Saturday, May 11, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Devils’ bats silent in loss to Harrison

Leader sports editor

NETTLETON – The Jacksonville Red Devils knew they were up against a Division I pitcher and the odds on favorite to win the class 5A state title, but it didn’t expect to get no-hit, commit six errors and lose 9-0. But that’s what happened Thursday evening in Nettleton, as the West conference No. 1 seed Harrison hammered the Red Devils in the first round of the class 5A state baseball tournament.

Jacksonville ace pitcher Derek St. Clair started very well, getting three upand three down in the first inning, but began to struggle to keep his pitches down, and the hard-hitting Goblins gobbled up the waist-high strikes.

Jacksonville’s defense didn’t help their struggling hurler. Only four of Harrison’s runs were earned, the rest were the result of the Red Devils’ errors.

The Goblins got just four hits off St. Clair during his three innings on the mound, but they were all timely hits.

After the quick first inning, St. Clair started the second inning by hitting the first two batters. Harrison’s Hunter Marshall then reached on a bunt single that left the bases loaded though the ball had yet to get past the pitcher’s mound.

Seven-hole hitter Logan Murray then doubled to right field to score two runs. Cooper King then popped up behind second base, but shortstop Blake Perry dropped it, allowing another run to score and leaving a runner at third base.

Leadoff hitter Jenner Jones then drove a fly ball to centerfield that was caught by Courtland McDonald, but the shot was deep enough to score the runner.

Nathan Cane then hit a swinging bunt down the third base line. St. Clair fielded it, but his throw to first was high, allowing Murray to score and giving Harrison a 4-0 lead.

With one out in the third inning, Harrison five-hole hitter Bryce Weidrick drilled a shot over the fence in left field to make it 5-0. Jacksonville second baseman Ryan Mallison them committed an error to put a runner on base.

That’s when Logan Murray sent another one out to left field that made it 7-0. Jones led off the fourth inning with a single off Perry, who took over for St. Clair. After a sacrifice bunt by Cane, a throwing error by Kaleb Reeves at third base left everyone safe. That set up a sacrifice fly to centerfield by Huskey to make it 8-0.

The Goblins’ final run came in the bottom of the sixth and was aided by two more errors. Jones reached on an error at shortstop by St. Clair. Two batters later, starting pitcher Daltan Lovell reached on another error by Reeves. Two batters after that with two outs, Weidrick singled to score Jones and set the final margin.

Jacksonville had just three base runners the entire game. Perry, Reeves and Greg Jones each drew walks.

The Red Devils weren’t overwhelmed by Lovell, who has signed to play college baseball at Arkansas State University, only striking out five times. But Lovell and two relievers held the Devils hitless through seven innings.

Jacksonville finishes the season with a 12-15 record.

Other first-round matchups saw South four seed Magnolia upset East champion Greene County Tech 3-2 in nine innings. Little Rock Christian Academy slammed Greenbrier 9-1.

Defending state champion White Hall shut out Beebe 6-0. Sylvan Hills lost 4-3 in dramatic fashion to Vilonia. Wynne toppled South champion Watson Chapel 11-6 in another 4 over 1 upset. South three seed Hot Springs Lakeside upset tournament host and East No. 2 Nettleton 6-4, and Pulaski Academy closed the first round with a 13-4 win over Alma.

SPORTS STORY >> Sylvan Hills girls come back for win

Leader sportswriter

HOPE – Trailing by one run entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Sylvan Hills responded with three unanswered runs to end Morrilton’s season with a 10-8 nail-biting win in the first round of the class 5A state softball tournament on Thursday.

“I can finally breathe,” said Lady Bears coach Justine Gladden after the game. “I was stressed, nervous, because they’re a good hitting team. I went up to them and said ‘What are we going to do? They went up 8-7. What are we going to do now?’ And they all said ‘we’re going to hit.’ I said ‘all right.’”

The Lady Bears (24-6) also took advantage of some costly errors and miscues by Morrilton in the sixth inning. Tyra Williams, who was the winning pitcher, scored the tying run on a passed ball at the plate to knot the score up at 8-8.

Ashley Broadway advanced to third base on the passed ball, and scored shortly after on another passed ball, which gave the Lady Bears a 9-8 lead. Callie Cavender scored the final run of the game after Jeana Canady reached base on an E6. Cavender walked to start the inning, and advanced to second and third base on the previous passed balls that resulted in the tying and go-ahead runs.

Morrilton never threatened in the final inning as Williams retired the side to advance Sylvan Hills to the second round. The game went back and forth, and the wet conditions made things tough early for Lady Bears’ starting pitcher Michelle Sorensen.

Sorensen, a junior, had some control problems in her short time on the mound. The inability to get a solid grip on the ball led to six walks in her one and one third innings of work. Morrilton capitalized in the first inning as two-hole hitter Lauren Priest hit a two-run home run to give the Devil Dogs a quick 2-0 lead.

Williams took over pitching duties in the second inning, but Morrilton was able to push its lead to 3-0 before Sylvan Hills put together a four-run inning its next at bat. Taylor Yoeman drove in the first run for the Lady Bears with a base hit.

Broadway scored after starting the inning with a single to the left-field gap. Yoeman and Cavender scored runs two and three on an RBI-single by leadoff hitter Brittney Hubbird. Jordie Flippo reached on an E5 two-batters later and Hubbird scored on the play to put Sylvan Hills ahead 4-3.

“Tyra came in and threw a heck of a game,” Gladden said. “I just told them that you have to hit. We’ve talked about it all year long. If you don’t hit, you don’t win.”

Canady added another run to the Lady Bears’ side in the third inning with a solo home run to left field. Morrilton cut the deficit to 5-4 in the top of the fourth with an RBI-single to the right-field gap by leadoff hitter Shayla Hawkins.

Broadway and Canady drove in runs six and seven for Sylvan Hills in the fifth inning to push its lead to 7-4, but Morrilton responded its next at bat with four runs to take an 8-7 lead after five and a half innings of play.

Sylvan Hills, the No. 1 seed from the Central, played the No. 3 seed from the East, Paragould, on Friday in the quarterfinal round of the class 5A state tournament after deadlines. Look for details of that game in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Badgers pound Bobcats in first round

Leader sportswriter

HOPE – The weather during Thursday’s class 5A state softball tournament opener wasn’t ideal, but the Lady Badgers still found a way to dominate the host team as they beat the Ladycats 11-1 in six innings.

The wet conditions led to a rough start for Beebe standout pitcher Ellie Reaves as a bunt single and two walks led to a bases-loaded situation for Hope in the top of the first inning with just one out. Reaves, however, got out of the jam with a force out at home and a strikeout, and the momentum quickly shifted in Beebe’s favor.

“We put the ball in play and we left a few runs out there actually,” said Lady Badgers coach Eric Chambers. “When we started the ball game it started raining quite a bit and Ellie didn’t have much control of the ball. They got the bases loaded there and we got a big out with a force play at home. They score there and there’s no telling what would’ve happened.”

Leadoff hitter Madelyn Poe singled for Beebe in the bottom of the first and scored three-batters later on a ground ball to third base by cleanup hitter Mackenzie Bingham to give the Lady Badgers a 1-0 lead.

