Saturday, May 16, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Devils take win against Nettleton

Leader sports editor

HARRISON — The Jacksonville Red Devils crushed the baseball and hammered Nettleton 7-1 Thursday in the first round of the Class 5A state tournament.

Jacksonville finished with a modest eight base hits, but only struck out once and many of the outs were hard-hit line drives directly to Raider outfielders.

The Red Devils managed to find openings in the third and fifth innings, with most of the openings in the fifth found on the outside of the playing field.

Left-handed hitter Ryan Mallison went opposite field for a two-run home run down the third base line in the fifth. After Caleb McMunn doubled off the wall in left, catcher Greg Jones smashed a towering shot over the wall and scoreboard in straightaway center field.

It was the final hit for Jacksonville in the game, something coach Larry Burrows didn’t like to see.

“After that, everybody wanted to hit one,” said Burrows. “Our next six outs were all high pop-ups, and that ain’t good. We have to be smarter than that.”

Burrows was happy that his club made solid contact most of the game.

“Their pitcher (Mason Gibson) was averaging close to double-digit strikeouts,” Burrows said. “We were on it. We just have to remember, base hits, gaps. We can’t be swinging for the fences.”

Hitting wasn’t the only thing that went well for Jacksonville. Starting pitcher Derek St. Clair was dominant. He threw a two-hitter and gave up zero earned runs in the complete-game victory. He struck out nine Raiders, hit three and walked two.

Jacksonville’s first rally in the third started when Laderrious Perry was hit by a pitch. Courtland McDonald doubled to left-center to score Perry, and Mallison singled to the same area to score McDonald. Still with no outs, McMunn sacrificed Mallison to second and he moved to third on a passed ball. Jones then hit a sac fly to center to score Mallison and give the Red Devils a 3-0 lead.

McDonald went 2 for 3 at the plate with two runs scored. Mallison went 2 for 4 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored. Jones was 1 for 2 with three RBIs.

Nettleton’s lone run came in the seventh inning when Luke Sexton reached on an error at shortstop, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Hunter Smith’s single, the second and last Nettleton hit of the game.

“D is solid,” Burrows said of St. Clair. “I don’t really even think he had his best stuff today, and he was still pretty dominant.”

The Red Devils faced tournament host Harrison on Friday, a 9-7, come-from-behind winner of Hot Springs Lakeside in the first round.

Come from behind wins were commonplace in Thursday’s first round, especially late comebacks. In other games, the East’s top seed Greene County Tech scored two runs in the bottom of the last inning to beat Central four Pulaski Academy 4-3.

West No. 2 seed Little Rock Christian and South No. 3 seed Magnolia traded the lead four times, with Magnolia taking the lead for the final time with two home runs in the sixth inning to prevail 9-6.

5A-South champion Watson Chapel mimicked GCT, scoring two runs in its final at-bat to beat Greenbrier 3-2, and Sylvan Hills rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Batesville 6-3.

The only two games besides Jacksonville’s that didn’t feature a comeback was Beebe’s 1-0, extra innings loss to Valley View, and White Hall’s 4-1 win over Vilonia. In that game, White Hall ace Daniel Sprinkle hit 95 mph on the radar guns.