Friday, July 12, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Centennial Bank, Colts end in draw

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot Red Centennial Bank junior American Legion team nearly left Cabot City Park with a walk-off win over North Little Rock’s junior team on Tuesday, but Colts right-fielder Zane Venetta gunned down Cabot’s Ethan Holland at the plate to end the seventh inning and the game in a 6-6 tie.

North Little Rock totaled just four base hits in the game, but managed to score three runs in the first inning alone to take an early 3-0 lead. Cabot Red cut the margin to 3-2 by the end of the third, and at the end of the fourth inning the game was knotted up at four apiece.

Both teams added two more runs to the board in the fifth to set the final score, but Cabot Red (5-16-1) gave itself a chance in the bottom of the seventh. Ethan Holland started things off with a single to left-centerfield.

Holland stole second base to get into scoring position, but Colts pitcher Blaine Miller was able to keep the home team in check as Cabot got down to its last out. Josh Kelpine then came to the plate, representing the winning run, and Kelpine hit a clutch two-out single to right field.

Cabot Red assistant coach Andrew Reynolds waved Holland around third base as Venetta fielded the ball, and Venetta hurled a beeline throw to the plate to easily get Holland for the third out of the inning. When the inning ended so did the game because the one-hour-and-45-minute time limit had expired.

Reynolds was pleased overall with the way his team played and said he had no regrets about any decisions he made, especially at the end.

“I sent him and if it were the same play I’d send him again,” Reynolds said. “(Venetta) made a good throw, made the play and got him out. In the last inning of the game I’m going to take that chance every time. Today was a big improvement. I like the way they fought back.

“In the top of the sixth (North Little Rock) scored two runs, we came back and got two back – we fought hard. We’ve struggled lately, but most of the games we lost we shouldn’t have lost because of a stupid error here or there. It was good to see them fight this game because the last game they just rolled over and took it. Today we fought back and that’s what I like to see.”

North Little Rock used five different pitchers in Tuesday’s game. Along with Cabot Red, both teams have been very active as of late, but Colts coach Randy Sandefur would’ve liked to have seen his team play with more consistency against the junior Centennial Bank squad.

“I think overall it just wasn’t very good,” Sandefur said. “Our last guy that came in threw it OK. He threw last night a little bit so he wasn’t real sharp. I just don’t think we pitched ahead in the count. We didn’t pitch ahead in the count near enough. We didn’t make but a couple of errors today but they were real costly.

“There were three or four of our guys that normally get a hit or two. Today they hit it, but they hit it on the nose (of the bat). (Cabot) was behind and they did a good job of coming back, but they made some errors too now. We didn’t score six earned runs and they didn’t score six earned runs.

“So if you’re out here watching this game the middle of it was ugly to watch. But, you know, the kids competed and that’s all you can ask them to do.”

Reed Shepard, Lawson Dulin, Jake Morris and Ben Parmer rounded out the junior Colts’ hit total. For Cabot, leadoff hitter Braden Jarnagin and Kelpine had two hits apiece, while Kayde Ridgeway, Jarrett Pitchford and Holland each had one hit.

SPORTS STORY >> Sr. Colts finish third at Illinois

Leader sportswriter

North Little Rock’s senior American Legion team has improved its overall record to 27-3 since the Fourth of July holiday. The Colts compiled a 4-1 record at the annual three-day Southwest Illinois Firecracker Tournament that began July 5 at Alton, Ill., and on Wednesday, North Little Rock pummeled Pine Bluff into submission with a 13-0 blowout win at Pine Bluff.

Connor Eller got the win on the mound in Wednesday’s game. He threw all seven innings to record the shutout victory. Offensively, North Little Rock had several key hits that led to the blowout. Catcher Alex Gosser hit a towering home run and Nick Cleveland finished the game a home run shy of the cycle.

L.J. Wallace also had a strong showing against Pine Bluff as he finished the game with two doubles and multiple RBIs. The Colts scored their first run in the top of the first inning before scoring five in the fourth and seven in the sixth to set the final score.

At the annual Southwest Illinois Firecracker Tournament, North Little Rock won its pool by finishing with a perfect 4-0 record to advance to the semifinals.

On July 5, the Colts beat Ballwin, Mo. 8-0 in the first game of the tournament and later that day they edged by West O’Fallon, Mo. 2-1 to win the second game.

On July 6, North Little Rock improved to 3-0 in pool play with a 5-0 win over Jerseyville, Ill. and later that day narrowly beat the tournament host 5-4 to win its pool.

With the win, the Colts advanced to the semifinals along with Bryant, Jefferson City, Mo., and Alton, who earned the wild card spot as it finished pool play with a 3-1 record.

The Colts were put out of the tournament in the semifinals after losing 6-1 to eventual tournament champion Bryant, who beat Jefferson City in the championship game.

North Little Rock coach Robert Hopkins was especially pleased with the way his team played in the competitive tournament, considering it was playing without one of its top players, Dylan Boone. Boone, who’s the team’s leading hitter and one of its key starters on the mound, has been out of action since being injured in batting practice.

During the practice session, Boone was in the field and took a bad hop just above his eyebrow, which caused it to split open and required nine stitches.

“He had nine stitches, so he didn’t make the trip with us,” Hopkins said. “So the fact that we didn’t have him both offensively and pitching I was thrilled with being 4-1 on the trip. I was very pleased with the whole thing.”

North Little Rock will have revenge on its mind in today’s noon game against Paragould at Burns Park. Paragould is one of the three teams to beat the Colts this summer, and North Little Rock will have two more regular season games before the Senior Zone 3 Tournament begins July 19 at Burns Park.

SPORTS STORY >> Jacksonville wins Zone opener

Leader sportswriter

A big fifth inning for Jacksonville’s junior American Legion team helped catapult the Chevy Boys to a 6-2 win over the Sylvan Hills Bruins in the first round of the Junior American Legion Zone Tournament on Thursday at the Cabot Sports Complex.

Sylvan Hills scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning, but Jacksonville scored two in the third to take a 2-1 lead.

The Chevy Boys then put together a four-run inning in the fifth to push their lead to a comfortable 6-1 advantage.

Sylvan Hills’ extended high school baseball team’s summer season came to an end earlier in the week, and as a result, the Bruins were able to add a key player to their roster just in time for the Zone Tournament.

Hunter Heslep is the team’s new addition, and he got the start on the mound for Sylvan Hills in Thursday’s game. The Chevy Boys as a whole struggled early against Heslep, who gave up just one earned run in four innings of work.

“Today we saw a pitcher we’d never seen and we’ve played them three times,” said Jacksonville coach Bob Hickingbotham. “As long as it’s legal I don’t care. That’s what you’ve got to do. We played good. (James) Tucker pitched well. He had his ups and downs. He threw a lot of pitches because he got behind the hitters in the count to start with.

“If you don’t get ahead it takes a long time to get rid of one, and we didn’t hit the ball well. (Heslep) was throwing a lot of breaking stuff. We just didn’t hit him very well.”

Heslep was pulled early in the fifth after giving up a walk and a base hit. Jacob Riggs took over with runnerson first and second with no outs. A groundout by Courtland McDonald advanced Blake Perry and Greg Jones, Jacksonville’s two base runners, to second and third base.

LaDerrious Perry then came to the plate and laid down a squeeze bunt. Riggs charged toward the plate as Blake Perry ran home and grabbed the ball and quickly tossed it to catcher Brandon Carter in what looked to be plenty of time to get Blake Perry out, but the umpire ruled he was safe on the play, which was much to the displeasure of Bruins coach Matt Presson.

“I mean, I thought he was out,” Presson said after the game. “It was a bad call, but you can’t let that decide the rest of your game. After they got down 6-1 I think they kind of almost let that beat them.”

After Blake Perry’s run, the Chevy Boys scored three more runs in the inning to take the 6-1 lead.

“We had a couple of walks, then they string some hits together, and you get one bad break and they get four runs on you real quick. I mean, it was just one inning, one call, four runs, and that would’ve been out number two and next pitch it’s maybe still 2-1. He missed it, but still, you can’t let that decide the game.”

The Bruins set the final score in the bottom of the seventh. Dawson Heslep singled to start the inning. Xavier Iverson came in as Heslep’s courtesy runner. Iverson eventually advanced to third base and scored the game’s final run on a one-out ground ball to first base by Joseph Craft.

Tucker got the win on the mound for Jacksonville. He pitched all seven innings and gave up his only earned run in the seventh inning to Iverson. He gave up five walks and five hits and recorded a game-high six strikeouts.

D.J. Scott led Jacksonville at the plate, going 2 for 3 with two RBIs. McKenzie Seats was the only other player with multiple hits. He also went 2 for 3 to lead the Bruins.

SPORTS STORY >> Searcy ends Jr. White’s streak

Leader sportswriter

Cabot White’s junior American Legion team was on a nine-game win streak entering Tuesday’s home matchup with Searcy, but in that game the fresher legs prevailed as the Centennial Bank squad fell 3-2 to end the streak at nine games.

Searcy was able to take advantage of Cabot’s adjusted lineup. Several of the White team’s usual starters sat because of a marathon game the night before. In Monday’s game, the White Centennial Bank junior team beat the Little Rock Diamondbacks 7-6 on a walk-off home run by Austin Null in the 10th inning to extend the team’s win streak.

Cabot White assistant coach Justin Moore said his team didn’t leave the ball park in Little Rock till around midnight, which appeared to have a lot to do with the lack of offensive production against Searcy.

“We had a marathon game last night and we played till like 12 o’clock,” Moore said. “A lot of my guys got really tired last night – a lot of dehydration and cramping and stuff. I had to rest some legs. I tried to get a few guys in there later to get an at bat, but overall, we played a lot of guys like we always do all year, it just didn’t work out for us tonight.”

Cabot White (27-8) totaled just three hits off of Searcy starting pitcher Austin Allen, who threw all seven innings in the winning effort. Allen almost appeared to be getting stronger as the game progressed. He finished the game with 10 strikeouts and just two walks.

