Tuesday, August 01, 2017

SPORTS STORY >> Championship streak can’t reach three

 Leader sports editor

After winning the 2016 American Legion AA state title, and then the 2017 Class 7A high school championship, Cabot’s 2017 American Legion baseball season came to an end Friday in the semifinals of the Senior division state tournament.

The Centennial Bank squad dropped a 6-2 decision to Fort Smith-Kerwins at the University of Central Arkansas.

Fort Smith had just played a 13-12 marathon against Paragould in order to advance to the Cabot game, but managed to save ace hurler Seth Key for Cabot.

Facing a stout arm, combined with Cabot’s propensity to start slow, put the Centennial Bank squad in a hole from which it couldn’t climb out.

“I was surprised to see that good of an arm after a game like they played just previous to our game,” said Cabot coach Casey Vaughan. “But I still think we should have won that game. We just came out flat. We made some senseless errors, just lack-of-effort plays that I was disappointed in. We looked up in about the seventh inning and realized our season was about to be over, and we finally started putting together some good at-bats and playing solid defense. But by then it was too late.”

Cabot had a similar start in its previous game against Little Rock, but a two-hour weather delay allowed the team to regroup and dominate after the restart.

“We got lucky against Little Rock because that break allowed us to refocus,” Vaughan said. “But a team can’t count on that, and we didn’t get it together until very late in this one.”

Fort Smith scored twice in the bottom of the first inning, but could have scored a lot more if not for a spectacular defensive play by shortstop Blake McCutchen. The first four batters reached base.

The first two batters singled before a hit batter loaded the bases and a walk drove in one run. With the bases loaded, cleanup hitter Garrett Carter grounded to shortstop, where McCutchen applied to tag to Ryan Daggs as he head for third, and then threw out Brock Thibodeaux at home for the 6-2 double play.

Max Frazier then singled to drive in Cody Smith before Cabot pitcher Brett Brockinton struck out Daniel Demondesert for the final out.

Cabot went three up, three down the first two innings, and Kerwins added a run to its lead in the bottom of the second. Jake Melton led off with a single to center field and moved to second base on a passed ball. Leadoff hitter Kinner Brasher then doubled to the wall in left field to drive in the run.

Neither team scored in the third or fourth inning, and Fort Smith made it 4-0 in the bottom of the fifth with the help of two Cabot errors.

The Centennial Bank squad finally got a run in the top of the sixth inning. Dillon Thomas reached on an error at third base to start the inning.

He was still standing at first base with two outs, but moved to second on a single by Brian Tillery. Brockinton then singled to right-center field to score Thomas, but the inning ended when Tillery was thrown out on a 9-4-5 relay trying to reach third base.

Fort Smith got that run back in the bottom half of the frame. Ryan Reeves led off with a single to right and was thrown out on a 1-6 fielder’s choice by Brasher when he attempted a sacrifice bunt. Brasher then scored on an error after Thibodeaux singled to right field.

Cabot got two on with one out in the seventh, but failed to produce any runs. Logan Edmondson then doubled with one out in the top of the eighth, but was caught stealing on a Brockinton walk that would’ve put two on base.

Fort smith added it’s final run in the bottom of the eighth inning when Jake Melton singled and stole second base, and then scored on a single to right by Brasher.

Cabot (14-12) mustered a brief rally in the ninth. Michael Crumbly hit a one-out double to left field and scored on single to right by McCutchen with two outs. Thomas then walked, but Caleb Harpole’s comeback to the mound was corralled by relief pitcher Blake Pschier for the final out.

Cabot only managed two runs despite 15 base runners over the course of the game. The Centennial Bank squad had 10 base hits and four walks to go with one Fort Smith error.

Kerwins had 12 base hits, two walks, two hits batters and benefited from four Cabot errors.

McCutchen, Tillery and Crumbly had two base hits apiece to lead Cabot. Crumbly added a walk to go 2 for 3 with a double. Tillery was 2 for 4 at the plate and McCutchen 2 for 5. Harpole, Edmondson, Brockinton and Rail Gilliam each had one base hit.

Cabot’s team was made up mostly of players from the 2017 Class 7A high school state championship team, with one key exception being that team’s staff ace Logan Gilbertson.

Vaughan, though, was very proud of the pitching staff this season.

“I’m so proud of my pitchers,” Vaughan said. “Michael Shepherd I can speak very highly of. He’s a great young man and he’s poised to have a great future. Caleb Wilson is my guy. He’s an awesome kid with great leadership. Brockinton, too. That dude always gave me his best and he’s a competitor. He’d tell me to go back to the dugout sometimes when I’d walk out to take the ball from him. And I commend that. You need fighters and grinders on your team and he was one.”

Brody Schluter is another guy I wanted to let throw more pitches because he gets outs too.”

Vaughan, who will be a junior for the Arkansas State University baseball team when school resumes, didn’t reserve his praise just for pitchers.

“Caleb Harpole is not as experienced as a lot of the others, but my idea of a leader doesn’t have to mean a senior. That kid works his butt off. And even Easton Seidl. He had to report to UAM for his freshman year of football and wasn’t with us later on, but was a leader in the dugout and by example. He’d call out guys that weren’t giving it there all.

Vaughan didn’t expect to be the head coach this year, but a series of family and health issues kept longtime head coach Chris Gross away from the field this season. Vaughan plans to take a stab at professional baseball if the opportunity presents itself after college, but also has long-term goals of being a coach, and felt this summer was a productive experience.

“I told them and I tell the parents, too, these guys taught me,” Vaughan said. “The main thing is I hope I had a positive impact on them. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever coached as far as ability, and I hope they learned from me about giving it your all every single out, because that’s who I am as a player.”

Fort Smith lost on Saturday to Bryant in the final of the losers’ bracket. The Black Sox then went on to beat Texarkana twice to win the state championships.