Hope (10-17) tied the game at one apiece in the top of the third, but Beebe (24-4) responded in the bottom part of the inning with four runs on a two-out rally to take a comfortable 5-1 lead. The Lady Badgers added another two-out run in the fifth with a solo home run to center field by Megan Davlin.

Reaves and the Lady Badger defense kept Hope off the scoreboard once again in the top of the sixth, and Beebe responded its next at bat with its most impressive inning at the plate. Calah Hill, Brittany Gentry and Bingham all started the inning with singles, and Courtney Shepard drove in Hill the next at bat with the team’s fourth-consecutive single.

Davlin followed with another hard-hit shot, this one off the fence in straightaway center field that was good for a double. Gentry and Bingham scored on the play to put Beebe up 9-1. Shepard scored the 10th run for the Lady Badgers and freshman Sydney Smith drove in Davlin with a single to right field, which set the final score.

Despite the wet conditions, Reaves allowed just one run on four hits. She gave up three walks, two of which came in the first inning, and she finished the game with eight strikeouts.

“She really didn’t get to spin the ball a whole lot today because of the weather,” Chambers said. “But, you know, we’re a young team and to come out here and beat somebody like that at their place 11-1, it’s a big win for us.”

As a team, the Lady Badgers had one of their better games offensively. Poe, Hill, Gentry, Bingham, Shepard, Davlin and Reaves all had multiple base hits in the game, while freshmen Baylee Halford and Smith each had a hit.

The Lady Badgers, the No. 1 seed from the East, played Vilonia, the No. 2 seed from the West in the second round of the class 5A state tournament on Friday after deadlines. Look for details for the rest of Beebe’s state tournament games in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

SPORTS STORY >> Big sixth lifts Cabot to victory

Leader sports editor

A three-run home run gave them the lead, and a huge sixth inning sealed the deal for the Lady Panthers, as they hammered Van Buren 11-1 in the first round of the class 7A softball tournament at Springdale High School.

The fourth-seeded Cabot squad scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning, added one more in the second and fourth, then exploded for six in the sixth to end the game on the sportsmanship rule.

The Lady Panthers, who start just one senior and one junior, and the rest of are freshmen and sophomores, entered the tournament with just a .500 record, but Cabot coach Chris Cope said he thought his team was capable of performing well.

“We felt like we had a good chance coming in,” Cope said. “Games with fours vs. fives are usually pretty even. I thought if we played like we’re capable of, we could win the game. But I was a little surprised that we hit the ball that well.”

The first sign of good things to come came in the first inning when freshmen infielder Heather Hill drilled one over the fence in left field with two runners on base. Taylor Anderson had walked and Kaitlyn Thompson had singled to set up Hill’s dinger. The shot gave Cabot a 3-1 lead after falling behind in the opening half inning.

The Lady Pointers took the lead with two base hits and two walks. After the two hits and one walk, Thompson walked a run in. The right-handed sophomore would only allow two more hits the rest of the game and walked no one else. She also finished with five strikeouts.

“She had a rough start but she came back and played a great game for us,” Cope said of his ace hurler. “Not only did she pitch great, she had good at bats for us too.”

Thompson finished the game 2 for 3 with a walk. She also got an RBI in the Lady Panthers’ game-ending rally.

Everyone in the starting lineup got at least one hit, with Anderson going 3 for 5 to lead the way.

“We just did a great job at the plate,” Cope said. “We got several two-out hits, especially in the last inning. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew if we hit it well it would give us a really good chance. Our pitching and defense has been pretty good all year, and that continued tonight.”

Erin Eckert stole the show with the glove, snagging two well-hit balls in left field that may have dropped for base hits against other teams.

“She made two outstanding catches for us out there that frankly, saved base hits,” Cope said. “She played extremely well, and Taylor, my only senior starter, did a great job for us behind the plate. She always does.”

The win lifts Cabot to 14-13 on the season.

Two games did not finish due to sudden rain. Springdale Har-Ber was beating Fort Smith Northside 5-0 in the second inning while Conway and Rogers Heritage were tied at zero in the fourth when those games were stopped. Bentonville beat Mount St. Mary’s 10-0 in the other first-round game.

SPORTS STORY >> NLR gets biggest upset in 7A state

Leader sportswriter

Considered the Cinderella story by some, but for the North Little Rock Lady Wildcats, it was vindication of a complete-season turnaround as they knocked off Springdale Har-Ber 1-0 in the first round of the 7A state tournament at Cabot on Thursday.

The magic lasted just one round, as Southside ended NLR’s season with a 4-0 win on Friday, but the first round win proved a lot.

The Lady Wildcats (6-6-1) did not even know whether or not they qualified for state until the final night of 7A Central Conference matches played out on Tuesday night. When it was all settled, they earned the No. 6 and final seed out of the Central league, which pitted them against 7A West No. 3 seed Har-Ber in a game many expected them to lose.

The two teams battled to a scoreless tie through regulation, but the Lady Wildcats finally put themselves into a scoring opportunity early in overtime when they forced the other Wildcats’ defense into an error that put senior Jordan Toler at the corner. Toler’s delivery made contact with Katie Van Pelt and ricocheted into position where Mac Harrington was able to make a play on it. Harrington, who has led the team in corner-kick scores all season, came through once again for North Little Rock in what ultimately became the only score in 100 minutes of play.

“We’ve really been improving a lot,” Lady Wildcats coach Justin Musick said. “We had a lot of close losses that were either by one point or PKs. We were the six seed, but we felt like we were evenly matched, and we were able to come away with the result.”

Har-Ber had its opportunities, but NLR senior goalkeeper Jordan Whisnant kept the goal clear with a number of strong saves. Whisnant, along with fellow seniors Van Pelt, Toler and Harrington, make up the core of the team that struggled early before coming on strong in mid April.

“They’re all seniors,” Musick said. “They’ve all been in President’s Cups, won President’s cups. They have a lot of experience they bring to the team and have been a driving factor for us. They are so good at creating opportunities.”

SPORTS STORY >> Panther ladies defeat Rogers

Leader sportswriter

Overcoming the imposing physicality of Rogers was only part of the process for Cabot in the opening round of the 7A state soccer tournament as the Lady Panthers secured a single goal to down the Lady Mounties 1-0 at Panther Stadium on Thursday.

Rogers had no shortage of big girls who were not afraid to mix it up, resulting in a number of Lady Panther players finding the turf throughout the match. The ball stayed near midfield for most of the opening half and through 15 minutes of the second half until Cabot was able to earn a corner kick. Junior Codee Park did the honors from the corner, and found sophomore Devin Patterson, who converted with a brilliant header into the right side out of reach for the Mountaineer goalkeeper.

“We came out and we knew going into the game how physical and athletic they would be,” Cabot coach Kerry Castillo said. “I think a lot of the fouls that occurred were more their girls not intentionally fouling, but just making a very athletic move that was hard to stop. They were big and strong and fast. We tried to play quickly and keep the ball moving.”

The second half appeared to be even less eventful than the first 40 minutes until the Lady Panthers finally put together a drive that pulled the Rogers defense out and forced them into kicking the ball out over the end line to give Cabot the first corner kick of the game.

“We’ve been dangerous on corner kicks all year,” Castillo said. “At halftime, I told the girls we need to put the ball in dangerous areas where their players in the back have to be soccer players and be technical. Right there where they put it out over the end line gave us a chance, and Devin Patterson, she’s a great player. She has a knack for getting lost on corner kicks, and they lost her.”

