Tuesday, May 05, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Lonoke earns third-straight district

Leader sportswriter

The Lonoke baseball team won its third-straight 4A-2 District Tournament championship Saturday at Riverview High School in Searcy with a dominant 14-4 mercy-rule victory over Newport in the tournament championship game.

Lonoke got to the championship game with a come from behind 8-7 win over Central Arkansas Christian in the semifinal round. Newport advanced to the tournament final by knocking off regular season conference champion Stuttgart in the semis.

By the tournament final, the Greyhounds had used up a good chunk of their pitching, but were hitting the ball well enough to lead in the early goings. Lonoke led 2-1 after the first inning, but Newport scored three runs in the second to take a 4-2 lead.

Unfortunately for the Greyhounds, though, it was all Lonoke after that. The Jackrabbits scored a run in the third inning to cut the deficit to 4-3, and added five more runs to their side of the board in the fourth to take an 8-4 lead.

Lonoke then had its most productive inning in the fifth, scoring six runs to end the game on the sportsmanship rule.

Both teams had nine hits in the five-inning game, but Newport walked nine Lonoke batters, hit another, and the Greyhounds committed five errors in the field. Conversely, Lonoke gave up just one walk and committed just one error.

“That first game with CAC, we knew we were going to be in for a dogfight,” said Lonoke coach Darrick Lowery. “They played a heck of a game with Heber (Friday) night, going to 10 innings. They’re playing extremely well here at the end of the year and they made us work for everything.

“We made a lot of mistakes that kept them in the ballgame, but we found a way to win. In this game, Newport, they had it tough having to play so many games in three days.

“They were running out of pitching, but we did a good job of being patient at the plate and taking walks and doing what we needed to do to eventually pull away.”

In the inning that Lonoke put the game away, the bottom of the fifth, Casey Martin got things started with a walk. He stole second base and went to third on a passed ball before scoring on an error at second base off the bat of Haven Hunter. That put the Rabbits up 9-4.

Cody Martin also reached on an E4 the next at-bat, and Nick Graves drew his third walk of the game to load the bases. Christian James then walked with the bases juiced, scoring Hunter for Lonoke’s 10th run of the game.

Cody Martin scored the 11th Lonoke run on a passed ball before Kade Stuart walked to once again load the bases. Winning pitcher Keith Lingo walked the following at-bat to score Graves, and James scored Lonoke’s 13th run on an error at shortstop off the bat of Savonte Rountree.

Newport got the second out of the inning the next at-bat, but Casey Martin ended the game the following at-bat with a single to right field. Stuart scored on the play, and the game ended because Lonoke’s lead reached 10 runs in five innings of play, invoking the sportsmanship rule.

Casey Martin led Lonoke with three hits against Newport. Cody Martin also had multiple hits against the Greyhounds, going 2 for 2 with a double, single and three runs scored.

Lingo took over pitching duties at the start of the third inning with his team down 4-2. He recorded zero strikeouts, but didn’t give up a single run on just three hits and one walk allowed in the three innings of work.

“He’s a kid that was injured for over half the year,” Lowery said of Lingo. “He comes in and we throw him in in a big spot and he throws three scoreless innings. I’m proud for him and I can’t say enough about the kids playing good defense behind him.

“He did his job coming in and throwing strikes and we played a heck of a ballgame.”

Against CAC, Lonoke trailed 7-5 heading into the seventh inning. Cody Martin led off the bottom of the seventh and reached on an error at shortstop before Graves was hit by a pitch.

James then hit a clutch, stand-up double to left field, scoring both runners and tying the game at 7-7. Still no outs, Stuart singled to left field the next at-bat, scoring James for the walk-off win.

Lonoke outhit CAC 9-5, and the Jackrabbits overcame a total of seven errors committed. Casey Martin went 3 for 4 in that game as well to lead the Rabbits at the plate. Rountree was the only other Lonoke player with multiple hits, going 2 for 2.

James earned the win on the hill. He pitched the final one and two-third innings and recorded one strikeout in that time.

For the third-straight year, Lonoke will enter the regional tournament this Friday as a No. 1 seed, but will look to avoid being ousted in the first round like it’s done for the past two years. The last time Lonoke made the state tournament was in 2012, and that team made it all the way to the Class 4A state championship game.

As long as his team can avoid making mistakes like it did in the district semifinal, Lowery likes his team’s chances Friday to advance in the first round of regionals, and perhaps go further.

“I feel good about our chances,” Lowery said. “I think we can compete with anybody. It’s just if we can clean up our mistakes. If we make a lot of mistakes like we did today, it will be tough.”

Lonoke (14-3) will play Trumann, a No. 4 seed, in the first round of the regional tournament at Pocahontas this Friday at 10 a.m.