“We ran into a really good pitcher tonight,” Moore said of Allen. “He had a really live arm and had a good breaking ball. He played a good game.”

The first four innings was a pitchers’ duel as Allen battled with Centennial Bank starter Tyler Gilbert. Gilbert threw four innings for the home team and like Allen, he recorded 10 strikeouts, but also gave up five walks, one of which led to the game’s first run.

Searcy leadoff hitter Aaron Decker walked to start the top of the third inning. The fleet-footed Decker stole second and third base and scored on a bad throw to third during the steal, which gave Searcy a 1-0 lead.

Gilbert held Searcy scoreless in the fourth inning, but was pulled at the end of the inning for relief pitcher Drake Boroughs. Boroughs walked two batters and only got one Searcy batter out in his one-third inning of work.

Dylan Bowers came in to relieve Boroughs, but Searcy was able to score its final two runs in that inning to take a 3-0 lead after four and a half innings. Cabot, though, finally got on the board its next at bat.

Bowers was hit by a pitch to lead off the fifth. He advanced to second base on a balk by Allen, and with two outs, scored on a dropped fly ball in left field that was hit by Null, the team’s two-hole hitter.

Tyler Tucker took over pitching duties for the final two innings and kept Searcy at bay for the remainder of the game. Cabot added its final run in the sixth inning. Adam Hicks came into the game and led off the sixth with a single to the gap in left field.

Hicks stole second base before scoring the next at bat on a rare bloop double to right field by Gavin Tillery, who also came off the bench to pinch hit. As the ball landed it took an awkward bounce toward the left field line, which allowed the fleet-footed Hicks to score with ease, setting the final score.

Cabot had a chance to at least end the game in a tie in the bottom of seventh inning as Bowers was on third base with two outs, but Allen struck out pinch-hitter Jonathan Latture to give Searcy the win.

Searcy narrowly outhit Cabot 4-3. Tucker, Hicks and Tillery totaled Cabot’s three hits. For Searcy, Seth Johnson was the only player with multiple hits. He had two, while Lee Chambers and Colton Joyner each had one hit.

SPORTS STORY >> Coach earns high honor

Leader sportswriter

Longtime Jacksonville High School softball coach Tanya Ganey was recently inducted into the Arkansas Women’s Softball Hall of Fame after more than three decades of dedication to the sport.

Ganey spent 37 years in the Pulaski County School District as a teacher and coach before retiring in late June of 2011. She coached basketball, volleyball, track and softball during her tenure, but her involvement at nearly every position in the sport of softball in the state of Arkansas was what made her a standout for consideration for the prestigious Women’s Softball Hall of Fame.

“I’m very humbled and appreciative of the award,” said Ganey. “I was shocked and excited and humbled. You know, it was just a lot of emotions. On one hand I thought I don’t deserve this because there were too many people that were involved in this. It wasn’t necessarily what I did, but what other people had done to help me receive that award.”

Ganey said she was on the road for an extended vacation when she received the news that she was going to be nominated for the award. She is currently out of state to spend time with family and was unable to be present for the award ceremony.

But Justine Gladden, a former player and assistant under Ganey, was pleased to accept the award on Ganey’s behalf.

Hayes LeMay, who’s been involved in Arkansas softball for 37 years, got to know Ganey when she was the Amateur Softball Association District 9 Commissioner. District 9 covers the Cabot and Jacksonville area.

“She was with ASA and I worked with her for years putting together tournaments,” LeMay said of Ganey. “I worked with her very closely because of my involvement with ASA. She’s just a class act. I was never involved with her coaching, but I’ve had several girls play for me that played for Tanya, and they loved her to death. I’ve always heard good things about her.”

LeMay went on to say that Ganey was also a good umpire and commissioner during her time with ASA. As far as the induction itself, LeMay said that Ganey probably should’ve been inducted sooner, but that it’s a very difficult process to even get a nomination.

“To get into the Hall of Fame, you really would’ve had to have done something to be in it,” LeMay said. “Longevity – I mean, when I got her full softball resume, I knew a lot of it, but there was a lot that I didn’t know. She played, she coached softball, she coached volleyball, and she coached basketball, in Jacksonville primarily.

“That’s what I know about Tanya. I’ve just always respected her. I was in a lot of touchy situations with her with all these kids playing ball. I was always amazed at how well she handled everything like a lady with class. I just think a lot of her.”

Even though Ganey put in decades of time to the sport and the kids involved, she says she still misses being involved. She made the tough decision to retire after suffering a heart attack on Jan. 24, 2011, which she said was the reason for the decision.

“I knew then it was time to leave,” Ganey said, “but I miss it. I miss it every day. I miss helping people. I miss helping young people. I miss teaching them the ways of life they learn through athletics and in the classroom, but God has another plan for me and I’m moving along with it.”

The Arkansas Women’s Softball Hall of Fame was established in 1991 and has an estimated 120 members, according to LeMay. Ganey was one of three inductees for the 2013 class.

EDITORIAL >> PCSSD split is a win-win

Over the years, the Pulaski County special School District has been, to say the least, a bit unkind and unfair to Jacksonville—sometimes accidentally, sometimes on purpose and sometimes egregiously.

But lately the district has done a few things right. First, it is supporting Jacksonville’s efforts to become its own school district. Granted it’s more in the county district’s financial interest rather than believing the separation is best for all students concerned.

If Jacksonville doesn’t get its own district soon, then PCSSD will have to start replacing the outdated, decrepit and just plain old schools in Jacksonville. If PCSSD is forced to build a new school, it will have to cover more than 90 percent of the cost, but if Jacksonville gets its own district, then the state will ask the city to pay only about half the cost for a new school.

So Jacksonville breaking away would be a financial lifesaver to PCSSD.

Even though the reasons PCSSD is backing Jacksonville’s efforts for a new district are far from altrusitic, it is still the right thing to do.

The second positive coming from PCSSD lately is the hiring of two new principals: Bill Barnes for Jacksonville High School and Lourdes Goodnight for the city’s middle school. Both come enthused, sleeves rolled up and ready to work.

For Barnes, it’s a job that he wanted 29 years ago and it’s a job that drew him out of a three-year retirement. He is rested, pumped and ready to bring Jacksonville back to its glory days.

“This school was the jewel of the district at one time and it has the potential to do so again,” he has told the Leader.

Goodnight pulled no punches at a recent city council meeting, letting aldermen know that she was tired of seeing the middle school at the bottom when it came to benchmark scores.

“That’s not going to happen anymore. Playtime is over,” she told the council.

Goodnight comes to the school with an impressive background in curriculum and spends her days hiring just the right person to be the vice principal who will focus on discipline. She plans to make it a one-two punch at the middle school.

Both Barnes and Goodnight said one of the reasons for applying for their respective positions was the incredible backing of the community. Both Barnes and Goodnight said it was something they had not experienced before and were looking forward to having that extra support in the coming months.

The addition of Barnes and Goodnight, along with a topnotch core of elementary principals — including Dr. Janice Walker at Warren Dupree and Kristen Beach at Arnold Drive — bodes well for Jacksonville and most importantly, the city’s students.

TOP STORY >> Cowboy Guitars

Leader editor

Jacksonville Guitar owner Steve Evans has compiled what is likely the world’s largest collection of cowboy guitars. On several walls at his shop, hundreds of the instruments with art depicting life out West form a collage of six-stringed, pop-culture remnants from before rock and roll took hold.

“The cowboys were really cool from the 1930s to about 1955, until whenever Elvis came along,” Evans said during a tour of his collection.

“I’ve come to realize that these cowboys — Gene Autry was the first that made it big and he started the cowboy craze — I feel like they kind of molded the kids into having this generation of people that were real honest and don’t want to cheat anybody, you know just want to give their life for what is right, and I feel like that these kids that paid attention to the moral of the stories in the movies and radio shows, a lot of them went off to fight in World War II and that’s our greatest generation. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry only helped that greatest generation have good moral values,” he said.

“I think of my own father, he passed away in 1996, but he was 20 when World War II started, and that’s when Gene Autry was at his most popular.”

About 25 years ago, Evans, who was born in Sylvan Hills and raised in Jacksonville, started the collection by placing want ads in a specialty magazine for toy collectors and attending a vintage guitar show in Dallas every year. Now he can find them on the auction website eBay.

He grew up watching re-runs of “The Lone Ranger” and Roy Rogers TV shows. “I like that you can get artwork on your guitar. And that there’s a bunch to pick from. They are affordable to collect as far as antique guitars go. They’re real reasonable. You can get them for $100, $150 on eBay.” Other kinds of antique guitars cost thousands of dollars so they’re impractical for most people.

Today, he is a sought-after expert. “Maybe once a week, someone calls about a cowboy guitar.” They are looking to sell one to him or estimate the value. “I’m known as the authority on it.”

Recently, Evans was asked to authenticate a Gene Autry guitar that appeared to have been autographed by George Jones, the late country-music star, who in his autobiography said he’d played a Gene Autry Melody Ranch as a youngster.

Evans published “Cowboy Guitars” in 2002. It is surely the most definitive guide to cowboy-guitar collecting and is succinctly subtitled “It’s a big roundup of those wonderful cowboy guitars, starting with the Gene Autry model of 1932 to present day.” It is for sale online at a variety of booksellers and at Jacksonville Guitar.

It’s co-authored by Ron Middlebrook, who wrote summaries of the history of each guitar included in the book. Roy Rogers Jr. wrote the book’s foreword.

“Mainly by studying the old catalogs, I came up with the information about when they were available. So I typed all that up and then I took these photographs…mailed that to my co-author, and he laid it out and added the biographies that (Middlebrook) wrote,” Evans said.

“In the back of my book, I asked people to send in pictures of themselves with their collection. They spent a lot of time with me on the phone” giving him measurements and descriptions to explain how the designs changed over the years.