Cabot found itself significantly outsized in the midfield, particularly in the case of petite freshman centerback Kristen Oitker, who was no worse for the wear after the game despite taking some hard knocks.

“Bless her heart, she’s little bitty,” Castillo said. “And she gets tossed around a lot. But, it won us a free kick a couple of times inside of our own area. She did a great job of keeping her player in front of her.”

Castillo also noted the strong play of midfielders Maddie Rice, Tabitha Owens and Braxton Reed.

One normal standout who made limited impact for Cabot was junior Jessica Souza, but that was due to a Rogers defensive scheme devised to keep multiple defenders on her at all times.

Souza broke free for a couple of chances early in the first half, but spent the rest of the time fighting off as many as three defenders the rest of the way.

“We talked about it at halftime,” Castillo said. “I told her to get ready, that she was about to have two or three people on her, and to stay mobile. I’ll tell you what it did, by her moving, we were able to play other players behind them more easily.”

The Lady Panthers faced 7A West No. 2 seed Bryant in the quarterfinal round Friday. Look for details of the rest of the tournament in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.

Friday, May 10, 2013

TOP STORY >> C-130 squadron first to perform new airdrop method

451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – The 772nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron executed the first combat extracted container delivery system airdrop the morning of April 29, successfully demonstrating the increased accuracy that this new technology provides.

The new airdrop method, known by the shorthand XCDS, is designed to pull the bundles out of the aircraft faster rate than the current airdrop process, which improves the overall accuracy of the drop itself.

“Normally a bundle falls out of the aircraft due to gravity, with the speed mostly dependent on the deck angle of the aircraft,” said Capt. Raeanna Elms with the 772nd EAS who is deployed from Little Rock Air Force Base. “With XCDS, there is an additional parachute attached to a group of bundles, that pulls them out of the aircraft together and at a faster speed, resulting in a smaller dispersion area on the ground.”

“Our goal is to get the people on the ground what they need, where they want it,” Elms said. “Plus, since we’re trying to build a positive relationship with the local people, we want a more accurate airdrop method that reduces the risk of a stray bundle damaging their homes and crops.”

For the loadmasters working with the CDS bundles, the new method adds more complexity to the rigging inside the aircraft, said Senior Airman Marisa Powers, 772nd EAS loadmaster. Because of the added complexity, Powers and her fellow loadmaster on the mission were very thorough in their preparations.

“We needed to seriously hit the books more than usual, get in there and read everything a million times and understand,” noted Powers, who is deployed from the 143rd Airlift Wing of the Rhode Island National Guard. “My partner and I felt like we did a great job, sitting there for a solid two hours and highlighting, saying ‘this is what I feel like is important and we’ll go over it again tonight.’”

Crews with the 772nd EAS received some training at their home base before deploying.

For Powers, the training included one flight in the United States, plus ground qualification. They came here qualified, but the new procedures still had a learning curve.

“It was definitely a little more complicated of a drop,” Powers said. “Because it was the first time in theater we obviously didn’t want to mess it up, but we went line by line, sentence by sentence to double, triple check that every tie was made right, that every knot was in place.”

Powers was part of the aircrew on the first mission, and her humble nature made the airdrop sound as if it was no big deal.

“I’m just doing my job. It’s awesome that we were the first, but I was just doing my job,” she said. “All that aside, it’s the mission in the end we’re looking toward, it’s the safety of the guys on the other end receiving it. It’s all about helping the guys downrange.”

After the bundles were pulled out the back of the aircraft, a surprising sight, according to Powers, since the CDS bundles usually trickle out the back, the accuracy of the new system drop was proven.

The dispersion of the bundles on the drop zone was about two-thirds smaller, highlighting the value of the XCDS method in having the best placement for the soldiers.

TOP STORY >> Jacksonville taps new parks head

Leader staff writer

Interim Parks and Recreation Director Kevin House has been tapped to get the job permanently.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher made the announcement Wednesday. He said he had a gut feeling that House was the right person all along and that was confirmed during the interview process last week. “He really opened up during the interview process,” the mayor said, “and was clear where he wanted the department to go in the future. He’s a visionary and that’s what I want my department heads to be.”

House, 37, is married with two children, was the only parks and recreation department employee to apply for the job vacated in April with the resignation of Kristin Kennon, who left to spend more time with her young family.

He has been the assistant director for more than a year and served as interim director for about three months last year when Kennon was on maternity leave.

Besides House, five others applied for the job, including an individual from McKinney, Texas, and another from New Mexico. “It was clear that Kevin had all the requirements necessary. Plus, we like to promote within if possible,” the mayor said.

Kennon was promoted from within and so was the director she replaced, George Biggs.

House said it was great to be named the director and he is excited. He will be officially introduced to the city council Thursday and will make a presentation outlining his plans, goals and direction for the department.

House, who joined the department in 2009 as the sports coordinator, and volunteered for a number of years before that, said he is ready to keep the department moving forward. House said he would rank the department as an eight out of 10. “We just need to do some tweaking to make things even better,” he said.

TOP STORY >> Vote electrifies Sherwood

Leader staff writer

As of 5 p.m. Friday, 736 early votes had been cast in Tuesday’s special election to uphold or repeal an ordinance that renewed Sherwood’s contract with North Little Rock Electric.

Most of the voters went to the polls at the Jack Evans Senior Citizens Center at 2301 Thornhill Drive, said Melinda Allen, director of elections for the Pulaski County Election Commission.

A vote of no — against the ordinance, which was passed in November — means the city council will have to reconsider its decision to allow NLR Electric to continue servicing 7,500 Sherwood residents through 2032. Repealing the ordinance does not mean those customers will be switched to a new provider.

A vote of yes — for the ordinance — will not alter anything. Sherwood residents who have Entergy or First Electric Cooperative will not change providers either way.

Only 10 residents cast ballots at the regional building at 501 W. Markham St. in Little Rock, Allen said.

There is no weekend voting. Early voting will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at the Little Rock location. Polling places open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday are:

 Kellogg Valley Baptist Church, 9516 Bamboo Lane, for precinct 28;

 Sylvan Hills United Methodist Church, 9921 Hwy. 107, for precinct 31;

 First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge, 14322 Hwy. 107 for precincts 32 and 33;

 Church of the Nazarene, 9860 Brockington Road, for precinct 39;

 Sylvan Hills Community Church, 8019 Hwy. 107, for precinct 40;

 Jack Evans Senior Citizens Center for precinct 41;

 First Baptist Church of Sherwood, 701 Country Club Road, for precinct 42;

 Cornerstone Bible Fellowship Church, 7351 Warden Road, for precinct 43;

 Indianhead Lake Baptist Church, 8601 Indianhead Drive, for precinct 44;

 Harris Elementary School, 4424 N. Hwy. 161, for precinct 48,

 and Sherwood Youth Center, 508 Sherwood Ave., for precinct 49.

NLR Electric hosted a tele-town hall Monday after setting up a website in support of upholding the ordinance. There are unconfirmed reports that the utility’s staff has been driving its trucks around town displaying a banner concerning the election.

Readers have asked The Leader if the provider’s efforts are illegal.

Director Graham Sloan of the Arkansas Ethics Commission said a bill passed on March 11 makes it illegal to use public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure, but neutral content encouraging people to vote in an election is OK.

