Friday, July 21, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Mistakes doom Gwatney in first round

By RAY BENTON Leader sports editor

CONWAY – The Gwatney Chevrolet Senior American Legion team booted, dropped and threw away its first-round state playoff game Friday at Hendrix College. Errors throughout the contest helped Russellville’s cause as the Patriots beat the Chevy Boys 11-3.

But it wasn’t just the defense that didn’t perform. Jacksonville blew two prime opportunities early, and it proved crucial.

“It was ugly,” said Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham. “We threw that one away at first base when we had the kid picked off. We dropped two routine balls in the outfield, two of them. We had double plays set up perfect, and we can’t make a throw to second base. We miss ground balls. It just wasn’t our day. That’s all you can say.”

The Chevy Boys loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the second inning. Brandon Hickingbotham reached on an E4 and Jordan Wickersham singled to left field. Caleb Smith then laid down a perfect bunt for a single to fill the bases.

But Tyson Flowers and Jayden Loving struck out before Axton Ramick hit a hard grounder to third. There, Russellville’s Michael Mullen snagged the ball as he fell into his back, and leisurely rolled over and touched third base for the final out of the inning.

Russellville scored two runs in the bottom of the second off starting pitcher Brandon Hickingbotham. Nick Hagerty and Mullen hit back-to-back, one-out singles, and Hickingbotham’s pick-off throw to first was wild, allowing Hagerty to score. Craig DeFrancisco walked to put runners on first and third, and a double steal made it 2-0.

Jacksonville’s Trent Toney and Caden Sample reached on a walk and single and moved into scoring position on a bunt by Hickingbotham, but Wickersham’s hard line drive on the next at-bat went right to shortstop Tim Scroggins to halt the rally.

Russellville added three more runs and knocked Hickingbotham off the mound in the third inning with three singles and a walk. Wickersham took over pitching duties and struck out two-straight batters to end the inning, but the Patriots started hitting him hard in the fourth.

After a fly ball to right field to start the bottom of the fourth, the top of the Russellville lineup was on point. Leadoff hitter Joel Barker singled and scored on a triple to the wall in right-center field by Jacob Sharp.

Greyson Stevens singled to score Sharp, and then Stevens scored on another triple, this one directly over Sample’s head in right field, by cleanup hitter Carter Thessing. Hagerty then hit a deep fly ball to right to score drive in Thessing and give the Patriots a 9-0 lead.

Gwatney got on the board in the sixth inning after Ian Long and Foster Rash threw Russellville off balance and kept further damage from accumulating.

Hickingbotham hit a one-out single and Wickersham reached on an E5 that put both runners in scoring position. Caleb Smith then singled to score Hickingbotham, and Flowers’ fly ball to right field scored Wickersham to make it 9-2.

The Chevy Boys got it to 9-3 in the top of the seventh with a short two-out rally. Sample singled and Hickingbotham doubled down the right-field line to score Sample all the way from third base.

Rash continued to keep Russellville from adding to the scoreboard, but Jacksonville left the bases juiced in the eighth inning as well.

Back-to-back errors in the bottom of the eighth, one at shortstop and another dropped ball in right field, allowed two runs and set the final margin.

In all, Jacksonville committed five errors to go with Russellville’s 14 base hits. The Gwatney bunch hit the ball hard throughout the game, but couldn’t find the gaps when it counted. Jacksonville had seven total base hits, with Sample and Hickingbotham getting two apiece.

Jacksonville will play last night’s late game loser by Mountain Home and Bryant at 1 p.m. today at Hendrix.