Some big names like Stevie Ray Vaughn, LeAnn Rimes and Melissa Etheridge, whose photographs appear in the book, have played cowboy guitars. “Ringo Starr talked about how he loved cowboy stuff.” Even Evans’ old Algebra teacher, J.D. Hall, is shown playing his Buck Jones cowboy guitar in 1941 on his family farm in Guy.

The collection is virtually complete, so he doesn’t buy any more, though there may be a few more out there that he hasn’t realized. “As far as I know I got the biggest collection, but with eBay going, anybody can get a collection going,” he said.

“It’s hard to find one I don’t have, I’m sure there are some I don’t realize that are out there,” he said. He prizes one called the Tex Morton, an Australian country singer, that was made by the Wayne Music Company in Australia, because of its far-flung origin and rarity. It is cream colored with a black silkscreen design with a cowboy tossing a lasso while atop his horse.

“It’s real near being complete. It’s the largest one I know of. Some are kind of worn out,” he said, but that only adds to their appeal. “They’re all not in good condition because they were cheaply made. A lot of them are 50 to 75 years old, so they’re going to have cracks.”

Only a few have been repaired and sound pretty good, but Evans doesn’t play them much. He appreciates the worn out fret boards, the scratched bodies and other markings they’ve come to have over the decades. (Readers with smart phones may scan the QR code at right to see a video on YouTube of Evans playing one of his cowboy guitars. Visitors are also welcome to stop by the 38-year-old shop at 1105 Burman Drive, which is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.)

“I don’t want any identical twins. Like this Gene Autry is a little different than this Gene Autry,” he said, pointing to similar guitars, one made in the 1930s and another from the ’50s. Both have the same stenciled illustration, though one has a dark sunburst finish and other subtle stylistic differences. Harmony, the American guitar company that was then owned by Sears, Roebuck and Co., made the Gene Autry guitars. One called the Melody Ranch, the name of Autry’s ranch in the movies, is a highlight of Evans’ collection.

The Gene Autry cost about $9 ($134 today) when it was first released during the Depression. They were still relatively affordable, first-time guitars that many people learned to play on.

Evans also has a huge collection of toy guitars and has tentative plans to publish another book on those.

He began collecting toy guitars while in pursuit of cowboy guitars. “There’s a bunch of toy guitars from TV shows, so I’ve got about 300 of those. I’ve got all the Mattel guitars except one.” He still needs Garfield the cat, which he said he’s never seen except in catalogs.

The Smithsonian Institution or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum should acquire Evans’ collection that has a scope and uniqueness curators can appreciate.

TOP STORY >> Repairs needed on old overpass

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Highway Department crews this week repaired the bridge at Jacksonville’s Main Street overpass on Hwy. 67/167 after yet another accident on the aging and troublesome section of road.

Spokesman Danny Straessle said a driver struck the vertical columns that support the guardrails on the southbound outside lane. The car then ricocheted across to the other lane, hitting the railing on the other side of the bridge, he noted.

Straessle added that the southbound inside lane of Hwy. 67/167 will be closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, weather permitting, for repairs to the other side of the bridge. Traffic will be controlled using cones and warning signs.

Details of the accident, such as the driver’s name and when it happened, are unknown because the accident was not reported to police, Straessle explained.

He added, “They’re lucky they didn’t go off the bridge.”

Others have not been so lucky.

The overpass has a long history of accidents and deaths, and, in tandem with the Redmond Road overpass just to the south, it is slated for replacement.

Straessle said bids for the project would be let in the fall.

Construction could take at least 18 months after bids are accepted.

Mayor Gary Fletcher previously estimated the bridges would be replaced by the end of 2014 at the earliest.

The new structures will have three lanes each direction and generous shoulders, Randy Ort, a highway department spokesman, said previously.

The 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Plan estimates the replacement cost at $17.3 million.

The new Main Street bridge will have a gentler curve than the current bridge, will have barriers that meet modern standards and will be banked, Jacksonville City Engineer Jay Whisker said previously.

The new overpasses are the next step toward widening Hwy. 67/167 from I-40 to Cabot.

The area maintenance director discovered the most recent damage to the overpass, Straessle noted.

From 2001 through 2010, State Police worked 249 crashes on the bridge or on its approach, according to statistics provided by the State Police.

Most accidents on the overpass occur in the southbound lane, where centrifugal force helps errant vehicles to — and sometimes through — the guardrails 20 feet above Main Street.

In December, an 18-wheeler’s right front tire blew out while the driver was crossing the bridge.

The truck took out eight concrete guardrail posts before plunging down the grassy embankment.

Fortunately, no one was injured.

In late October, a local man was killed in an accident on or near the bridge.

In February 2006, a man from Ward was crushed and pronounced dead at the scene after a gravel truck slammed two pickup trucks through the overpass guardrail and plunged after them onto Main Street, dumping the gravel on the other vehicles, according to the State Police account.

TOP STORY >> Cities here vying to get vets home

Leader staff writer

The deadline has passed and now a three-person committee must narrow down the choice for the state’s new Veterans’ Home.

Jacksonville hopes to be among the finalists and eventually the winner.

In all, the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs received 36 proposals offering the department 61 parcels of land for the new home.

Among the choices are two proposals from Jacksonville, two from Cabot and one from Sherwood.

The proposals are scattered across the state from Chaffee Crossing to Dumas to Mountain View.

The criteria for the site is that it must be zoned for residential or light commercial use, have utilities, easy public access and be near motels, hospitals, restaurants, shopping and public transportation.

Sen. Jane English (R-North Little Rock), the head of the Veterans’ Home Task Force, hopes a decision will be made by late August. The group met Tuesday, but the focus of discussion was on the design of the new facility.

She said the task force has to treat building the veterans’ home like a business rather than just an emotional project because legislators want it to be sustainable.

The state has applied for a federal $18.1 million matching grant to construct the facility, while Arkansas lawmakers have agreed to use $7.5 million in surplus funds to match the grant.

Arkansas has only one veterans home open in the state and that’s in Fayetteville. It can hold up to 100 residents. The state’s other home in Little Rock was closed more than a year ago because of abuse and mismanagement.

The city of Jacksonville sent in a proposal under the flag of the chamber of commerce offering the state about 60 acres of land off General Samuels Road near Swift Road. The parcel is close to the air base, the hospital, shopping and eateries.

Mayor Gary Fletcher believes the city-chamber proposal is the only one offering the land for free.

“We did it in 1954 to bring in Little Rock Air Force Base and would like to have history repeat itself,” he said.

Fletcher said, “We are a natural fit. We think we’ve got the best site. It’s a very centralized location with easy access. I can’t think of a better place.”

If the city’s site is selected, Fletcher said, “We’re going to do all we can to make it a first-class facility and we’ll treat it like a gem in our community.”

The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs and a legislative task force announced last month that they were seeking 20 acres of level and, preferably, free undeveloped land.

Wednesday was the deadline for cities to submit proposals.

The center, wherever it is built, could house up to 150 veterans and help create up to 100 jobs.

Jacksonville’s other proposal was sent in by William B. Collins of Lilac LLC, part of Cypress Properties in Little Rock.

The Cabot sites are being offered through Jeff Hathaway of Coldwell Banker. His proposal also included sites in Maumelle, Mabelvale and North Little Rock.

The two Cabot sites that Hathaway is asking the state to consider are both for sale. One is a 16- acre tract on Hwy. 5 near Greystone and the other is a 30-acre tract on the east side of Second Street, just north of Hwy. 67/167 Exit 16.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert said no one has approached him for help or assistance in bringing the veterans home to Cabot.

“It is certainly welcome, but I haven’t heard anything about it,” he said.

The Sherwood site is part of an eight-property proposal sent in by Melanie Gibson of Colliers International. Other sites in her package included Little Rock, Roland and Maumelle.

The Sherwood parcel that Gibson has submitted for consideration is a 45-acre tract on Trammel Road near Trammel Estates.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said the real estate firm had not talked to her about bringing in the veterans home, but she would love to have it in her city. “We would do everything we could to support it,” she said.

Sen. English said a three-person committee, including a representative from the American Legion, one from the VFW and the chairman of the Arkansas Vet Centers, will review the proposals individually.

“They will have a checklist and make sure the proposal meet the criteria,” English said. “From there we will narrow it down to three or four possibilities and go out and check the sites and talk to the community leaders.”

Cissy Rucker, director of the state’s Department of Veterans affairs, said this may be the last time the federal government will fund a brand new center.

“We want it to be state-of-the-art and something people in the state are proud of,” Rucker said.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

TOP STORY >> Principal gets job he applied for 29 years ago

Leader staff writer

Is Bill Barnes excited about being the new Jacksonville High School principal?

He was at his desk at 7 a.m. Friday, a day after the July 4th holiday, with nearly all of his staff on summer vacation, working on trying to find the right teachers for his vision of making the school the centerpiece of Jacksonville and of the Pulaski County Special School District.

“You know, I applied for this job 29 years ago. The district went with Jim Johnson, and I ended up at Mills. This school was the jewel of the district, and yes, it has fallen on hard times, but the potential is there,” he said. “It’s not in bad shape.”

Barnes, who was touring Mt. Rushmore and the Black Hills on his Harley last month, said when the district first called he said no.

The principal, with about 40 years experience in education, said it was definitely nothing against Jacksonville, “but after three years, I had just finally figured out retirement.”

“But then they asked me to come in and just talk, he said. He thought there was no harm in that, plus he and (Superintendent) Jerry Guess went to college together, so they could talk about that.

“All the time they were talking to me, I was thinking of how to say no,” Barnes explained. But the more the district talked, the more excited Barnes got, and it went from no, to “when can I start?”

The strong support the community has for education is a big plus. “I’ve already received a number of calls from people just asking how can they help,” he said. “The community involvement is great. I didn’t have that at Mills.”

Barnes calls himself a cheerleader and someone who tries to be the best at everything. But he also knows how it feels to not make the grade.