But, Sloan said, “I don’t think it is (in effect yet).” If he is correct, NLR Electric is not breaking the law.

Previous legislation prohibited the spending of more than $500 in public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure and the expenditure had to be reported within a certain time frame, Sloan said.

Two grassroots organizations — Facts About Customers’ Electric Services (FACES) and Citizens of Sherwood Together (COST) — formed to campaign for and against the ordinance.

COST circulated the petition calling for the election. Its members say they are concerned about the city council’s process in deciding whether NLR Electric, Entergy or First Electric received the contract.

The group supports repealing the ordinance so that negotiations can resume with more public input. It also hopes the city will hire a third-party expert to evaluate all three companies and that the providers will pay the expert’s fees.

A switch to a new provider would save the NLR Electric customers $300 to $400 a year on their bills, spokesman Don Berry has claimed. The higher rates are caused by the utility buying rather than producing the power it distributes, according to COST fliers.

The other organization has said NLR Electric’s kilowatt per hour rate is three cents higher than that of Entergy, but the larger company has nine fees added to their bills. Those make the difference a “nominal” $6 to $8, FACES spokeswoman Beverly Williams has claimed. Her group wants the ordinance to be upheld.

Another point Berry’s group has made is that the $470,000 Sherwood receives annually from the utility is a hidden tax and a kickback that comes from the higher rates NLR Electric customers pay.

FACES has argued that the $470,000 is simply revenue sharing because NLR Electric is municipally owned. While Entergy gives its profits back to stockholders and First Electric returns its profits to its members, NLR Electric transfers its profits to the general funds of the cities it services.

Williams has hosted several public meetings about the issue. Her focus has been that NLR Electric is more reliable than the other utilities and offers better service because a customer can reach a live person after regular business hours at the provider’s main service station on West Maryland Avenue.

According to FACES fliers, Entergy customers experienced three to five times more outages than NLR Electric customers in 2011. The NLR Electric customers are in the dark an average of 33 minutes compared to Entergy’s seven to 19 hours, it states.

First Electric customers were out about three times as often and their average outage was 55 to 99 minutes. Only 2010 figures were available when the flier was published, Williams said.

Also, the spokeswoman claims another provider would have to pass on to new customers a large portion of the $28 million NLR Electric may charge for its infrastructure in Sherwood. Berry’s group says that estimate is not accurate because the city’s current contract with the utility details the process by which the price must be determined.

That process includes using a third-party expert if NLR Electric and Sherwood or another provider can’t agree on a figure, which will be what the utility would have to spend if it were to rebuild the infrastructure at a depreciated rate.

The contract states that the infrastructure sold will be that which exclusively services Sherwood customers and won’t include transmission facilities or substations.

Williams has said part of $8 million of the $28 million would be for a new substation.

The contract states that NLR Electric may need to continue owning some infrastructure in Sherwood because the infrastructure services customers who do not live in the city.

Berry’s group has said all three utilities have reliability rates of 99 percent and Sherwood residents don’t have a representative on the North Little Rock City Council, which sets NLR Electric’s rates.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Kids access health care

The number of uninsured kids in Arkansas is on the decline, according to a report from Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
The annual report highlights advances and suggests improvements in kids’ health coverage.

The number of uninsured children in Arkansas has declined over the past year, now totaling only 6 percent. Thanks to ARKids First and Medicaid, the percentage of children without health insurance has dropped from 22 percent to just 6 percent over the past 16 years.

Arkansas ranks fourth in the nation at enrolling eligible children in ARKids First and Medicaid with 92.5 percent of eligible kids enrolled. Thanks to strong outreach, enrollment simplifications and policy changes, the state has fewer uninsured children than last year.

But the report warns that 6 percent uninsured rate translates to 46,000 children without coverage. The report, “Crossing the Finish Line 2012: Nearing the home stretch for covering kids and parents in Arkansas,” says some groups are disproportionately uninsured, including children in west, northwest and central Arkansas; Hispanic and Marshallese children, and adolescents age 11-18.

Anna Strong, Arkansas Advocates for Children health policy director, says the state is moving closer and closer toward AACF’s goal of making sure all children have access to quality health coverage. “Arkansas’ new ‘private option’ legislation will provide access to health coverage for about 80,000 uninsured parents in the state,” Strong says. “As parents get coverage, their children will, too. So, that’s a great achievement. We also expect to see the number of uninsured children drop thanks to the Affordable Care Act. We’re already starting to see additional benefits of the law kick in. For example, children can no longer be denied coverage for having a pre-existing condition like asthma or a congenital heart defect.”

Strong says effective, targeted outreach and smooth enrollment procedures will help ensure that all children and families get enrolled and stay enrolled. Thanks to our state legislature, which last month overwhelmingly approved the private option, a quarter million working poor will qualify for medical insurance. All of this adds up to a healthier Arkansas.

TOP STORY >> Session a success, say area senators

Leader staff writer

A success — that’s what area senators call the recently ended 2013 legislative session.

Successful bills helping the military, strengthening parole options and health care were all listed as high achievements by the local senators.

The legislature ended its 100-day session and went into recess April 23 after giving final approval to the state’s $4.9 billion budget for next year.

Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Searcy), who has been elected to be the president pro tem for the next session, said there was a lot that the legislators had to tackle this year.

“We had to deal with a number of large issues right a way. We started with a $20 million shortfall in the lottery scholarship program and a $400 million deficit in the Medicaid program, and we were able to fix both,” Dismang said.

He’s glad the legislators banded together and passed the private-option legislation, one of 49 bills that Dismang sponsored. “It will help blunt the effects of the Affordable Care Act,” the senator said.

But he is most proud of the bill that gives the parole board more decision-making control in the release of prisoners. Before the bill became law, parole boards had to follow a state-mandatory formula. If a convicted rapist or sex offender met the numbers game, he or she would be placed on parole, regardless of circumstances.

Dismang and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R- Cabot) pushed the bill after a sex offender received parole and then went on to rape a Searcy mother and kill her daughter. “The Parole Board now has discretion into whether or not to release these people,” Dismang said.

Williams and Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) are both proud of a series of bills that help the military get adjusted and into the local community more quickly.

One that Williams is happy about is Senate Bill 15, now Act 142, which “removes barriers to educational success imposed on children of military families.”

Williams, who sponsored 36 bills in this year’s session, said military members average eight moves in a 20-year career and often school records take time to catch up with the families. “We don’t want the children’s education delayed because a school district doesn’t have the paperwork.”

Surprisingly it took about five years to get the bill through. “We had a lot of opposition from Pulaski County Special School District and other organizations, but we finally got them all together and worked out a good bill,” Williams said.

The new law says schools have to place military students based on unofficial and hand-carried records or other data as soon as possible, and not wait for officials records to get to them.

“The governor told me it was an important bill that we passed,” Williams said.

He is particularly proud of a new law that he sponsored that prevents attorneys, chiropractors and others from obtaining the names of minors involved in accidents.

“This stems from a school bus accident we had in Cabot. There were 15 to 20 students on board and through the Freedom of Information Act, attorneys and chiropractors got the kids names and inundated them with mail and calls. Parents were very upset.”

Williams said under the new law minors’ names would be redacted, or blanked out, unless there is a valid reason to know.

