Saturday, May 16, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bears win first round of play in 5A tourney

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – Not often does a baseball team’s fortunes improve after the starting pitcher gets beamed in the head with a ball and has to leave the game, but it happened for Sylvan Hills on Thursday in a 6-3 victory over Batesville in the first round of the Class 5A state baseball tournament.

The Bears trailed 2-1 in the fourth inning when starting pitcher Hunter Heslep had men on first and third, and missed a signal. The Bears expected the Pioneers to steal second, and called for a cut throw to the pitcher to keep the runner at third from trying to score. Heslep, however, ducked believing the throw was going to second. The hard throw hit him behind the right ear and careened into right field. Another Pioneer run scored, and Heslep left the game after a long time lying on the mound.

Senior lefty Marcus Long took over on the mound, inheriting a 3-1 deficit, two outs and a runner on third.

Batesville, the No. 3 seed from the 5A-East, did not get another hit.

“Marcus didn’t expect to pitch today and we didn’t expect to put him in,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “But he’s been that guy that’s come through for us all year long. I had to go with him and he did a great job. You know what you get with Marcus and you know you can rely on him. It was a tough situation and he came in and shut them down and gave us a chance to get back in it.”

Batesville built a 2-0 lead with a leadoff double off the wall in left field by Zach Langston, and a two-run home run to the same spot by pitcher Kenton Crawford.

Sylvan Hills answered in the bottom of the first with a solo home run by Mackenzie Seats, but the Bears still trailed 3-1 going into the fifth inning, when they took the lead for the first time in the game.

Jacob Franco started the rally by taking a pitch between the shoulder blades. Carson Sanders, Lukas Burrow and Nathan Thomas hit consecutive singles and Batesville committed an error to give the Bears a 4-3 lead.

Sylvan Hills added two more in the bottom of the sixth inning, again starting with a leadoff single by Franco. Sanders reached on an error and Burrow walked to load the bases. Thomas hit a fly ball to deep center field to drive in one run, and another error led to the final run of the game.

Sylvan Hills got nine base hits with Seats going 2 for 3 with a walk and a home run. Franco reached base on every at-bat, going 1 for 1 with two HBPs. The Bears only struck out once.

Batesville got four hits off Heslep in his three and two-thirds innings. Long pitched three and a third innings of no-hit ball, striking out four and walking none. Long fanned the first batter he faced for the final out of the fourth inning, and struck out the first batter of each subsequent inning.

The win ended a five-year streak of first-round losses for the tradition-rich Sylvan Hills baseball program. The Bears faced Watson Chapel in a weather-delayed second-round game on Friday. Chapel is the No. 1 seed from the 5A-South. Look for details of that game and others in the 5A state tournament in Wednesday’s edition of The Leader.