Out of college, Barnes, was drafted by the Memphis Pros of the American Basketball Association.

“I was picked in the 11th round. The team signed 40 rookies. I made it to the top 12, but then they only took three or four.”

From that letdown, he signed a contract with the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots.

“I was in rookie camp, when I was told I needed knee surgery if I wanted a chance to play,” Barnes said, adding that the procedure was pretty barbaric back then with no guarantees. He decided not to have the surgery. It wasn’t until four years ago that Barnes finally had the knee worked on —arthroscopically.

With professional sports now just a dream, Barnes, who is from is from El Dorado, settled in at Hope and worked as a math teacher, coach and part-time assistant principal.

“When I left they had to hire three people to replace me,” he laughed.

As a cheerleader, he said it’s not about him, but about his team. “I look to hire smarter, harder working people than me,” he said.

Barnes said that when Mills High School was named one of the top schools in the nation “it wasn’t because of Bill Barnes. I just sat in that chair. It was the staff and students that earned us that accolade.”

He kiddingly said that after years of taking kids out of Jacksonville to go to Mills, he now wants to fight to keep every one of them here.

Barnes said the former principal, Henry Anderson, in his two years, built a good foundation. “I want to continue to do some of those things, but also step it up. We have to improve our graduation rate and making sure every student can read,” he said.

Barnes said JHS will also focus its third year of a $6 million grant ($2 million a year) on improving test scores.

Anderson will be the principal at McCellan High School in Little Rock.

Barnes said, “It is an exciting time for Jacksonville right now. There are so many possibilities. Something good is going to happen and we are all on the ground floor. We can compete with Cabot, Fayetteville, Bentonville and the likes.” He added that the high school was going to focusing strongly on education, but also be a happy place.

“We will weed out the negative,” Barnes promised.

TOP STORY >> 19th AW chief says he’s ready for challenges

Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, left, takes the guidon from Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, former commander of the 19th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base as the new commander, Col. Patrick Rhatigan, far right, looks on during the change-of-command ceremony Tuesday at the base.

Leader staff writer

Col. Patrick Rhatigan took charge Tuesday of Little Rock Air Force Base’s 19th Airlift Wing, which he says is undergoing a lot of “turbulence.”

Rhatigan told the hundreds of airmen and community leaders gathered for the change-of-command ceremony that sequestration is tightening belts but the base is transitioning to the newer C-130Js.

LRAFB will also be inspected in just a few months, he added.

Rhatigan didn’t specifically mention the 11-day furlough notices that approximately 657 civilian employees at the base received last month.

The mandatory unpaid leave started Monday and will end with the start of the fiscal year in October.

That’s approximately one day off per week, or about a 20 percent reduction in pay for nonessential civilian workers because of sequestration cuts in the federal budget.

Rhatigan assured the crowd, “My focus will be stability and to release the creative minds of our airmen.”

He also said, “I’m excited to be part of this. Each of you is an essential part of the team Little Rock family. This is where airmen start, train, upgrade and excel.”

Rhatigan thanked Brig. Gen. (Select) Brian Robinson, who commanded the base for 18 months, for leaving him “with a wing that is clearly firing on all cylinders.”

Rhatigan noted, “Fatigue is a fitting word for the Air Force,” which has the job of flying, fighting and winning.

But the new commander said the world doesn’t care about budget cuts, inspections or other issues the branch and its bases are dealing with.

“When there is a need for combat airlift, they turn to the greatest Air Force on the planet,” and the Air Force calls on LRAFB, he explained.

“I look forward to joining with you to answer that call,” Rhatigan said. “Our nation expects (our answer).”

The 19th Airlift Wing is the “Home of C-130 Combat Airlift” and works in concert with the 314th Airlift Wing, 189th Airlift Wing, 22nd Air Force Detachment 1 and USAF Mobility Weapons School in all aspects of C-130 operations and training.

As commander, Rhatigan will lead the world’s largest fleet of C-130 aircraft and be responsible for providing worldwide deployable C-130 aircraft, aircrews, expeditionary combat support, personnel and equipment for Air Mobility Command and Air Expeditionary Force taskings.

He replaces Robinson, who was recently selected for promotion to brigadier general and will become the vice commander of Air Mobility Command’s 618th Air and Space Operations Center (Tanker Airlift Control Center) at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The 618th AOC is responsible for executing global command and control of all Air Mobility Command airlift and air refueling missions conducted as the air component of U.S. Transportation Command (USTC).

Robinson noted that teamwork, courage and the airmen’s ability to identify and seize opportunities would help LRAFB keep its reputation of excellence.

“You make miracles happen. Keep taking care of each other,” he said.

Highlighting the importance of teamwork, the former commander quoted a proverb, “Those who want to go quickly go alone. Those who want to go far go together.”

About courage, Robinson said, “For God’s sake, when a senior officer asks for your opinion, grow some courage and give him your honest opinion.”

He thanked everyone for their support during his tenure at LRAFB.

Robinson said of the community, “The warmth you throw around this base I’ve never seen before. Thank you is not enough.”

State Sen. Eddie Jo Williams, Tuskegee Airman Milton Crenshaw, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman, Ward Mayor Art Brooke and several aides representing legislators and members of Congress attended the ceremony.

Robinson told Rhatigan, “You are joining great teams. You and Karen (Rhatigan’s wife) are the right people to run the next leg of this race.”

Lt. Gen. Darren McDew, commander of the 18th Air Force at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., was the officiating officer for the change-of-command ceremony.

He said that he hopes LRAFB will maintain its reputation of excellence under its new leader.

“Earn it by daring to learn more, dream more and do more,” as John Quincy Adams once advised, McDew told the crowd.

He complimented Robinson for having a “steady hand in the midst of crises.”

After praising the outgoing commander, McDew asked, “Who could possibly replace a perfect commander? You know how the system works. We find another perfect commander.”

He called Rhatigan “well-respected” and “a proven warrior and commander” with “strong character.”

McDew continued, “I know without a doubt you will lead this team to continued excellence. Inspire them to dream and do more.”

Rhatigan is coming to LRAFB from a one-year deployment at an undisclosed base in Southwest Asia, where he was the 379th Expeditionary Operations Group commander.

The group provided airspace control, aeromedical evacuation, in-flight air refueling, combat aerial delivery, operational support airlift, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and close air support throughout Central Command’s area of operations.

The group’s duties also included airfield operations and support for the United States and Coalition Forces in the Arabian Gulf and Enduring Freedom and the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa.

Rhatigan, a 1991 graduate of the Air Force Academy with a degree in English literature, pinned on his colonel eagles in September 2011.

He earned his pilot wings in 1992 at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz.

As chief of the Prime Nuclear Airlift Force at McChord Air Force Base, Wash., Rhatigan was responsible for the worldwide logistical movement of nuclear weapons.

Before his most recent deployment to Southwest Asia, Rhatigan held several staff positions at the Pentagon, including speechwriter for the secretary of the Air Force and military assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs.

Rhatigan is a 1987 graduate of Bethpage High School on Long Island, N.Y.,

Before moving to the Pentagon, he served as commander of the 93rd Air Refueling Squadron out of McChord Air Force Base, Wash.

Rhatigan has had numerous deployments to the Asian theater and he is a command pilot with more than 4,700 hours in six types of aircraft.

Rhatigan and his wife, Karen, have four preschool and elementary school-aged children — Clarice, Gavin, Lucan and Tristan.

TOP STORY >> District backers look to a vote

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville-area residents are closer than they’ve ever been to getting their own school district. Again.

“We got everything we came for,” Daniel Gray, spokesman for the Jacksonville/North Pulaski County Education Corps, said.

The state Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved as valid petitions submitted by activists seeking to detach a Jacksonville/North Pulaski County district from the 730-square-mile Pulaski County Special School District.

The new district would take about 100 square miles out of that.

Ten years ago, the state board set an election to let residents decide the issue, but the PCSSD board opposed the move, went to court and U.S. District Judge Bill Wilson ruled that such a detachment was contrary to desegregation efforts and scuttled the vote.

This time around, according to the Jacksonville group’s lawyer, Patrick Wilson, PCSSD is in favor of the detachment and proponents are seeking approval of both the state attorney general’s office and U.S. District Judge Price Marshall before returning to the board of education to set a detachment election.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, director of administration Jim Durham, Mike and Larry Wilson, most members of the Jacksonville City Council — including former school board member Bishop James Bolden, state Rep. Mark Perry (D-Jacksonville), Reedie Ray and former state Rep. Pat Bond were among others attending in support.

Chairman Brenda Gullett said going against Bond would be like going against the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

The state board approved as valid petitions signed by 2,079 residents of the area that would comprise the new district and will submit the information supporting the request for an election on the matter to the state attorney general’s office.

County clerks in both Pulaski and Lonoke counties verified the petitions and sig natures, as well as the number of signatures needed.

If the attorney general’s office — which has been trying to extricate the state from the tangled desegregation agreement that costs it about $60 million a year — approves the petition, the supporting documents and board action, Marshall will be asked to sign off and allow the detachment election.

The state board would then be asked to set a date for such an election, which could be a special election, school election or general election.

Both the feasibility study and PCSSD Superintendent Jerry Guess have said that the detachment would actually make it easier for the districts to achieve unitary status, especially in terms of repairing and replacing old and decrepit school buildings — one of the stumbling blocks to achieving unitary status. Transferring responsibility for those buildings to a new district would lighten PCSSD’s financial burden, officials say.

Board member Sam Led-better asked if the Little Rock and North Little Rock districts opposed the detachment. Wilson said they were currently preoccupied, but would be considering the detachment later.

The effort to carve the district from the sprawling Pulaski County Special School District dates back to the late 1960s. Some supporters are second-generation leaders of the effort.

Representing the Jackson-ville/North Pulaski School District Education Corps, Wilson — one of the second-generation activists on the matter — told the board that the group had met all four requirements for detaching from PCSSD:

 A statement of purpose to form a new school district.

