Leader Blues

Friday, June 09, 2006

SPORTS >> Fifth inning disaster

Leader staff writer

IN SHORT: Jacksonville held Benton to two runs until the top of the fifth inning in Class AAA action on Thursday. Benton scored nine runs off five errors in the fifth.

One bad defensive inning from Jacksonville was all it took for Benton to turn a closely contested game into a 13-4 blowout Thursday night in a Class AAA American Legion matchup at Dupree Park.

The Chevy boys trailed by only a single run until the top of the fifth inning, when the Benton McClendon’s Appliance squad went through 14 hitters and three Gwatney pitchers, scoring nine runs on four hits and five Jacksonville errors.

Gwatney’s offensive highlights came too little too late in the bottom of the fifth, although Kyle West’s three-run home run got Jacksonville out of run-rule status.

West’s shot over the right- field wall closed the gap to 11-4, but two more runs in the sixth for Benton stretched the lead once again and set the final score of 13-4.

Benton took the early lead in the top of the first inning off a double to centerfield from Nick Shoptaw that scored James Branett and Seth Hobbs.

Starting Gwatney pitcher Tim Payne forced the final two Benton batters of the inning into pop-ups, leaving one man on.

Jacksonville made one of those runs up in the bottom of the first. Lead-off batter Randal Peeples reached with a walk, and crossed the plate two batters later courtesy of a single to center from Trey Smith.

Gwatney was in position to take the lead with runners at first and third and no outs, but a line-drive to starting pitcher Bill Massing from West caught Smith off guard at first, and Massing made the throw to Benton first baseman Shoptaw for the second out on the same play. Brandon Clements grounded out to shortstop to end the inning, leaving Benton up 2-1.

Gwatney looked good defensively for the next three innings. Payne struck out five batters during the second through fourth innings, and only allowed two hits.

Jacksonville started to look really strong by the fourth. A pop- up from Benton, along with a 4-3 from Jordan Payer to Clements and a 1-3 sent Benton three-and-out for the first time in the game.

Jacksonville went three-and-out during its turn in the fourth as well. The game was shaping up to be a classic defensive struggle, until Benton took to the plate for the fifth inning.

Gwatney had been error-free through the first four innings, but any lucky breaks through those frames were made up for and then some in the fifth. A single by Branett, a fielding error from a bunt by Hobbs and a walk for Noble loaded the bases for Benton with no outs. Shoptaw singled to score Branett for one of the four earned runs of the inning. A total of five fielding errors from Gwatney added five more runs for McClendon’s Appliance.

Casey Winstead relieved Payne for the seventh batter of the inning after Benton had increased its lead to 5-1, but the painful inning would be far from over.

Hobbs had already reached by an error during his first trip to the plate in the fifth, but needed no assistance during his second turn, lifting the ball over the left-field wall to score three more runs and increase Benton’s lead to 11-1. Neil Hatcher was finally brought to the mound to end the turn, and got the final out off one pitch, forcing an F7 pop up from Luke Kerseymere.

Three runs were made up by Jacksonville in the bottom of the fifth when West’s home run drove in Jeremy Williams and Smith. The homer also cut Benton’s lead down to seven runs, allowing Gwatney to escape the five-inning run-rule.

Benton was determined to get the runs back in the sixth. Zach James became the fourth Chevy boy to take time at the mound in the contest in the sixth. One more hit for Benton scored another pair of runs to increase the lead once again to 13-4.

Jacksonville’s final shot at closing the gap ended in the bottom of the sixth. Massing struck out the final two Gwatney batters of the game to seal the win for Benton.

Gwatney finished the game with four runs, five hits and seven errors. Benton had 14 runs, 10 hits and two errors. Trey Smith was 2 for 3 for Jacksonville with a pair of singles. Kyle West was 1 for 3 with a home run and Tyler Uptergrove was 1 for 2.

Both Gwatney teams will be in action Today in a twin bill against Morrilton starting at 1 p.m. for the Class A opener.