SPORTS>>AA Bruins move to state
Leader sports editor
The American Legion Class AA Zone 3 tournament featured three quality teams and several very close games. Fortunately for Sylvan Hills, it came out on top of just enough of those games to advance to the state tournament that begins tomorrow at Hot Springs Lakeside.
The AA Bruins beat Heber Springs twice, but lost twice to Morrilton and will be the Zone 3 runner up when they open the state tournament at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Sylvan Hills lost the championship game 3-2 to Morrilton in 10 innings. It was a game that exemplified the evenly matched teams in the tournament.
The Bruins beat Heber Springs 2-0 in the tournament opener, then lost to Morrilton 7-6 in the winners’ bracket. Heber Springs finished off Greers Ferry to get back to the Bruins, but fell again in another 7-6 game. That set up the championship game that went into extra innings.
“This was a very good tournament with some really close games,” Sylvan Hills AA coach Jim Fink said. “Us, Heber Springs and Morrilton were all pretty even. A good team isn’t going to state.”
Sylvan Hills had to rally from an early deficit to get its second win over Heber and they did on the strength of a 5-for-5 hitting performance by Casey Cerrato. The Cleburne County representatives jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first two innings. From there the game went back and forth. The Bruins cut it to 4-2, then Heber went up 5-2. Sylvan Hills cut it to 5-3 and Heber made it 6-3 shortly thereafter.
Sylvan Hills finally rallied to tie the game in the seventh inning, then got an RBI base hit by Cerrato that drove in Cody Cormier to complete the come-from-behind victory.
“Casey really, really hit the ball in that game,” Fink said. “We hit the ball fairly well all the way through the lineup in the tournament, but that was the one thing that jumps out at you offensively. You don’t see very many 5 for 5s.”
Ty Van Shoyck started the game on the mound and pitched well, but took the no decision. Nathan Eller came on in relief in the third inning to finish the game out and take the win.
Brannon Chastain took the mound in the final game. He three four-hit, 13 strikeout gem against Heber in the tournament opener, and pitched well again Sunday. The Bruin bats just didn’t come alive against the Cogswell Motors squad from Conway County.
Chastain gave up just one run through six innings. Because he had thrown nine innings just three days before, he had to come out. Eric McKinney took the mound and inherited a 2-1 lead. He also threw well, but Morrilton tied it with a run in the eighth, and won the game with another tally in the bottom of the 10 th to earn the zone championship.
Pitching depth becomes a big factor in state tournaments where the winning team must win five games five days. It’s something Fink believes the Bruins have.
“We do have quite a few guys that can go to the mound for us and have been doing a pretty good job,” Fink said. “Brannon and Jordan Spears have thrown very well lately, and we have three or four others that we feel pretty confident about.”
The Bruins will face Zone 1 champion Greenwood at 10 a.m. to open the event. The winner of that game will face the winner between Zone 4 champion Pine Bluff, and Zone 2 runner up Paragould. Morrilton starts the bottom half of the bracket against Zone 1 runner up Fort Smith Coke, while Zone 2 c hamp Jonesboro faces tournament host Hot Springs Lakeside.