 Maps of the area affected.

 An independent feasibility study — the group has had six in recent years, including the one this year.

 A petition signed by 10 percent of voters who participated in the last election. Proponents needed 1,869 verified signatures and gathered an extra 210 signatures.

Winston F. Simpson’s feasibility concluded that both the new and old districts would have more than the required 4,000 students, both would have enough money to operate and neither would be negatively impacted regarding racial balance and the 2000 Desegregation Agreement.

While Jacksonville’s detachment effort is not part of the desegregation case before Marshall, they intersect.

Two of nine remaining unitary issues that PCSSD is seeking hearings on were slated for an August hearing and two more begin Dec. 9, according to the district’s longtime desegregation lawyer, Sam Jones.

But, late last week, John Walker, lawyer for the Joshua Intervenors in the desegregation case, asked and received a postponement of the August hearing for personal health reasons, but Marshall declined to postpone the December hearing. He has not set a new hearing date to replace the postponed August hearing.

The judge is expected to want to hear how the state’s motion to stop desegregation funding totaling about $60 million a year — $20 million of that to PCSSD — would affect PCSSD’s unitary efforts, Jones said. He suggested that may offer an opening to discuss the proposed detachment.

SPORTS STORY >> Bears win Summer Showdown

Leader sportswriter

In dramatic fashion, the Gwatney Buick GMC Bears of Sylvan Hills closed summer play by winning the seventh annual Little Rock Catholic Summer Showdown tournament with a 6-5 win over the favored Arkansas Express 17-year-olds in the championship game Sunday at UALR’s Curran Conway Park.

Sylvan Hills led 6-4 going into the seventh and final inning. Winning pitcher T.J. Burrow got Express cleanup hitter William Hancock to fly out the first at bat of the inning, but third baseman Nate Alberius hit a bloop single to right field the next at bat.

John Franklin Matros then came to the plate and hit a one-out triple to deep left-centerfield. Alberius scored on the play and Matros represented the tying run at third base. Matt Sherry followed Matros’ at bat with a hard-hit chopper to Burrow.

Burrow looked off Matros before throwing to first base for the second out of the inning. Jack Thomas then came to the plate to pinch hit and early in the at bat Burrow threw a wild pitch that got by catcher Chase Imoff.

It looked as if the title game was going to be knotted up at 6-6 as Matros took off for home, but suddenly the ball bounced back to Burrow who was rushing to cover home plate. Burrow snagged the ball with his glove as it bounced toward him and tagged Matros in the nick of time to seal the showcase tournament championship for the Gwatney Buick GMC Bears.

“I thought, shoot we’re in trouble,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton about the wild pitch, “but T.J. – great hustle. I mean, he competed, went seven (innings). We hadn’t thrown more than three (pitchers) all summer. Being in six games and just being a high-school team, it’s hard on pitching.”

The Arkansas Express team had a significantly higher number of pitchers on its roster, which was the main reason it was favored in Sunday’s championship game, which was the second game of the day for both teams.

“They’re a prospect (team) and they’ve got like 15 pitchers on their roster,” Tipton said. “We were struggling with our pitching because we didn’t have a lot of depth, but at the same time I always take heart over anything. I thought our kids showed a lot of heart and competed and played hard and I’m real proud of them.”

Arkansas Express was the aggressive team at the plate early as it scored three runs in the first inning to take an early lead. Sylvan Hills though got it going in the third inning with six runs scored, thanks in part to five-straight walks to start things off.

Leadoff hitter Reid Fawcett was the first player to get walked, and Burrow, Imoff, Brandon Baioni and Hunter Heslep all followed with walks. Fawcett scored the first run for the Gwatney Buick GMC Bears on a wild pitch by Express pitcher Ty Tice.

Heslep picked up an easy RBI as he walked with the bases loaded. After Heslep’s at bat, designated hitter Charlie Roberts hit a bases-clearing triple to give Sylvan Hills a 5-3 lead. The first out of the inning didn’t come until the next at bat, which was a sacrifice fly to centerfield by Blake Maddox that scored Roberts for all of Sylvan Hills’ runs.

Though the numbers don’t necessarily indicate it, Burrow showed a lot of heart, stamina and mental toughness in the winning effort. He threw all seven innings in the 100-plus degree heat and gave up five runs on as many hits, two walks, and recorded two strikeouts.

The Gwatney Buick GMC Bears outhit the Express team 7-5, and Roberts led the tournament champs with two hits. Burrow, Baioni, Maddox, Marcus Long and Connor Poteet had a hit apiece.

To get to the tournament title game, Sylvan Hills routed the Fayetteville based Rawlings Mud Dogs 11-3 in the semifinal game earlier in the day. Maddox was the star on the mound in that game. He recorded a game-high 11 strikeouts and gave up just two hits.

Burrow, Imoff and Fawcett each had two hits in that game, while Baioni, Roberts and Jacob White had one hit apiece.

SPORTS STORY >> Morrilton juniors hold off Red rally

Leader sportswriter

A fifth inning rally by the Cabot Red Centennial Bank junior American Legion team made Saturday’s matchup with Morrilton interesting, but the home team fell short in the end as Morrilton left the Cabot Sports Complex with an 8-7 win.

Morrilton scored two runs in the top of the second inning and Cabot scored a run in each of the first two innings to knot the score up at 2-2.

Both teams were held scoreless in the third, but Morrilton answered with three runs in the fourth and fifth innings to take a six-run, 8-2 lead.

Just as it appeared the visiting team was going to pull away with relative ease, the Centennial Bank Red squad battled back with five runs in the bottom of the fifth.

Cabot Red relief pitcher Mike Havard held Morrilton scoreless the rest of the way, but the offensive momentum stopped for the home team as Cabot failed to score again.

Caleb Harpole started the game on the mound for the Centennial Bank Red team. He threw four full innings before turning the pitching duties over to Havard in the fifth.

Harpole struck out three Morrilton batters and walked three during his time on the hill.

He gave up five hits and as many runs, but only two of those were earned.

The errors continued to plague Cabot in the fifth inning, as all three of Morrilton’s runs scored in that time were unearned. Havard allowed just one hit in his two innings of work.

Offensively, Cabot Red outhit Morrilton 8-6 and Centennial Bank five-hole hitter Jarrett Pitchford led both teams by going 3 for 4 at the plate. He scored one run and drove in a game-high three RBIs.

Havard and Ethan Holland were the only other Cabot players with multiple hits – each had two. Havard led the Red team with two runs scored.

Wes Brown had the only other hit for Cabot as he went 1 for 2 at the plate with an RBI. Even though Cabot struggled in the field, it had its chances to do more damage to Morrilton at the plate.

The Red Centennial Bank squad left a total of seven runners stranded on the bases. Morrilton left five. Besides Havard and Pitchford, Josh Kelpine, cleanup hitter Tyler Fowler, Jacob Womack and Holland scored one run each for Cabot.

With last week’s 8-6 loss to Sheridan, the Cabot Red team has lost its last two games by a combined three runs.

The Red Centennial Bank junior squad (5-14) will try and get back on the winning side of things tomorrow against Conway in an early afternoon game at 2:30 at the Cabot Sports Complex.

SPORTS STORY >> Hart signs to become ABC Buffalo

Leader sportswriter

Former Carlisle Bison baseball standout Chris Hart will continue his playing career at the next level as he signed a National Letter of Intent on Monday to play baseball for Arkansas Baptist College.

Hart, a three-time All-State selection in the sport, liked the pitch from the junior college Buffaloes program as he’s going to have the opportunity to play right away.

“I just think if I go to a junior college I can get bigger and stronger,” Hart said after the signing. “Coach (Zach) Bottoms told me that I could come in and pretty much be the shortstop right away.

“They said they were going to move their shortstop to third and the third baseman to first. Playing time right away is a big deal to me just because I don’t like sitting on the bench.”

Sitting on the bench is something Hart doesn’t have much experience with. He’s been a starter since his freshman year. Most of those starts have been at shortstop, but he’s also been a key contributor to the Bison starting pitching rotation as well.

Even though Hart has experienced both individual and team success throughout his high school playing days, he said there were a few growing pains along the way.

“Coach (B.J.) Greene probably had the biggest influence on me,” Hart said. “He came in my ninth grade year. I had a pretty hot attitude, and he threatened me, saying if I got another attitude with the team I’d get kicked off.

“That was my 10th grade year, and after that I just started playing the game instead of worrying about all the other stuff.”

B.J. Greene was the Bison baseball coach in Hart’s ninth through 11th grade years, but last summer Greene took the head-coaching job at Heber Springs.

Former Bison basketball coach William Rountree was an assistant baseball coach during Greene’s tenure and after Greene’s departure, Rountree took over head coaching duties for the Bison baseball program as well.

Monday’s signing was extra special for Rountree, who is Hart’s stepfather.

“I’m really proud of all the people in town who came for the signing,” Rountree said. “Christopher is very, very talented. He’s a three-sport athlete and the thing about Chris was that he was good in all the games.

“In all the sports he was a lead player. He’s always been good. He started as a very young kid playing with older kids and that probably helped his progress. But I’ve always felt like, especially in these later years, that if you looked past high school, that baseball was the best of his three opportunities. I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished.”

Hart’s other athletic accolades came on the football field and basketball court. He was a two-time All-Conference selection in each sport.

He was an All-Conference cornerback on the 2011 Class 2A state runner-up football team and also started at quarterback for this year’s Bison team that won its third-straight 2A-6 Conference Championship.

In basketball, Hart earned his postseason honors from his point guard position his junior and senior year. He led the team in assists from his sophomore year on and was second on the team in scoring his senior year.

Hart earned All-State honors in baseball for the first time his sophomore season, but it wasn’t until last year that the Bison made their name well known on the diamond.

Carlisle advanced all the way to the Class 2A state baseball championship game last year, but fell to traditional Class 2A baseball powerhouse Woodlawn in the title game.

