SPORTS >>Bruins fall in slugout
By JASON KING
Sylvan Hills kicked off the Fourth of July Classic at Dupree Park in Jacksonville against Benton McClendon’s Appliance Thursday evening, losing 13-11 in a game that can only be described as a slugfest.
The lead swapped hands five times in the seven-inning affair. The Bruins recovered from a grand-slam home run by Benton’s Nick Shoptaw in the bottom of the first inning to retake the lead in the top of the third inning.
Sylvan Hills stretched their lead to as much a five runs in the third, but Benton fought back to tie the game up at 9-9 heading into the fourth inning.
A two-run lead by the Bruins heading into the bottom of the sixth would not be enough. Benton answered with four runs during their turn in the sixth to take the lead for the final time.
The defensive sloppiness in the game would be apparent from the very start, with starting Benton pitcher Nathan Piel walking two out of the first three SH batters, and giving up a single to two-hole hitter Matt Rugger. Rugger would eventually be tagged out at third, but base-on-balls recipients Taylor Roark and Grant Garlington made it in off of hits by Jarrett Boles and Ryan Woods to give the Bruins an early 2-0 lead.
The lead was very short lived. The first three Benton batters reached with singles against SH starter Pavan to load the bases before cleanup hitter Shoptaw’s shot over the wall scored all of them.
The Bruins got one of those runs back in the second inning with a single from Garlington that scored Roark, who reached on a double. Garlington would be the tying run, but Joe Gardener hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the turn.
Pavan sent Benton three up and three down in the bottom of the second. It would be only one of two times in the game when such a defensive feat was accomplished.
The top of the third inning would be the Bruins’ strongest effort of the game. Trailing 4-3 to start their turn, Sylvan Hills went through the entire lineup for six runs in the frame.
Boles led off with a single, followed by a fielder’s-choice smack by Woods that landed Boles out at second. Nathan Eller advanced Woods with a single into left field for two on.
That set up one of the oddest plays witnessed all summer. With two on, Shane Graham stepped up to the plate, and was struck out. However, the ball got away from McClendon’s catcher Austin Johnson on the final pitch, and Graham scrambled to first.
The throw to first by Johnson tagged Graham in the shoulder, and bounced out of play behind the Benton dugout. This would score Woods to tie the game at 4-4.
Roark then walked to load the bases with one out, and Rugger sent in all three runners with a double into centerfield. Eller and Graham made it in with ease, but the throw to the plate from the outfield by Benton centerfielder Noble was strong, and Roark had to thwart the play at home with a slide in for the score.
Garlington followed that with the first of two SH home runs, sending in Rugger with a shot that not only cleared the fence, but also the Hickingbotham Field scoreboard that sits a good 15 feet over the wall.
Just as before, Benton did not allow the Bruins to hold on to the lead for very long, rallying in the bottom of the third to tie. Pavan was retired to centerfield during the inning in an even swap for Graham. Pavan gave up one run in the frame, and Graham gave up the other four on two hits and an error.
With the score tied at 9-9, the Bruins entered the top of the fourth inning determined to re- take control of the game.
They didn’t accomplish taking control, but did manage a run from Pavan off a hit by Chris Eastham to give them a 10-9 lead.
The Bruins appeared to have their defensive struggles under control in the bottom of the fourth. SH shortstop Rugger made a couple of great plays up the middle for two of the outs, with a strikeout by Graham in between.
Sylvan Hills loaded the bases again in the top of the fifth, but Benton was able to prevent a score.
Benton put two on in the bottom side, but two straight pop ups to second baseman Woods left the score at 10-9 heading into the sixth inning.
Seth Hobbs took to the mound for Benton in the top of the sixth to relieve starter Stuart Snell, but Hobbs would start out on very shaky ground.
Woods sent his very first offering over the left field wall for the second Sylvan Hills’ home run of the contest to increase the Bruins’ lead to 11-9.
Hobbs recovered to strikeout the last two Bruins batters to minimize the damage done from the bat of Woods.
Whatever consistency the Bruins defense found in the fifth was no longer with them in the bottom of the sixth inning. Graham looked reasonably strong on the mound for three innings considering the game’s tone, but his stamina faded quickly in the opening moments of the bottom half of the sixth inning.
Leadoff Tyler Keene doubled, and advanced when a strikeout on Greg Noble turned into a free trip to first courtesy of a passed ball. A walk for Shoptaw loaded the bases, and the first run would score when Graham hit Matt Sample with a pitch.
It would be Graham’s final offering, as Eastham was brought in to close out the game. Cash Taylor welcomed Eastham to the mound with a smack into right field that scored two runs, giving Benton their first lead of the game since the third inning.
McClendon added one more run before the end of their turn, leaving Sylvan Hills with one more chance to keep the highlight show going.
They put the tying run in position when Rugger singled and Gardner reached on an error, but Benton got the first out with a strikeout on Garlington, and turned another double play, this time a 1-4-3 on an infield hit by Ross Bogard to escape with the win.
Sylvan Hills will have two more chances to capture a win during this year’s edition of the annual Fourth of July Classic. They played yesterday against Dunklin County, and will take on host team Gwatney Chevrolet at 4 p.m. today.