Even though Williams said the session was a success overall, he didn’t get everything passed through that he wanted. “We didn’t accomplish any court reform,” Williams said. “Surrounding states like Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri have already moved forward on lawsuit reform. We are behind the curve on this,” the senator said.

Williams and English are glad that a bill they sponsored which allows military with professional licenses to work immediately and then take whatever courses or requirements are needed at a later date. English said the new law applies to teachers, plumbers, electricians and anyone with a professional license from another state. “This will help many military families where the spouse has to start over because the military member was transferred here,” she said.

English was one of the senators who voted against the private option. “To me it was a vote for government expansion and I’m against that,” the senator said.

She was glad to see the bill pass that exempts military members’ pay from state income tax.

“I tried to get a bill through that did the same for military retirees on a gradual basis because I want retirees to bring the education and skills to Arkansas. It didn’t pass this time,” she said.

This year’s session will officially adjourn May 17.

“We use the time from April 23 to May 17 to check the bills for minor mistakes before they become permanent,” English said.

TOP STORY >> Retailers hope Internet sales tax is enacted

Leader senior staff writer

The state and local chambers of commerce — and by inference, apparently their members — seemed unaware or uninterested in the Marketplace Fairness Act, which passed the U.S. Senate 69-27 Monday and is headed to the House Judiciary Committee.

The intent of the bill is twofold: to garner sales tax revenues for states, counties and cities from Internet sales and to level the playing field for local brick-and-mortar stores that must add taxes, which are as high as 10 percent in parts of central Arkansas.

“It’s the best thing that ever happened to us,” said Tommy Dennison, owner of Fort Thompson Sporting Goods in Sherwood, on Tuesday. “It’s a no-brainer.”

He says the current lack of sales tax on Internet purchases is a loophole bought and paid for through lobbyists.

“I sell Swarovski binoculars for about $2,500. I’ll spend half-an-hour with a customer (talking about and demonstrating the binocular), then he orders the same thing on the Internet, with no sales tax, and saves about $250. I’m paying $8,000 a month in health insurance and privilege and sales taxes and they are sitting somewhere in an apartment selling out of a mini-storage unit,” Dennison said.


“I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, collecting tax and reporting it to the state. It’s not fair that I have to do it and they don’t,” said Karen Abrahamson, manager of Double R florist in Jacksonville. “And it’s not fair to the state.”

Dennison said, “The Internet is out of control.”

Collecting those taxes on Internet sales “may hurt Max’s Prairie Wings (in Stuttgart), but it levels the playing field and (helps) our state,” he said.


Abrahamson and Dennison may be strongly in favor of the bill, but other merchants seem less certain about the effect of taxes on Internet sales on their businesses or don’t think it affects them in a meaningful way.

Bill Ryker, owner of M&M Florists in Lonoke, says local taxes already are charged, collected and turned over to the state on orders he gets via the Internet or businesses such as Teleflora.

Tulle is a Sherwood wedding gown and formal business. Owner Lisa Garrett says her customers like the personal attention, especially the fittings. She said many consumers know the dangers of ordering their gowns online —especially those made in China.

“It wouldn’t affect me,” said Deanna Cartwright, owner of the Wish List in Sherwood. “They like the convenience of a small shop with free gift wrap and the experience of shopping.”

“My customers come into my store,” said Paula Ferguson of The Look. “They can try on the dresses — there are so many different sizings and they want to support the community as well as me.”


A study two years ago estimated that Internet tax collections would amount to about $100 million a year for Arkansas, according to Tom Atchley, excise tax administrator for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

“The Marketplace Fairness Act ensures Main Street and online businesses play by the same rules,” Sen. Mark Pryor said Tuesday. “This is something both sides of the aisle support. There’s no excuse for the House to delay on this.”

Sen. John Boozman was one of six Republican co-sponsors of the bill.

While the bill passed easily in the Senate, some House conservatives view the act as a new tax, unwelcome as always. Second Dist. Rep. Tim Griffin — hardly a tax-increase proponent — is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House.

He says he favors the bill because it would give states authority to enforce the law and collect those taxes. It would level the playing field for local brick-and-mortar businesses, he said.

But, “I have advocated from day one that governors and legislators and other state officials tell taxpayers what they will do with the money. I’ve advocated that any additional money that comes in as a result of legislation should be returned to the taxpayer. If politicians want to spend more money, they ought to have to make the case.”

“You don’t hear that side of things but they ought to have that conversation,” Griffin said.

To listen to local chamber directors, their members are not interested in the bill one way or another.


“I have not been following that,” said Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce executive director Amy Mattison. “It’s not something my members have talked about. We don’t have a position. We’re more interested in the effects of sequestration and furloughs at the (Little Rock Air Force) Base.”

Cabot Chamber of Commerce director Billye Everett said she wasn’t aware that the bill being considered in Congress. “We haven’t studied that at this time,” she said.

Sherwood Chamber of Commerce director Marcia Cook said the chamber didn’t have a position on the bill.

The Lonoke Chamber of Commerce didn’t have a position on the bill either, but director John Garner said he was in favor of it.

“I feel the state is due tax on purchases over the Internet,” he said.

A spokesman for the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce wasn’t authorized to speak to a reporter and CEO Randy Zook didn’t return a call.


Leader staff writer

Anyone coming to the Little Rock airport Saturday evening with the throngs of fans lined up two deep from the arrival escalator to the baggage claim, a band playing and the Little Rock Fire Department with its ladder trucks stretched out over the roadway with an American flag on top would have thought that former President Bill Clinton was in town.

Or President Barrack Obama.

Or that the country group Alabama reunited for a Little Rock concert.

It was not of those.

All those people were cheering, applauding and dancing and clearly showing their love for 82 Arkansas World War II vets who flew to Washington earlier in the day to visit their memorial and were returning back to Little Rock.

Army veteran Robert Hall, 94, of Jacksonville, one of the vets on the trip, had tears in his eyes and difficulty expressing how wonderful the reception was.

Conway’s Johnnie Walter, 91, an infantry veteran in a wheelchair, shook hands with everyone on both sides of the walkway and got hugs from all the women. “What a reception. I feel like a rock star,” he said.

His chaperone on the flight was Deb Cunningham, a Marine veteran herself. “We had a wonderful time,” she said. “Johnnie really enjoyed it.”

A band from Camp Robinson played “God Bless the USA” and then went into the military marches and hymns as young girls dressed in red, white and blue danced in and out of the flag-waving crowd of family, friends and complete strangers who just wanted to tell the guys (and one gal) thanks for what they did.

Many in the crowd were wearing shirts that said, “If you can read this shirt, thank a teacher, and because it’s in English, thank a WWII vet — before it’s too late.”

The vets were part of an Honor Flight, a nonprofit program operating throughout the country to salute veterans. The program arranges flights for veterans, particularly WWII veterans, to spend the day in Washington visiting the memorials.

Tyson Food’s Bill McKenzie is the state coordinator for the program, which has been active in Arkansas since 2009. He said the country is losing its WWII vets at a rate of almost 100 a day.

“Most living veterans from that war are 85 or older,” he said, “and for many this is their only chance, their last chance to see the memorial dedicated to their service.”

The oldest on this flight was 98.

There was no cost for the veterans with expenses covered by Tyson Foods, the Walmart Foundation and the Arkansas Electric Cooperatives. Most of the veterans had a guardian, who had to pay a nominal fee, which none minded at all. Also on the flight were a doctor and a number of nurses.