The Bison made it back to the state tournament this year with Hart batting at the two spot as opposed to his usual leadoff position. He was the lone starting senior on this year’s team and his near .450 batting average was a team-high.

“He was a very good senior leader,” Rountree said of Hart. “Whether it was field maintenance or situational things we talked about, it was like having another coach on the field. Honestly, it was a very easy situation for me because Chris is such a good player that knows the game so well.”

Arkansas Baptist pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Bottoms was present for the ceremony. According to him, he had been targeting Hart since his junior year and was even more impressed at the Xtra Innings Summer Classic, which showcases underclassmen Arkansas baseball players to college coaches and professional scouts.

“We started recruiting Chris at the end of his junior year,” Bottoms said. “We saw him again at Xtra Innings and he really showed up at Xtra Innings. Since then it’s been a process to get him on board at Baptist.

“We really liked his athleticism and leadership, being a three-sport guy. We think he’s just going to be a baseball player. He’s really a superb athlete that we want to focus more on just baseball because we’ve had a lot of success with those guys.”

Hart would ultimately like to play baseball at the Division I level and he believes playing for Arkansas Baptist College is a great opportunity for him to do that.

But for now, Hart says he just wants to get out there and play and see what happens, and is humbled to sign a college scholarship in front of his friends, family, former teammates and coaches.

“It feels good because these are the people that have helped me achieve the goals I’ve achieved,” Hart said. “And just to be able to sign a scholarship feels pretty good.”

SPORTS STORY >> Six in a row for Cabot Juniors

Leader sportswriter

The Cabot White Centennial Bank junior American Legion team improved its winning streak to six games after beating Benton Sport Stop 9-4 on Friday at Benton.

Cabot (24-7) wasted little time getting its offense going as it scored the game’s first nine runs, eight of which came in the top of the first inning.

All but one player in the Cabot starting lineup scored a run in the game, and the White Centennial Bank junior team made the most of its chances as it left just one runner stranded on the bases. Benton left a total of 10 runners on base.

That was the most telling statistic of the game as Cabot narrowly outhit Benton 7-6. Seven different players rounded out the team’s hit totals.

Leadoff hitter Jonathan Latture, Dylan Bowers, Adam Hicks, Chris Odom, Tyler Tucker, Austin Null and Trent Frizell each had one hit apiece for the White Centennial Bank junior team.

Latture’s hit was a triple that scored two runs in the top of the first inning. Frizell also drove in two runs in that inning with a double. Three other Cabot White players collected RBIs.

Null, Tucker and Odom each drove in a run, and Null led the team with two runs scored. Cabot scored its final run in the top of the third inning.

The White Centennial Bank junior team used five different pitchers in the seven innings played.

Null picked up the win after just two innings of work. He gave up one hit and three walks, but didn’t allow a run and recorded one strikeout.

Brandon Jones came in to relieve Null in the bottom of the third. He gave up three hits and as many runs, but only two of those runs were earned. He also recorded one strikeout in his two innings on the hill.

Shawn Williams took over pitching duties in the fifth but couldn’t record an out. Benton scored its final run of the game off of Williams before Gavin Tillery took to the mound.

Tillery gave up just one hit in his one inning of work and recorded all three Benton outs with strikeouts. Bowers finished the game on the mound. He gave up one walk and no hits, while recording one strikeout at the end of the game.

The White Centennial Bank squad will try and extend its win streak tomorrow as it hosts Lonoke at 7:30 p.m. at the Cabot Sports Complex.

SPORTS STORY >> Chevy Boys overpower Russellville

Leader sportswriter

The Gwatney Chevrolet senior American Legion team from Jacksonville had little trouble with Russellville in Sunday’s home game as the Chevy Boys won 9-3 at Dupree Park.

Jacksonville never trailed in the game and scored two runs in the first, third, fourth and fifth innings before adding one in the sixth to round out its run total. The Chevy Boys totaled 12 hits in the game, which was pleasing to head coach Bob Hickingbotham.

“Our catcher, Troy Allen, had three hits – two doubles and a single, and he drove in three or four runs,” Hickingbotham said. “We had three or four guys get two hits, which that’s what it’s all about. What we want them to do is to get some hits in order and today they did a good job.”

Allen and leadoff hitter Derek St. Clair scored the first two runs for Jacksonville after both hit singles to start the inning. The Chevy Boys went scoreless in the second, but picked up where they left off in the third.

Greg Jones and Jared Wilson hit back-to-back singles with one out in the bottom part of the inning. Courtland McDonald advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt the next at bat. Caleb Reeves singled later in the inning, but both Jones and Wilson scored on wild pitches to give the Chevy Boys a 4-1 lead.

Russellville scored its last two runs the following at bat in the top of the fourth, but Jacksonville answered with two runs of its own. St. Clair walked with one out in the inning and scored the next at bat thanks to the first of Allen’s two doubles.

Allen scored three batters later on Wilson’s third single of the day. Jacksonville built on its 6-3 lead in the fifth with two more runs. Like the previous inning, St. Clair walked to start things off and Allen followed with a double that scored St. Clair.

Second baseman Ryan Mallison scored the eighth run for Jacksonville. He walked during his at bat and later scored on a wild pitch to give the home team a comfortable 8-3 lead. Wilson once again kept the Russellville bats at bay in the top of the sixth, and the Chevy Boys added an insurance run to set the final score.

Reeves singled to the gap in right field for the first hit of the inning. Mallison caught the Russellville infield sleeping the next at bat with a bunt that went for a single.

LaDerrious Perry then came to the plate and hit into a 5-2 fielder’s choice, but as the Russellville catcher threw it to first in an attempt to get Perry for a double play, the ball sailed over the first baseman’s head and allowed Reeves to score to give the Chevy Boys a 9-3 lead.

Eric Moore got the win on the hill for Jacksonville. He started the game before turning the pitching duties over to Wilson midway through. Hickingbotham was just as pleased with the effort his pitchers gave along with the defense behind them.

“I thought both of our pitchers did a good job,” Hickingbotham said. “Jared Wilson came in and pitched the last three and did outstanding. We played good defense. We made a couple of errors but we played good defense.”

Allen and Wilson led the way for Jacksonville offensively with three hits each. Reeves was the only other Chevy Boys player with multiple hits. He had two, while St. Clair, Jones, Mallison and Perry had one apiece.

Monday, July 08, 2013

TOP STORY >> Harlem Globetrotter inspires kids at JPD

Leader staff writer

Legendary Harlem Globetrotter Hubert (Geese) Ausbie showed he still has a few of his smooth basketball skills as a guest speaker at the Jacksonville Police Department’s Junior Citizens Police Academy graduation day on June 28.

Ausbie, 75, of Little Rock was the “Clown Prince” for the Globetrotters for 25 years until retiring in 1985. He then coached the team for another 15 years.

Ausbie was born in Crescent, Okla. He came to Arkansas after high school to attend Philander Smith College in Little Rock from 1956 to 1960. He earned a degree in physical education. In college, Ausbie was named All-American in basketball and during in his senior year he was the third-highest scorer in the country.

Ausbie turned down offers to play baseball with the Chicago Cubs and professional basketball.

In 1961, Ausbie attended the Globetrotters training camp in Chicago. He was chosen from more than 500 players around the nation to be on the Globetrotters team.

As a youngster, Ausbie’s nickname was “Goose” but the Globetrotters already had a player named Goose, so Ausbie’s name changed to “Geese.”

Ausbie played in more than 10,000 games in 100 countries.

“We played for the Pope. We played for the Queen. I played for Nelson Mandela for his birthday in ’98 and played for President Bill Clinton. I’ve met Bill Cosby and Michael Jordan,” he said.

A Harlem Globetrotter game is more than scoring points; it’s about entertainment.

One of Ausbie’s favorite comic routines during a game was to go into the stands. He would get a woman’s purse and return to the floor. He would then go into her purse and get all her stuff out. Then he would dance with her.

“Sometimes you get surprises in a purse. One time in New York the lady said Geese, you’ll be sorry. I was sorry. She had a .45 (handgun). I took it back to her,” he said.

Ausbie said the players have thrown real water on people. They did not mind it when they found out they were going to be paid for their troubles.

“I enjoyed my life, and, if I had to, I’d do it all over again. Everywhere we went we were well protected by the officers. Anytime we called at night we knew they would be there,” Ausbie said.

He said police officers get paid less than professional athletes who make millions of dollars and waste it. The officers put their life on the line every day, not knowing if they are coming home or not.

“Officers are good people. Every night I go to bed I hear that siren blown and it makes you wonder if an officer or a young kid has been shot. I just pray everybody makes it home safe,” Ausbie said.

“There is a show that comes on TV. I love cowboy movies and the show is Hopalong Cassidy. At the end of the show he always tells the kids, thank your parents, be sure to go to Sunday school in church and mind your police officer,” Ausbie said.

“They get mad if you call a police a cop. Hopalong Cassidy said to call a police officer ‘mister officer,’” Ausbie said.

“Everywhere in the world I go they give me a badge. An officer gave me a badge in Alabama one night and he said, ‘Geese, this badge is good in Alabama, but it ain’t worth 10 cents in Mississippi, so don’t try to use ’em,” Ausbie said.

Ausbie and his wife, Awilda, have been married for 55 years. They have four adult children — three daughters and a son — and two grandchildren.

“She gives me a hard time sometimes. She sells MaryKay and I’ve have to deliver for her because she has a little car. I drive a car for free. She puts gas in the car,” Ausbie said.

Ausbie had each of the JPD junior police academy students read words to live by printed on a Harlem Globetrotter basketball: cooperation, honesty, effort, enthusiasm, respect and responsibility.

He told the youngsters to mind their parents because they are great people.

“Don’t call me Hubert. When you call me Hubert, I know I am in trouble,” Ausbie said of his folks.

He said at school he sometimes got in trouble. The principal would whoop him and, when he got home, his mother would be sitting in the swing. She would tell him to go in the house. That is when Ausbie knew he did something wrong.

