SPORTS >>Gwatney mercy rules Rogers
By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor
The 2007 version of Gwatney’s Class A team accomplished a program first Thursday afternoon at Burns Park. The Chevy boys won a game in the American Legion state tournament. It had been 17 years since a Jacksonville A team had participated in state, and it had never won a game while there. That changed Thursday when Gwatney easily disposed of Rogers 11-1 in six innings of play.
“We started a little tight, but we finally decided to play baseball and we did,” Jacksonville coach Travis Lyda said. “It wasn’t a beautiful work of art, but on the same token it was a win in the state tournament. That’s something this program has never done on the Class A level.”
It took a couple of innings, but once Jacksonville touched Rogers starting pitcher Cody Hawthorne, it was all over. After two scoreless innings that hinted at an impending big inning for the Gwatney squad, it finally came in the third.
Nine-hole hitter Jeff Tillman battled back from an 0-2 count to hit a single to centerfield to start the rally with no hits. Tyler Wisdom and Terrell Brown then laid down perfect bunts for infield singles. Rogers fumbled the ball on Brown’s bunt down the first base line just enough to allow Tillman to score. Mitchell Regnas then hit a grounder back to the pitcher, who threw to home in an unsuccessful attempt to get Wisdom who was charging for the score.
Caleb Mitchell and Seth Tomboli made the first two outs of the inning, but right fielder Hayden Simpson capped the rally with a two-RBI double to centerfield to give Jacksonville a 4-1 lead.
Starting pitcher Clayton Fenton shut Rogers down in the top of the fourth, and the Chevy boys added three more in the bottom of the frame.
Wisdom started with a single against relief pitcher Britt McKenzie, who struggled with his control during his brief stint on the mound. The next four batters reached without having to swing. Brown was hit, Regnas walked, Mitchell was hit and Tomboli walked before McKenzie was pulled for Matt Phillips. Phillips gave up another RBI base hit to Simpson, this time a single just over second baseman Spanky Purdee’s head scored the third and final run of the inning and gave Gwatney a 7-1 lead.
Jacksonville continued to hit the ball hard in the fifth, but couldn’t find the gaps.
Fenton got the first two batters of the sixth inning to groundout to third, but then loaded the bases on a single, a walk and an error at shortstop.
Fenton quickly got two strikes on Rogers two hitter Spanky Purdee, but the second baseman battled back to a full count by fouling off several pitches. Fenton finally won the battle by getting Purdee to swing and miss at a rising fastball, keeping Jacksonville’s six-run lead intact.
“That pitch was called up in the zone because he was making contact with everything down,” Lyda said. “Clayton was doing a good job keeping it down like you’re supposed to, but the kid was hitting everything. It wasn’t supposed to be up at his nose hairs, but the point is Clayton put it where the kid couldn’t hit it. He was in a mindset of swinging to stay alive, and Clayton put the ball where he couldn’t hit it.”
It all ended in the bottom of the sixth when another pitching change failed to change any results. Rogers’ final pitcher also struggled with control, and when he wasn’t walking or hitting Gwatney batters, they were getting base hits.
Mitchell led off with a single and Tomboli walked. Simpson then singled to load the bases and Daniel Thurman took a pitch to the middle of his back for an RBI. AJ Allen smacked a line drive, but it was right to shortstop for the first out of the inning. Tomboli scored on a wild pitch on the next at bat. Tillman then walked to reload the bases and Wisdom walked to drive in another run and make it 10-1.
Terrell Brown then hit a fly ball to left field that was just deep enough to score Thurman from third base and end the game on the run rule.
The win lifts Jacksonville to 15-8 on the season and puts its winning streak at six games. Rain halted the first round of play Thursday in game two. Mountain Home led Texarkana 2-1 when the downpour came before the start of the fifth inning.
It rained so much, the field couldn’t be prepared by yesterday, so the first round will resume Saturday, and the second round will start Sunday.
That helps Jacksonville, who was forced to pitch its No. 1 starter on Wednesday in the rain-delayed Zone 3 championship. As it stood, Tomboli wouldn’t be able to pitch until the fourth round if the team made it that far. Now, the entire Jacksonville staff will be back on rotation by the time it takes the field for the second round on Sunday.
They will play the winner of today’s matchup between Jonesboro and Sheridan at 5 p.m. tomorrow.