Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

SPORTS>>Owls win district crown

Leader sportswriter

Abundant Life held a 10-4 lead over Harding Academy heading into the bottom of the sixth inning of the Class 4A District 2 finals Monday night at Wiggin’s Field on the campus of Harding University in Searcy. They would take the win four innings later.

A six-run rally from the Wildcats in the sixth forced extra innings, but the Owls waited the storm out and took advantage of a fading Matt Lincoln on the mound. Abundant Life put five runs up in the top of the 10th to claim the tourney crown with a 15-11 final.

Lincoln was the third of four HA hurlers in the game, while the Owls only needed five and a third innings from starter Jake Chambers and four and two thirds from reliever Trey Moss.

T.J. Figler closed things out for the Wildcats after Lincoln surrendered four straight hits to Abundant Life, including three doubles that scored as many runs. Lincoln relieved Jacob Martin in the seventh inning, and gave up only one hit until the decisive 10th inning.

“We had to battle to win that one,” Owls coach Wes Johnson said. “We blew our lead, but you also have to give Harding Academy credit for stepping up the way they did and answering. But to allow only nine hits in 10 innings shows that our pitching did what it was supposed to do.”

Although he was thrilled with his team’s performance to take the win, Johnson was not without his criticisms of the team. After a brief trophy presentation at the mound, Johnson and the AL coaching staff had a heart to heart with the team behind third base.

“We talked about competing,” Johnson said. “When you’re up 10-3 and you let the other team back in the game, that’s lack of focus. Good teams don’t blow leads like that. For us to come back in extra innings and win, that shows our championship spirit, though.”

The game had the feel of a rivalry matchup from the outset. Both sides had full stands in attendance, and the chants coming from each of the dugouts were among the loudest heard all season. Now that the conference switch has been made from the old AA conference in which the Owls battled Arkansas Baptist for supremacy, Harding Academy seems to have filled the void left by the other Wildcats.

“People have asked all year who our rivals in the new conference were,” Johnson said. “I believe there was a rivalry established tonight.”

Each team also took its turn dealing with inconsistent officiating. A no-call on an interference play allowed HA to tie in the bottom of the sixth, but a run allowed in the top of the sixth when Owls’ batter Chambers was called out for lining up out of the box when he doubled in Justin Treece stuck, leading to two more runs in the frame. The many, many bad calls seemed to balance themselves out between the two teams, but it did not prevent respective fans from both sides questioning the seemingly bewildered plate umpire throughout the course of the game.

AL lead-off hitter Treece set the tone for the shootout when he nailed a home run to start out the game. Austin Crabill and Josh Selby both benefited from E7s to drive in runs in the first frame to put the Owls in front 3-0.

Although Chambers took the win with an impressive performance, his pitching started out somewhat shaky. After hitting lead off batter Lincoln, Chambers then walked the next two batters to load the bases before giving up a double to Figler that allowed HA to make up two scores. Chambers settled down after that point, although Ty Finley brought in the tying run on a fielder’s choice smack by Z. Cain.

The Owls added a run in the second inning, and really began to open things up in the third. A single by Selby scored Crabill, and Selby and Moss were both driven in on a single to right from Colby Woolverton.

Chambers also led offensively for AL, going 4 for 6 with 2 doubles and two RBIs. Treece also went 4 for 6 with a home run. Woolverton was 3 for 4 with 2 a double and two RBIs, along with two walks. In all, the Owls would record 18 hits against the Wildcats for the win. For Harding Academy, Brad London was 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. The loss gives the Wildcats only their fourth loss of the year at 17-4, while the Owls improved to 23-9 on the year, and will be the No. 1 seed from District 2 in next weeks’ Regional tournament.