“She whooped me. Wooo, Lordy, have mercy,” he said.

“I can prove it too, take a look at the scars,” Ausbie said as he pointed toward his backside.

“But she was good to us and we were a praying family, and that was the main thing,” he said.

He told the youth, “Stay in school. You’re going to have a lot of trouble out there on the road. You’re going to see people with drugs. Just turn it down. Don’t do drugs.”

Ausbie ended by saying, “The best day of your life is today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not promised to you.”

It was the second year for JPD to hold its Junior Citizens Police Academy. The free five-day program was limited to 14 youngsters from 13 to 17 years old interested in law enforcement.

They learned about community-orientated policing, criminal investigations, patrol duties, the use of force, less lethal weapons and firearms. They also learned about the K9 unit duties, the special response team and narcotics investigations.

TOP STORY >> Murder defendant contests competency

Leader senior staff writer

The Cabot area woman charged with beating James Heath to death with a baseball bat last September is challenging a ruling that she is competent to stand trial.

Patrick Benca, attorney for Jeanne Rene Rollf, 40, will contest the May 1 finding that she is competent to stand trial, according to Deputy Prosecutor Barbara Mariana. The next hearing is set for Aug. 12 in the Fourth District Pulaski County Circuit Court with Judge Herbert Wright presiding.

Rollf has been in the Pulaski County Detention Center since her Oct. 12, 2012 arrest, in lieu of $1 million bond.

She is charged with the first-degree murder that happened at her north Pulaski County trailer. If convicted, Rollf could serve between 10 to 40 years in prison or life. She is also accused of abusing a corpse and tampering with evidence.

Her three co-defendants all pleaded guilty to reduced charges, contingent upon testimony against Rollf.

On May 1, John Posey, 36, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence, according to Mariana. He was sentenced to 20 years for murder and six years for each of the other charges, which will run concurrently for a total of 26 years. Posey is at the Ouachita River Correctional Unit with a scheduled release date of November 2022, according to Correction Department records.

Also on May 1, William Null, 25, pleaded guilty to abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence and was sentenced to six years on each count, to run consecutively.Null is at the East Arkansas Regional Correction Unit with a scheduled release date of January 2015.

Taylor Arnold, 20 at the time of his October arrest, pleaded guilty April 29 to abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He will be sentenced later, Mariana said.

Arnold is free on bond, she noted.

Arnold said in an affidavit that he was in another room of Rollf’s trailer when he heard Heath say, “No, Rene, no.” Arnold then told officers that he heard “two very loud thumps as if someone got hit with something.”

Arnold said he and Null walked out of the bedroom and saw Heath “lying in the hallway floor covered in blood and Rollf lying on top of him holding a baseball bat,” according to the affidavit.

Posey’s wife, who was also at the scene, said in an affidavit that Rollf told her, “I killed him.”
Arnold said his involvement was limited to digging the grave, helping clean the bloody trailer and helping carry Heath’s body on a door to that grave.

EDITORIAL >> Going wet: It adds up

The University of Arkansas report on making Sherwood and Jacksonville “wet” are mathematically flawed, but the conclusion is valid — both cities would benefit financially by being completely wet.

First, the background:

• Gray Township, a political entity that no longer exists but covers about 50 percent of what is now Sherwood and close to 90 percent of Jacksonville, voted in 1954 and 1956 to make the area dry, meaning no alcohol sales except under certain circumstances, like jumping through a lengthy process of hoops to be a private club.

•  Because Gray Township no longer officially exists, there has been no mechanism to change that vote. But the state legislature approved a new law that helped set the boundaries of four dry Pulaski County townships and to allow residents to vote on the issue later this year.

The study flaws:

• The studies, produced by the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said that 50 percent of Sherwood is dry and losing about $7 million a year in sales because full-service restaurants can’t open in the dry areas. It then says that Jacksonville is 90 percent dry and is also losing money, but only $600,000 a year — say what?

Jacksonville and Sherwood are close in population (29,000 to 30,000 residents respectively) and much more of Jacksonville falls into the dry category, but Sherwood is losing 10 times the money? The numbers simply don’t add up, multiple up or make any mathematical sense.

But the concept is true; the cities are losing money because many national, full-service restaurants will not locate in the area because most of the land available for development is in the dry areas.

Jacksonville has only one major full-service chain restaurant and that is Chili’s, pulling in about $4 million a year, making it one of the busiest and best in the state. But why doesn’t anyone else open next to Little Rock Air Force Base, which contributes more than $800 million to the local economy?

The “dry” rules, restrictions and regulations are a major factor here.

The study also forgets the indirect or ancillary jobs new restaurants would create. When a Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings comes in, there is an instant need for plumbers, electricians and a variety of laborers to build the facility. Not all of those workers are hired locally, but many are. Plus, crews that come in to help need to stay at local hotels, use local eateries and gas up locally.

Once a restaurant opens, like Buffalo Wild Wings, it could employ 100-plus people. Plus, it could be responsible for that much more indirectly — from the drivers delivering the supplies to the chicken farmers providing the product.
Now, what to do:

• Study flaws aside, both cities and their chambers of commerce need to push hard to get enough signatures collected to call for the vote. Both cities need about 4,400 signatures from the affected area. Sherwood has to get it from a much smaller segment than Jacksonville, but both need the vote for the economic impact it will provide—which would actually be less than $7 million a year for Sherwood and much more than $600,000 for Jacksonville.

TOP STORY >> Base family’s burden of service

19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Exhausted from another day of managing tantrums, diapers, laundry, dinner, baths and bedtime, Heather Drain finally sits down in her Cabot home.

She is free at last to enjoy the solitude that her labor has earned her. 

The refuge lasts nearly 10 minutes before her son, Ayden, gets up from bed. After a brief confrontation, he retreats back to his room, but not before waking 6-month-old Everett, who is ready for a feeding.

The frustration of even the smallest task or chore amplifies as each day passes. Rest comes in small increments, as most nights she is lucky to get just three hours of sleep. Her parental duties are a relentless cycle, and her day mirrors the military spouse lifestyle.

For Drain there are no typical days. Yet, each one seems like a rerun. It begins each morning when her young boys wake and ends when they fall asleep in the evening. In the four months that have passed since she said goodbye to her husband, Aaron, Drain has spent nearly every day and night caring for the couple’s sons.

Through all of the hardships, she insists that her biggest challenges have been neither physical nor mental. Instead her battles are being waged on an emotional front.

“The hardest part of being here, by myself, raising two boys, would be not having anyone around to experience the special moments and the things that your kids do, someone to share it with,” said Drain, whose husband has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq.

While she accepts that deployments are a way of life in the military, and in fact come with some benefits, it’s little consolation for the moments that will be missed out on as a family. Drain gave birth to the couple’s second child, Everett, just three weeks before her husband deployed.

This was the first of several changes she would have to prepare for, and deal with, on her own during the deployment.

“I prepared by kind of disconnecting myself a little bit,” said Drain. “I had to, to make it less emotional.”

The decision to disconnect was born, in part, from a flood of postpartum emotions.

“About halfway through the deployment I was able to get back to where I was before he left,” said Drain. “It was really hard because typically I’m not a super emotional person; I never really have been.

“I’m a pretty logical person, but after the baby came along, I was a whole new me. I couldn’t control any of it. It made it pretty difficult.”

While many of the changes occurring in her life were internal, others were very visible. She does her best to keep Aaron a part of the boys’ lives, however, webcams and video clips offer only a small measure of comfort to either parent.

“(Aaron) missed his first smile, his first laugh, rolling over,” said Drain. “He’s almost sitting up on his own now; he’ll miss a lot of firsts.”

Drain also achieved a few milestones of her own. After serving on active duty for eight years as an aerospace medical technician, she transitioned over to the Air Force Reserve in November. The move will allow her to become a stabilizing force at home.

“Ayden was just 2 when (Aaron) deployed the first time,” said Drain. “It took a long time for him to feel secure that his dad wasn’t just going to leave. It could be as simple as just walking out of the house or dropping him off at daycare. It became very difficult, and Ayden had a really hard time with that.

“If I were to deploy it would not be very good at all. His dad affects him so much being gone I can only imagine what would happen if I had to leave. So, the main factor of me getting out is just doing what’s best for my children,” she said.

With nearly two months to go, the deployment was beginning to reveal signs of fatigue in 4-year-old Ayden as well. Drain noted that she had observed some changes in the toddler’s behavior.

“Ayden had a few changes, negative changes, in his behavior after his dad left,” said Drain. “He started to get clingy, very, very clingy and would be violent if not given his way. Really anything would set him off.”

Drain credits her own military service in helping her appreciate the importance of the sacrifices her husband is making. However, she feels those sacrifices may have had detrimental effects on Ayden.

“He never really had a secure bond with his dad,” said Drain. “Aaron had missed the whole first year of (Ayden’s) life, due to the military. We were separated geographically at the time.

His whole second year he was with him, Aaron was in school. There really wasn’t much interaction. So, just this past year is the most interaction he’s had with his dad in all four years of his life.

So, for him to leave again, it set him back a little bit. There will be a lot of rebuilding that needs to be done.”

For now, Drain returns her attention to the task at hand. She carefully places Everett back in his swing and tries to slog through a few more chores. She briefly acknowledges this day, like many others, appeared to be a draw, and suggests that her time would be better spent resting for the day ahead.

In only a few short hours the cycle would begin again. It would inevitably be another exhausting day of laboring for those she loves. Still, it would be one day closer to Aaron’s return.

This is the second part of a three-part series. To see a video clip of this story, visit the Little Rock Air Force Base YouTube page at

SPORTS STORY >> Misplaced priorities revealed

Leader sports editor

(This sports column from Sept. 12, 2012,  won first place at the Arkansas Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest banquet last Saturday.)

The Arkansas Razorback fan base is divided since the eighth-ranked Hogs lost 34-31 to hapless Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday. Fans’ expectations for this season were as high as any in a few decades, and the loss to a team that’s not had a winning season since 1994 has dashed those expectations.

