and scored on a double by Anderson. He then scored on a pair of passed ball for a 2-0 Gwatney lead.

Vilonia got its run on three-straight singles up the middle in the top of the third, but Jacksonville got right back in the bottom half. Overman singled and later scored on a two-out base hit by Ramick.

In the fourth inning, a two-out base hit turned into a run for Jacksonville’s Justin Dennis. His single to right field kept rolling when the Viper fielder whiffed as he tried to field the one-hop.

Dennis made it to third on that error, and then scored when Vilonia’s shortstop missed the throw into the relay throw into the infield, giving Jacksonville a 4-1 lead.

The Chevy Boys set the final margin in the bottom of the fifth with some more help from Vilonia’s defense. Burrows reached on an E4 to start the inning and Overman reached on an E6. Jaylon McGee was hit to load the bases. Ramick hit a hard line drive, but right to left field and no one advanced. Ready then took a pitch off the hip to score Burrows.

Anderson then hit a grounder to shortstop that was also flubbed, allowing Overman to score. Adonis Fuller then hit a sacrifice grounder to first base for an RBI that drove in McGee for the final run of the game.

Jacksonville played White Hall at 5 p.m. Tuesday after Leader deadlines. A win in that game meant a 7:30 p.m. date with CAC, who lost to Cabot in the winners’ bracket final.

If Jacksonville wins that game, it will qualify for the state tournament, and play Cabot at 5 p.m. today for the Zone championship.