SPORTS >>Owls walk to Region 2 title victory
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
In the first inning it appeared that a blowout was imminent and coming early. The blowout didn’t happen early, but it was indeed imminent as Abundant Life strolled its way to a 13-3 victory over Magnet Cove and the class 3A Region 2 tournament championship Tuesday night at Harding University.
The Owls turned a 5-3 lead into a mercy-rule ending in the bottom of the fifth with nine walks and two base hits. Magnet Cove used its two best pitchers as much as it could, which turned out to be for three innings. The lack of depth in the mound caught up to them in the fifth, and the Panthers couldn’t get one across the plate.
Owl coach Wes Johnson suspected things might get easier for his squad after the early innings.
“They have two pretty good arms,” Johnson said. “But we knew they didn’t have much left because they went seven innings in round one and then had to go eight innings Monday. We’re blessed to be very deep in pitching, and we only had to go five innings in the first two games, so we felt like we’d have a pretty good advantage as the game progressed.”
The Owls threatened to bust the game open in the bottom of the second inning. Josh Selby led off with a single to centerfield, but was thrown out at second when Thomas Garrick hit into a 6-4 fielder’s choice. Garrick took second on a passed ball and scored on an RBI single by Carson Seelinger. Starting pitcher Trey Moss then aided his own cause with a home run just over the fence in left field. Colby Woolverton and Dylan Eberle hit back-to-back singles and Justin Treece walked to load the bases with just one out, but Abundant Life got just one more run. DJ Baxendale hit a sacrifice grounder to score Woolverton before Selby struck out his on his second at bat of the inning.
The rally left the Owls up 5-0, but the cushion didn’t stay comfortable for long.
With one out in the top of the third, Panther leadoff hitter Jake Stevens reached on a throwing error at third by Baxendale, and Trevor Stone followed with a deep shot over the fence in left.
Abundant Life was in business in the bottom of the third when Garrick reached on an error at third to start the frame. Seelinger and Moss then struck out before Woolverton walked, but Woolverton was picked off by the pitcher when he broke for second too early.
The Panthers made it 5-3 on the first pitch of the fourth inning when Tyler Senn sent the pitch over the fence in left-center.
The Owls finally did put the game away in the bottom of the fifth when the Magnet Cove pitching staff lost control. Baxendale walked to start things off, and it was just the first of nine walks in the inning.
Selby hit a double to left field after Baxendale’s at bat, and the next five consecutive Owl batters got free trips. Treece then hit a sacrifice fly deep to centerfield that scored Moss, but it was the first and only out of the inning. Chambers then walked to reload the bases, and Baxendale hit a two-RBI single down the right-field line to make it 12-3. Selby then walked to load the bases again, and Garrick walked to drive in Chambers and end the game on the mercy rule.
The Panthers didn’t take long to make some noise in the first, but were unable to produce any runs. Stevens sent the first pitch of the game deep into left field for a double. Magnet Cove thwarted its first scoring opportunity though when Stevens was thrown out at third trying to sneak an extra base after Stone popped up to first base. A little patience would have resulted in a run, as Bobby Whillegar sent the next pitch to the same spot as Stevens’ hit for another double.
Moss then fanned Joe Efird to get out of the inning unscathed.
Abundant Life faced Lincoln at Harrison High School in the first round of state last night after Leader deadlines. Lincoln is the No. 4 seed from Region 1. A win in that game pits the Owls against the winner between East Poinsett County and Camden-Harmony Grove at 2:30 today.
Also from Region 2, Harding Academy took on Shiloh Christian yesterday at 2:30. The Saints, along with Abundant Life, Prescott and Pea Ridge, are among the favorites to make a run at the state title.
Should the Wildcats beat SCHS, they would face the winner between Prescott and Cotter at noon today.