SPORTS >> Bears earn league title
Leader sports staff
The Sylvan Hills Bears all but wrapped up another conference championship Monday night, splitting a doubleheader with Jones-boro, 8-4, and moving to 10-2 in league with only winless Forrest City left on the schedule.
The Bear-Hurricane split, combined with Searcy’s 8-6 win over Cabot Monday, leaves Sylvan Hills a game ahead of both Searcy (10-3) and Cabot (10-3), two teams they have already swept this year. Even if Forrest City were to pull off the impossible and take one from Sylvan Hills, the Bears would share the league title and take the AAAAA-East’s No. 1 seed into the state tournament since they own the tiebreaker over both teams.
It isn’t likely that the Mustangs will beat Sylvan Hills, meaning the Bears should easily hold on for their sixth conference championship in seven years. They had won five straight until Jonesboro won the league title last season.
Just because the Bears should cruise through their last two games, doesn’t mean Sylvan Hills coach Denny Tipton is celebrating just yet.
“We’re in a good spot,” Tipton said. “This game, anything can happen. We should win, but I’d rather not say anything about a championship right now.”
The winner of the Searcy-Cabot makeup game, which is scheduled for today in Searcy, will take the No. 2 seed, the loser will be third or fourth.
The two games Monday could not have been more different. Game one was a 2-1 Jonesboro win in a tough defensive struggle; the nightcap was a defensive mess for both teams in an 18-13 win for the Bears.
The opening game resulted in the first loss of the season for Sylvan Hills starting pitcher Ashur Tolliver, although the senior southpaw did not give up an earned run. Even with 10 strikeouts in the game, the Hurricane came away with two unearned runs to take the win.
Jonesboro got its first run while attempting to steal third base. An errant throw from home sailed into left field, allowing the easy run. The second one came when a pitch hit the backstop with a runner on third.
“It kind of makes you mad when you lose the first game on unearned runs,” Tipton said. “I think we ought to be able to talk about a championship but we missed a lot of opportunities. We stranded probably eight or nine runners in that one too. We just couldn’t get the hit.”
Sylvan Hills’ only score in the game came in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Hayden Miller reached first base courtesy of a walk from starting Jonesboro pitcher Murray Watts. Tolliver drove Miller in with an RBI shot moments later for the run.
Jonesboro took the early lead in the game with a sacrifice fly from Todd Ellis to score Jacob Lee in the top of the second inning.
The winning run for the Hurricane came in the fifth inning, when Cody Powell was brought home with a shot from Watts. The Bears could not answer in the final two innings, taking only their second conference loss of the year.
Sylvan Hills took control of the nightcap right from the start, scoring four runs in the top of the first inning.
Austin Gwatney and Shawn Bybee both scored off an RBI from Nathan Van Schoyck. Shawn Bybee scored on a passed ball, and Van Schoyck came home after stealing third base and rounding to the plate after the throw to third was too high.
Jonesboro made it on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third inning with a three-run homer from Powell, pulling the Hurricane to within one.
Jarrett Boles added two more in the top of the fourth inning with a two-run homer, followed by a shot to centerfield from Gwatney to score Taylor Roark. The Bears were in position to run rule Jonesboro in the fifth inning, taking a commanding 13-3 lead after scoring six runs in the top of the fifth.
Jonesboro didn’t let Sylvan Hills off that easily. Bears pitcher Tony Pavan was relieved by Blane Simms for the fifth inning, and the Hurricane scored the run they needed to prevent the run-rule.
The Bears were not finished scoring themselves. Mark Turpin drove in Hunter Miller in the sixth, followed by four more Sylvan Hills runs in the top of the seventh.
Leading the game was much easier for the Bears than finishing, as two more SH pitchers were needed to close on Jonesboro.
Ross Bogard finally put the Hurricane bats to rest in the seventh inning, but not before they added seven more runs in the final session to take an 18-6 Sylvan Hills’ blowout and make it an 18-13 score fest by game’s end.