Saturday, May 14, 2016

SPORTS STORY >> Bears baseball still alive

Leader sports editor

HARRISON – For the second year in a row, the Sylvan Hills baseball team is in the semifinals of the Class 5A state tournament. The big difference between this season and last is, this year, the Bears expected to be here.

Sylvan Hills beat Farmington 8-4 in the first round, then handled Valley View 5-3 in the quarterfinals Friday. The Bears (27-5) will take on Watson Chapel at 2:30 p.m. today in Harrison in the semifinal round. A win today means a trip to Baum Stadium in Fayetteville to play for the state championship.

“I think the mentality is totally different this year,” said Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton. “They’re not just happy to be here this year. They expected to be here. It was a little bit of a surprise for everybody when we got this far last year. This year, I think they at least want to get there (to the championship game).”

On Friday, the Bears took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning and soon made it 4-0 in the third. The Blazers got on the board in the top of the fifth, but the Bears pushed their margin back to four in the sixth.

Valley View made things interesting in the top of the seventh. The seven, eight and nine hitters got a double, a hit batter and a two-RBI single that made it 5-3 with no outs and the top of the lineup coming up. But pitcher Nick Fakouri got a groundout, a strikeout and another 6-3 grounder to finish the complete game victory.

Sylvan Hills’ first-round game against Farmington was in jeopardy until a drama-filled, four-run fourth inning turned a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 lead.

The Bears had just tied the game with two runs in the third inning. River Hunt reached on an E6 and Michael Coven doubled to right-center field to drive Hunt home. Coven moved to third on the throw home, and scored on a sac fly to right field by JoJo Craft.

Farmington scored twice in the top of the fourth to reclaim its two-run advantage.

The major drama came in the bottom of the fourth. There had already been a controversial call at the plate. Sylvan Hills believed it had clearly thrown a Farmington runner out, but he was called safe.

When a run was taken away from Sylvan Hills because of a foul ball from the other field, things got heated. Tipton was incredulous when an apparent two-run base hit was waived off because a foul ball from the other field landed on their field during the play.

“My interpretation is that you only stop play if the ball from the other field effects your game,” Tipton said. “This foul ball wasn’t involved. None of their players reacted to it. The umpire walked over and picked it up after our play was over. We’ve scored two runs, and they have a big meeting and decide to send all my runners back. Of course, I went crazy. And then they decide to compromise and give us one run. Now I’m upset and yelling at umpires and everybody else probably, and I think the kids fed off that a little bit because it sort of opened up the floodgates.”

Sylvan Hills followed the controversy with a walk and three-straight base hits that drove in three more Sylvan Hills runs, giving the Bears a 6-4 lead they would not relinquish.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, Mackenzie Seats sent the first pitch over the wall in left field to make it 7-4. Lumpkin later drew a one-out walk, moved into scoring position on a single by Zac Douglas and scored on another RBI base hit by Hunt that set the final margin.

Hunt finished the game going 3 for 4 at the plate with three RBIs. Seats went 2 for 3 with a home run and a double. Coven went 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles for the Bears.

Hunt went three and two-thirds innings while Seats threw the final three and a third for the win.