Seven local veterans were among the 82 who made the long, but enjoyable, flight. There were Hall of Jacksonville; Vaughn Bennett, Jack Daulong and Jewel Pride, all of Sherwood; John Caldwell and James Woodward of Cabot; and Clinton Sellers of Beebe.

Hall said the trip was excellent. He teared up, adding that the words to describe it were hard to come by.

During the war, Hall’s specialty was chemical warfare. “I was never sent overseas into the war like most of the guys here. My job at the Pine Bluff Arsenal and another arsenal in Maryland was to make the chemical weapons,” he explained.

“Being stateside, I never experienced the welcome-home celebrations. All the celebrating was done when I got out,” he said.

But the only extra excitement on the trip happened to Doc Toney of Little Rock, the only African-American veteran on the trip. The veteran, who will be 89 in June, was in a wheelchair for the trip. The Lincoln Memorial elevator car stopped working while Toney was inside.

“We had two floors to go and we were leaving in 20 minutes,” he quipped.

Memorial employees and Honor Flight chaperones got Toney down the flight of stairs with no problem and time to spare.

Hall’s escort was Jeff Henderson from Dallas. Henderson was introduced to Hall through his godparents a few years ago and the pair became fast friends. “We gave his wife, Doris, the day off,” Henderson quipped.

Talking about Hall, Henderson said, “We are opposites politically. But are together when it comes to veterans.” Both chided each other as to who was the conservative and who was the liberal, even after spending more than 14 hours together Saturday.

Henderson said Hall and a number of area veterans always hang out at Walmart for coffee and story swapping. “You can see them there about any weekday about 3 p.m., and boy, will you hear some stories.”

Hall said one of the unique aspects of the trip was talking to all the veterans. “They are all interesting, and you don’t normally recognize them for who they are. We had a sense of camaraderie on the trip that is unexplainable. It was part of the overall atmosphere.”

The homecoming included members of the numerous veteran motorcycle groups, such as the Patriot Guard, members of VFW Post 1 in Little Rock, the DAV, Post 34 in Newport, people decked out in the colors of the flag and most of the men wearing military caps or hats.

Hall said the homecoming, was even better than the welcome the veterans received earlier Saturday when they arrived in D.C.

“There was a crowd there too, but nothing like this, and the West Point choir was there singing Word War II songs,” Hall said.

All the vets were impressed with their memorial, which wasn’t built until 2004.

After years of discussion and over half a century of waiting, the United States honored the Americans who were in World War II with a memorial that opened to the public on April 29, 2004. It is located at what was once the Rainbow Pool, centered between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

Before the memorial was built, most Americans thought the Iwo Jima memorial was dedicated to all WW II vets, but it wasn’t.

The vets stopped at both and many cried openly, some smiled, and all reflected on their time in a war that claimed about 400,000 Americans.

Hall said seeing both memorials was “beyond belief.”

Clinton Sellers of Beebe, who is affectionately called “Daddy” by his wife Evelena, has not stopped talking about the trip since he’s come back, according to his wife.

Sellers’ daughter, Sharon, was his chaperone on the flight. He said it was great to spend the day with her.

Sellers, who will be 87 on May 30, spent two years in Japan right after Americans dropped the atomic bombs. “As a truck driver for the Army, I saw it all. There was nothing I didn’t see while over there,” he said.

What excited him the most about the trip?

The people, he said. “Everybody was so good to me, and I don’t really know what I did to deserve all that attention. It was just a real treat to see all the people and I’m real proud and inspired by the welcome in D.C. and at home. I hope to do it again,” the veteran said.

Sherwood’s Vaughn Bennett, an 85-year-old Army veteran, said the whole experience was so humbling.

“In Washington and at Little Rock, to be met by all those dignitaries, National Guard units, well-wishers and those fire trucks and the fire department salutes, they treated us like we were kings and queens,” the veteran said.

“I just don’t have the vocabulary, the words, to explain how wonderful the day was,” he said.

Bennett called the World War II Memorial “gorgeous. You just have to see it to believe it. It is something to behold. And then the Iwo Jima monument, wow ... so many things we saw that you never would think about seeing on your own.”

The veteran said he and his companions on the trip didn’t do anything special to receive all the accolades they got Saturday. “We did what we did because we love our country. It’s the greatest one on earth and our freedoms are precious.” Navy vet Ken Theis, 90, of Pine Bluff said the WW II Memorial “certainly did not disappointment me. I was very impressed.” He called the Iwo Jima stop “really inspiring.”

Taking three buses, with a nurse on each, the veterans went first to their memorial, grabbed a box lunch, took a bus tour of the nation’s capital, then stopped at the Lincoln Memorial and the Iwo Jima monument.

Frank Kirkley, 93, of Magnolia, who lost his wife 10 months ago after nearly 66 years of marriage, said the trip was great. “You don’t realize how large our capital is and how much is there,” he said.

W.C. “Dub” Toones, an 89-year-old Army Air Corps veteran from North Little Rock, was on a similar trip last year and was there Saturday night welcoming this group back.

“It’s a trip of a lifetime. The memorial is fantastic, but 75 percent of our World War II vets will never see it,” said the former member of the 493rd Bomb Group.

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Bears sweep Jacksonville again

Leader sportswriter

For the second time this season, Sylvan Hills got a doubleheader sweep over Jacksonville, winning the first game 8-2 and the second game 7-3 on Monday at the Sherwood Sports Complex.

Monday’s doubleheader was considered a nonconference game since the two respective teams already played each other in a 5A Central Conference doubleheader earlier in the season.

The Lady Bears (22-5 overall) won the conference with a perfect 12-0 record, and the Lady Red Devils (15-11, 10-2) finished second with their only losses in conference play coming to Sylvan Hills.

Considering the 5A Central is very top heavy as far as competition goes, both teams looked at Monday’s games as a chance to get ready for the class 5A state tournament, which begins tomorrow at Hope.

“Right now our focus is lacking,” said Lady Bears coach Justine Gladden. “We’ve got to get mentally prepared, because we’re coming out here and going through the motions, walking around like we’ve actually earned something and we haven’t.

“Our conference is so weak. I mean, yeah we’re conference champs. That sounds good, but when we play some competition we lose some. That proves right there that we’re not ready. We’ve got to be more mentally prepared and that’s something you really can’t teach. The hardest part on our end is trying to get them to understand that they think they’re ready, but we’re not ready.”

Neither team scored in the first game until the fourth inning when Jacksonville second baseman Bailea Mitchell hit a two-run inside the park home run to deep right field. Mitchell’s line drive landed just under right fielder Taylor Yoeman’s glove. Yoeman dove for the catch and as the ball rolled to the fence, Mitchell and another run scored to put the Lady Devils up 2-0.

Lady Bears’ center fielder Jordie Flippo scored the first run for Sylvan Hills in the bottom part of the inning after leading off with a double to left center-field. Callie Cavender tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning.

Cavender started the inning with a single off Jacksonville pitcher Kym House’s leg, and scored two-batters later on a ground ball to second base by Jenna Hoogeveen. Sylvan Hills all but put game one away in the sixth inning with six runs, the highlight of which was a ground-rule double by Hoogeveen, which scored two runs.