Now it seems that about half the fan base wants to rehire Bobby Petrino and fire athletic director Jeff Long for firing Petrino in the first place. And those fans are wrong.

Some try to revise history and minimize the egregious offenses Petrino committed. Others just have their priorities out of line and believe winning at football is the most important thing to consider.

They don’t care that he cheated on his wife, hired his mistress for a job she wasn’t qualified for, wrecked his motorcycle with her aboard, lied to his boss (Long), allowed Long to send out a press release he knew was false and finally called his own press conference and lied to the media and fans about the whole incident. And let’s not forget he paid the woman he was sleeping with $20,000. There’s a word for that which won’t be used here, but it pertains to an old saying about an even older profession.

And he hired this woman for a job in the football department. For the fans whose priority No. 1 is Razorback football, that fact alone should tell you that Razorback football was no longer Petrino’s top priority, but even that misses the point here.

The point is that fans who want Petrino back have misprioritized the important things in life.

Some fans just want him back because he won games and that’s all that matters.

Some will try to argue that his success brought millions of dollars to the program. But that’s a tenuous rationalization. Even if it’s true, money is not the most important thing here either. It rarely is in truth, it’s just treated that way because our priorities are out of line.

Fans who are against rehiring Petrino are often called self righteous, or morality peddlers or Bible thumpers. One was even told to keep his morality to himself and at his worship services.

The late writer David Foster Wallace once made this profound observation.

“Here’s something that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there’s no such thing as not worshiping. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for  choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship – is that pretty much anything else will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you.”

One might also add, worship sports or competition and winning, you’ll die every time you lose and sacrifice some truly important things like family, integrity, honesty and courage for something that’s not really that important, like winning at football.

Don’t want to feel eaten alive every time the Hogs fail? Put them in their proper place in life’s priorities.

SPORTS STORY >> Centennial Bank routs Jacksonville at Dupree

Leader sports editor

The Centennial Bank senior American Legion avenged a tournament loss from earlier in the week with an 11-3 win over Jacksonville on Tuesday at Dupree Park. Cabot (13-12) scored four runs in the top of the first inning and never trailed, even extending the lead with another four-run rally in the third.

Hayden Vinson threw all five innings for Cabot, giving up just five hits and one earned run while striking out six and walking just two.

Jacksonville’s Alex Broadwell struck out four in two-and-two-thirds innings, but also walked four and hit two batters. He gave up six hits and eight earned runs. Jared Wilson finished the game on the mound for Gwatney, giving up two hits and two earned runs.

Bryson Morris started Cabot’s rally in the first inning by drawing a one-out walk. Casey Vaughan followed that with a single to left field that scored Morris. Coleman McAtee and Ryan Logan made it three singles to left in a row to load the bases. Grayson Cole grounded to third base, where Blake Perry fielded the ball and threw home to get Vaughan out on the force. With the bases still loaded, Kyle Kaufman hit a two-out single to right field to score McAtee and Logan, and Cole scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-0.

Jacksonville’s best inning was also the first thanks to fielding errors on the first two at bats. Derek St. Clair and Troy Allen each hit grounders to Conner Vocque at shortstop, and both were misplayed. St. Clair scored on the second error and Courtland McDonald singled to drive Allen home with no outs. But that’s all the offense the Chevy Boys could produce until the fifth inning.

McDonald was caught stealing by catcher Brent Dean, and Vinson got Blake Perry to fly out to right field before walking LaDerrious Perry. Ryan Mallison then flew out to left field.

Cabot scored an unearned run in the second inning thanks to two walks and an error, then scored four runs with two outs in the third to take command of the game.

Cole was hit by a Broadwell pitch to start the inning, but the Gwatney pitcher struck out the next two batters. Cole stole second base during the second out, and Vinson singled to drive him home and make it 6-2. Broadwell walked Vocque and hit Morris to load the bases before he was replaced by Wilson.

Vaughan made it a rough start for Wilson with a bases-clearing double through the power alley in left-centerfield that made it 9-2.

Cabot scored another run in the fourth without a base hit. Cole was hit and Kaufman walked before Dean hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Cole. Vocque started the fifth inning with a base hit and Vaughan got his fifth RBI of the game with a sacrifice fly to right field to give Centennial Bank an 11-2 lead.

Jacksonville finally got back on the board in the bottom of the fifth when Allen hit a leadoff double and scored with two outs when LaDerrious Perry singled to left field.

Jacksonville will travel to Benton today and plays at home against Russellville at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Cabot’s senior team is off until Tuesday when it hosts North Little Rock.

SPORTS STORY >> Sherwood Bears earn two wins at UALR event

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills’ Gwatney GMC Bears picked up two hard-fought wins the first two games of the Little Rock Catholic Fourth of July Showcase tournament.

On Thursday, the Bears used a strong sixth inning to blow past the junior Rockets 8-4, and on Friday, solid pitching by Marcus Long and a timely hit by Hunter Heslep helped Sylvan Hills edge Lake Hamilton 2-1 at Curran Conway Field on the UALR campus.

“We had a couple of double plays that were turned, but for the most part he just stifled them,” said Bears assistant coach Chris Foor about Long’s showing on the mound. “Between his fastball, his curveball, and his split-finger fastball, they just never were on time with him.

“It’s hot out here and we’re playing on astro turf. When you get to the seventh inning and you’re getting near that hundred pitch count, it’s tough. He basically just became a pure bulldog and just fought through.”

Long gave up just three hits and the one run Lake Hamilton scored was unearned. He also recorded eight strikeouts. Sylvan Hills scored both of its runs in the first inning. The Bears got two walks to start the inning and a sacrifice bunt the next at bat moved the runners to second and third base.

A strikeout followed, but Hunter Heslep came through with a two-out single up the middle to drive in both runs. In Thursday’s win, the Bears led early, but put the game away with a big sixth inning.

Chase Imoff and Reid Fawcett led the way offensively, and Sylvan Hills was very active on the base paths as it totaled five stolen bases in the sixth inning alone.

“They’re really learning with these new bats,” Foor said. “Yeah, being a powerhouse offensive team would be nice, but really you don’t see that many. You’ve got to play small ball and we got our bunts down, we stole bases, we got hit, we battled to get walks, and worked pitch counts up high for pitchers. They’re starting to understand the game.”

The Catholic junior team started connecting at the plate in the final inning against Bears pitcher Connor Poteet, but Poteet held off the rally for the complete game win. Poteet, who Foor said is projected to be the ace pitcher for the Sylvan Hills varsity team next spring, finished the game with seven strikeouts and only two earned runs.

Sylvan Hills played Jonesboro yesterday and will play Catholic’s older 17-year-old Rockets team today before closing tournament play tomorrow.

SPORTS STORY >> Gwatney rallies in seventh, beats Red

Leader sports editor

The Gwatney Chevrolet junior team escaped with a narrow victory over the rapidly improving Cabot Red team Tuesday at Dupree Park. Jacksonville saw a 7-1 lead after five innings turn into a 9-7 deficit by the middle of the seventh, but managed three runs in the bottom of the last inning to pull out the victory.

The Centennial Bank team pulled to within one run in the top of the sixth with a five-run rally, then took the lead with three runs in the top of the seventh. They were in good shape with Jacksonville’s seven through nine hitters due up, and things looked even better when Mike Havard struck out Josh Cook to start the inning.

Brandon Hopkins then singled and Tyson Flowers walked. That brought Jacksonville (18-2) back to the top of the order, when James Tucker tied the game by sending a 2-1 pitch to the wall in centerfield and driving in both base runners. Wesley Williams then reached on an error at first base and Payton Traywick was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Then, in anti-climactic fashion, A.J. Jackson walked in five pitches to score the game-winning run.

Jacksonville got on the board first in the bottom of the first inning when Greg Jones walked and Blake Perry hit a fly ball to centerfield that was misplayed.

Pitcher Brandon Hickingbotham got a three-run rally started for Gwatney in the second inning with a leadoff double to right-centerfield. Zac Watkins singled to drive him home and Donte Harris singled to score Watkins. After Flowers flew out to right field, an error at third base left Harris and D.J. Scott safe at second and third, and Ryan Mallison hit a sacrifice grounder to score Harris and make it 4-0.

Cabot Red (5-12) scored a run in the top of the third. Ethan Holland hit a leadoff single before Hickingbotham fanned the next two batters. Holland stole second base and was able to score on a two-out RBI single by Braden Jarnigan.

Jarnigan, who started on the mound and pitched three innings for Cabot, yielded to Havard in the fourth, but three more runs gave Jacksonville a 7-1 lead in the bottom of the inning. Harris and Flowers hit back-to-back singles to start the inning. Two batters later with one out, Mallison tripled down the line in right field for two more RBIs. He then scored on a single to centerfield by Jones.

Havard held Gwatney scoreless on just one hit through the fifth and sixth innings as Cabot Red mounted its rally.

It started with a leadoff triple by Jarnigan off Hickingbotham, who went the distance for Jacksonville. Wes Brown then singled to drive in one run. Kayde Ridgeway walked and Jarrett Pitchford doubled to drive in Brown, all before Jacksonville recorded an out. Lino Garcia singled with one out to score Ridgeway. Pitchford scored on a passed ball and Garcia scored on a sacrifice by Havard to make it 7-6.

In the top of the seventh, Jarnigan started things off with a single before Brown grounded out back to the mound. Hickingbotham then hit Ridgeway and Pitchford to load the bases. An error at shortstop scored one run and tied the game. A single to left by Garcia drove in Ridgeway and Pitchford and gave Cabot a 9-7 lead.

Hickingbotham gave up nine base hits but only three earned runs. He walked three and hit three while striking out six. Jacksonville scored just four earned runs while piling up eight base hits.

The Gwatney junior team will play its regular-season game at 2 p.m. today at Benton. Cabot Red also plays at home today against Morrilton.