Friday, April 10, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Red Devils sweep Bears

Leader sports editor

It took three runs in the bottom of the last inning of the nightcap of a doubleheader, but the Jacksonville Red Devils pulled off a big 5A-Central sweep of Sylvan Hills at the Sherwood Sports Complex on Tuesday. Jacksonville rolled 9-1 in game one, but trailed 2-0 going into its last at-bat in game two before earning the 3-2 victory.

“We always expected to win,” said Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows. “We’d been making some good contact in the game – enough that we felt like we could pull it off even in that last inning.”

Sylvan Hills pitcher Hunter Heslep carried a four-hit shutout into the seventh inning, but came off the mound after two batters in the seventh. Nine-hole hitter Javan Wakefield started the rally by drawing a leadoff walk. Derek St. Clair, who moved to the top of the order after Courtland McDonald suffered a hamstring injury in game one, singled to left-center field, ending Heslep’s stellar performance.

Ryan Mallison hit a grounder back to pitcher Blake Maddox, but it was misplayed, leaving everyone safe and the bases loaded. Caleb McMunn tied the game with a two-RBI single to right field. Greg Jones walked to load the bases again, and pitcher James Tucker came through with a walk-off, game-winning single to center field.

Playing as the visiting team in game two, Sylvan Hills scored in the top of the first inning on singles by Nathan Thomas and McKenzie Seats. No one scored again until the Bears added to their lead with another run in the top of the sixth on three-consecutive singles by Maddox, Seats and Nick Fakouri.

Tucker threw all seven innings for Jacksonville, giving up seven hits and two earned runs while striking out seven, walking two and hitting one batter.

Jacksonville slowly built a four-run lead in game one, getting one run in the first, two in the second and another in the third off Sylvan Hills pitcher Marcus Long. Sylvan Hills scored an unearned run in the fourth on an error at shortstop and an RBI base hit by JoJo Craft.

Long held Jacksonville scoreless in the fourth and fifth innings, but the Red Devils burst out for four in the sixth to take control and give pitcher St. Clair a comfortable lead.

D.J. Scott started the four-run sixth with a single to left. Laderrious Perry walked and McDonald reached on an error that ended Long’s night on the mound. Mallison struck out and McMunn flew out to center field but scored Scott from third.

Another error scored two more runs, but McDonald suffered the pulled hamstring rounding third base. A base hit by Tucker drove in another run and gave Jacksonville an 8-1 lead.

Sylvan Hills had several chances to score more, especially early when St. Clair was struggling to find the strike zone.

He walked two batters in each of the first two innings, but the Red Devils were able to turn double plays both times. He also gave up back-to-back no-out singles in the third, but again was able to pitch out of the jam with a strikeout and another double-play ground ball.

St. Clair also went the distance – giving up three hits, zero earned runs while striking out six and walking five Bears.

Four players accounted for all 11 of Jacksonville’s base hits. Brandon Hickingbotham and Tucker went 3 for 4, Mallison went 3 for 5 with three RBIs and Scott went 2 for 4.

But it was catcher Greg Jones’ plate appearances that the head Red Devil bragged about.

“He probably went 1 for 7 in the two games combined, but he hit it hard every time,” Burrows said of Jones. “We got him fixed about two weeks ago and he is feeling it right now. His swing is good and he’s killing it.”

Jacksonville (11-5, 6-0) added a nonconference win to its ledger on Wednesday, hitting the road and beating Searcy 6-0 thanks to another fine effort on the mound by Hickingbotham. The junior threw a two-hit shutout with six strikeouts and one walk in seven innings on the mound. Hickingbotham has not given up a run in his last 11 innings of work.

Jacksonville scored just two earned runs, but got help from five Searcy errors. Jones went 2 for 4 with two RBIs to lead the way offensively.

Jacksonville hosts another crucial 5A-Central Conference doubleheader on Tuesday. Conference co-leader Pulaski Academy visits Dupree Park with the first pitch set for 4 p.m.