Hoogeveen scored the Lady Bears’ eighth and final run of the game on a passed ball at the plate. Tyra Williams was the winning pitcher for Sylvan Hills. She threw all seven innings, gave up two runs on four hits and recorded four strikeouts.

“We just had a bad day,” said Lady Red Devils coach Barry Hickingbotham. “We didn’t communicate well. When you have a young bunch you’ve got to be able to fight through those things. We talked about that after the game. You take away that one inning and we played pretty good.”

Game two was limited to 90 minutes and ended after four innings. Jacksonville totaled just two hits in the second game, and both came by the bat of freshman Kinely Burrows. Burrows drove in the first run of the game with a two-out single to right field in the second inning.

Zylah Richardson scored on the play. Richardson was the courtesy runner for House, who walked to start the inning. Sylvan Hills responded its next at bat with seven runs, the highlight of which was a bases-clearing triple to left field by senior shortstop Jeana Canady.

Michelle Sorensen, Flippo and Williams scored on the play. Sorensen was the winning pitcher in game two. She threw all four innings and recorded nine strikeouts. Six of those strikeouts came against the first nine batters she faced.

Sorensen did have some control problems in the final inning. She walked three-straight Jacksonville batters. The first of which was House, and Richardson, House’s courtesy runner, stole second and third base.

An inaccurate throw to third base during Richardson’s steal allowed her to score Jacksonville’s second run of the game.

Burrows drove in the final run of the game on another single to right field. Emily Lovercheck scored on the play after walking and advancing to second base on a passed ball.

“They’ve got some good pitching and that’s what we’re going to see in the state tournament,” Hickingbotham said of Sylvan Hills. “We’ve been off really as far as the last two weeks. We just haven’t played that many games. We just need to play, and you take away that one inning, I’m proud of the way they competed.

“We saw what we kind of have to go back and review. You kind of take it for granted. We’re just going to have to work on that tomorrow and Wednesday and get ready for Thursday. Our goal was to make the tournament. We’ve played some quality nonconference teams. We were just trying to get them ready for Thursday.”

Sylvan Hills will enter the state tournament tomorrow as the No. 1 seed, and will play either Huntsville or Morrilton. Jacksonville will have a tougher first round as they’ll play either Greenbrier or Alma.

SPORTS STORY >> Devils lose wild one to Warriors

Leader sports editor

The Jacksonville Red Devils accomplished most of what they set out to accomplish Monday in the regular-season finale at Little Rock Christian. They just didn’t win the game. In a nonconference matchup against the 5A Central champion Warriors, Jacksonville got 15 base hits and hit the ball hard, but lost 13-12 after giving up four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Jacksonville found itself down 9-1 after four innings, but began hammering the ball up and down the lineup. The Red Devils scored four runs in the fifth and seven in the sixth inning to take a 12-9 lead, but it disappeared in the bottom of the sixth.

“You play this game to swing the bats,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “We started a little slow but we kept swinging. Both teams are going to go light on their best pitching and we all knew that. So we focused on swinging the bats. As far as that goes I thought we did a great job. We did really good with two strikes, but we left a couple out there that cost us.”

Jacksonville twice had runners on third base with one out, and failed to get the run across the plate. The first was in a scoreless second inning, the last was in the seven-run sixth.

“It’s great we scored seven runs, that doesn’t change the situation,” Burrows said. “When you got a guy on third with one out, you need to get him in.”

D.J. Scott started both of Jacksonville’s rallies. He hit a swinging bunt that turned into a single to start the fifth inning. It was the first of five consecutive singles by the Red Devils. David Williams, Brandon Hickingbotham, Courtland McDonald, Derek St. Clair and Kaleb Reeves each reeled off base hits before Jacksonville recorded an out. Greg Jones got the fourth RBI of the inning with a line-drive out to deep left field.

Scott singled to start the sixth inning when his grounder between shortstop and third base was fielded too deep to throw him out. Williams singled again and Hickingbotham got on when his 4-6 fielder’s choice turned into an error when the shortstop failed to touch the bag.

McDonald and St. Clair got back-to-back singles and another error off Reeves’ bat left everyone safe. Blake Perry recorded the first out with a line drive to centerfield. Jones then singled to the gap for the first two-RBI hit of the game for Jacksonville.

Ryan Mallison then tripled down the right-field line to score two more runs with one out. Scott then popped up to second base and Williams grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.

Reeves took the mound for Jacksonville in the bottom of the seventh and struggled to find the strike zone. After three runs and with the game tied at 12, LRCA had runners on the corners with two outs. The Warriors tried the double steal with the runner on first base leaving early.

Reeves stepped off the mound and made the pick off throw, against the call made by Burrows. It resulted in a rundown that led to the runner being out, but the runner at third scored the game-winning run before the out was made.

“That’s just one of those things that’s going to happen when you coach high-school ball,” Burrows said. “The call was, if they tried that, to let him go.”

Jacksonville (12-14) will face Harrison at 5 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the state tournament in Nettleton.

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot, NLR could face each other

Leader sports editor

North Little Rock and Cabot begin play in the class 7A baseball tournament this week in Rogers, and could end up facing each other on Friday. The Charging Wildcats, the No. 1 seed from the 7A Central, gets a first-round bye and awaits the winner of Thursday’s noontime matchup between Cabot and tournament host Rogers High School.

Cabot coach Jay Fitch knows very little about the Mounties, but feels good about how his team is currently playing.

“We were so up and down with the sticks for the first month, month and a half of the season, you were just hoping things would turn around and we’d get some consistency,” said Fitch. “That sort of happened for us and we’ve really been hitting it well the last month. I feel pretty good about it right now and hopefully we’ll carry that into the playoffs.”

Fitch only has scores by which to judge the Mounties. He’s not seen them play since Cabot beat them in the first round of the state tournament four years ago.

“The last time we made a little run we started off with Rogers, and that’s the last time I’ve seen a Rogers baseball game,” Fitch said. “Judging from their scores, they must have one really good pitcher because it looks like they split with everybody in their conference just about but Fayetteville. I’m sure that’s who we’ll see on Thursday.”

Another disadvantage is playing the first round on the tournament hosts home field.

“We’re right there in the backyard so I’m sure that’ll be an advantage for them,” Fitch said. “They should have a pretty good crown there so we’re going to have be really focused on the task at hand and not let that become part of it.”

Fitch is unwilling to say who he will put on the mound against the Mounties.

“We haven’t really made that decision yet,” Fitch said. “I’m kind of leaning towards Z (Zachary Patterson). He’s been our best the last few weeks. But Ryan (Logan) has been solid all season and we’ve got Chipper (Dustin Morris) back at 100 percent and he’s thrown really well. So we’ve got some options there. We’ve got a couple more besides those three too.”

North Little Rock coach Randy Sandefur’s squad has been ranked No. 1 by some publication or another all season long, but he’s not putting much stock in that.

“This is a really competitive tournament,” Sandefur said. “7A baseball is really good this year and there are a lot of good teams and a lot of good pitchers. There’s nobody you can overlook and try to pitch around. You’ve got to go with your best every night or you don’t get to come back.”

Sandefur likes his pitching staff and is comfortable with how his team is swinging the bats right now. But he has one concern that has plagued his team at times this year, especially in their losses.

“We can’t give away outs in the base paths,” Sandefur said. “We’ve given up some runs this year with bad base running mistakes. It’s a game of 21 outs is what it is, and we’re going to need all 21 to be successful.”

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke upset in regional opener

Leader sports editor

Baseball season came to a heartbreaking end for Lonoke on Saturday in the first round of the Region 3 tournament in Heber Springs.

The Jackrabbits, one of the favorites to advance to win and possibly win the state championship, suffered a 6-4 loss to Cave City by committing five errors in the field as well as a few base running blunders that aided the Cavemen in their major upset.

“It was just one of those nights where everything bad came together in the same game and it just bit us,” Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery said. “You hate that it happened when it did. If it could’ve just happened one game later it would’ve been OK. We’d still have a chance to get back to that title game.”

Lonoke had nearly everyone back from last year’s squad that made it to Baum Stadium for the 4A championship game last year, a game that ended with a loss to Shiloh Christian.

“I think this one was harder on them than losing that championship game,” Lowery said. “For one thing Shiloh just beat us, but we could have played much better than we did. I think we maybe overlooked them a little bit, we didn’t hit very well and you top it off with a few key mistakes, and it just culminated in a really bad day.”

The pivotal inning was the top of the fifth when Cave City scored three unearned runs to take a 6-3 lead. Trailing 4-3, the Cavemen scored three runs off one hit, two walks and three Lonoke errors. Leadoff hitter John Battles singled to right field to start the rally.

Trenton Coals then bunted down the first baseline. Pitcher Zack Risner was about to field the ball and would have had a better angle for the throw, but catcher Madison James stepped in to field it, then made a poor throw to first that got past Reid McKenzie.

That left runners on the corners with no outs. Risner then fielded a comebacker to the mound and caught Battles into a rundown between third and home.

After a throw to third base, Nick Graves made a poor throw to home that allowed Battles to escape the rundown and score the tying run. Devin Burns walked and Lowery pulled Risner from the mound and put in Blake Gooden.

Gooden struck out the first batter he faced, but committed an error when a bases-loaded bouncer came back to him. His throw home was way off the mark, allowing another run to score. The third run scored when Gooden walked Alex Piazza on the next at bat with the bases still loaded.

Lonoke got one back in the bottom of the sixth. Gooden doubled with two outs and scored when Guy Halbert singled to drive him home.

Gooden did a good job on the mound, not allowing the Cavemen to threaten in the sixth and then escaping a huge jam in the seventh caused by two more Lonoke errors.

Right where the fielding errors stopped, the base running errors began.

In the bottom of the sixth, Risner got on base with no outs thanks to a Cave City throwing error. Lowery brought in Elijah Segrist to run for Risner, but he was picked off during the next at bat.

Lonoke was back at the top of the lineup in the bottom of the seventh, but Shane Pepper popped up to second base and Christian James struck out. Gooden then doubled down the right field line, but he tried to stretch it into a triple and was thrown out by several steps to end the game.

Lowery says he waved Gooden around.

“I did. I was trying to get something going for us. I knew when it left the box, with Blake’s speed, he’d have a chance. The kid that took the cutoff throw was still way out in the outfield and I knew he’d have to make a great throw to get him, and that’s what he did. He was right on the money with it. That’s the other thing about this game. Cave City played great. You have to take your hats off to them. I have a lot of respect for coach King and how hard those kids play. We knew it would be a tough game.”

Lonoke finishes the season 17-7, but only lost twice since spring break. Graves led the team in batting average, playing 14 games and hitting .517. He had a .691 on-base percentage and a slugging percentage of .793. He also hit two home runs.

Madison James led all players who played all 24 games.

He hit .500 with two home runs, three triples, eight doubles and 29 RBIs. He had an on-base percentage of .571 and slugged .786. Halbert and Gooden each had earned run averages below 2.0 this season, both throwing mostly relief in conference games and starting some non conference.

Halbert threw 22 innings with 30 strikeouts and a 1.59 ERA. Gooden threw 22 1/3 innings with 27 strikeouts and a 1.85 ERA.

Risner was the main pitcher this season, throwing 44 2/3 innings. He finished with a 9-2 record, struck out 41 and had a 4.70 ERA. Garrett Spears went 2-1 with a 4.23 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 29 innings.

SPORTS STORY >> Bison move on to state with victory

Leader sportswriter

POYEN – A big second inning helped catapult Carlisle to a 6-0 victory over Magnet Cove in the semifinal round of the 2A East Regional Tournament on Saturday, where they ran into a red-hot Palestine-Wheatley team. The Patriots, who finished third in conference play and was swept by Carlisle in the regular season, won the regional championship with a 3-2 victory, their first regional title in school history.

In Saturday’s game against Magnet Cove, the Bisona and Panthers were held scoreless in the first inning, but the Bison (17-5), who qualified for the class 2A state tournament with a 5-1 win over Poyen in the first round of the regional tournament on Friday, scored four runs in the second inning to take control of the game.

“I thought our guys really, really played well in the three innings we said are very important,” said Carlisle coach William Rountree. “Pitchers have got to throw strikes. (Josh) Mathis pitched real well. We’ve played over here two days in a row.

“(Chris) Hart pitched the first day, Mathis the second day. The second thing is make the routine plays. Our defense has gotten a lot better. And then the third thing was put the ball in play.”

Hart gave up just two hits in his time on the mound Friday against Poyen. Mathis gave up four hits against Magnet Cove, but gave up just one walk while recording seven strikeouts in seven innings of work.

Jacob Gordon scored the first run of the game in the top of the second inning. Gordon doubled down the third base line to get on base, and advanced to third base on a fielder’s choice by Thomas McCallie.

With runners at the corners, McCallie stole second. Magnet Cove catcher Caleb Hughes tried to catch McCallie stealing, but the throw to second was off the mark, and Gordon scored as the ball rolled into shallow center field.

McCallie moved to third on a single to center field by Jacob Cagle, and scored on a slow-rolling single to third base by Nick Schafer, which put the Bison up 2-0. Hart gave Carlisle a three-run lead with a single to the left-field gap that scored Cagle.

Schafer scored the final run of the inning on a passed ball at the plate.

The Bison took a 5-0 lead in the fourth inning on a one-out single down the first base line by three-hole hitter Austin Reed.

Mathis, the team’s leadoff hitter, scored on the play after walking and stealing second base to start the inning.

Carlisle set the final score in the top of the seventh inning with an insurance run. Reed got on base after picking up his game-high fourth hit of the day on another single to right field.

Cleanup hitter Deron Ricks reached on an E4 the next at bat, and Reed went to third base on the error. Dylan Brazeal followed Ricks’ at bat with a walk, but ball four got by Hughes, and Reed scored on the passed ball, which gave the Bison a 6-0 advantage.

The Bison outhit the Panthers 8-4. Carlisle totaled six hits against starting pitcher Hunter Martin, but struggled at times against relief pitcher Conner Wells, Magnet Cove’s ace.

“We did a good job early on the first pitcher,” Rountree said. “Now this left-hander (Wells) is pretty tough, but we scored enough. We manufactured some runs. They missed some plays and, you know, we’re in the regional finals for the second year in a row. So that’s pretty good.” Reed had half of his team’s hits with his 4 for 4 outing, while Hart, Gordon, Cagle and Schafer had a hit apiece. Jon Luten led Magnet Cove (16-10) with two hits.