Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

SPORTS>>Gwatney is staying alive

By RAY BENTON
Leader sports editor

The Gwatney Chevrolet Class A American Legion team will finish no worse than third in the state this season, thanks partly to its 5-3 come-from-behind victory over Mountain Home Monday afternoon while facing elimination. The victory would have put Jacksonville into a semifinal game against Gravette after Gravette lost to Jonesboro in the winners’ bracket final. Gravette, however, was caught with an ineligible player and was disqualified from the tournament.

Texarkana, which beat Rogers Monday, was scheduled to play Jonesboro, but since Jonesboro is unbeaten in the tournament, Texarkana was moved into Gravette’s spot.

Against Mountain Home’s Hopper Termite and Pest Control, Jacksonville missed many opportunities to blow the game open, and had a couple of opportunities stolen from them by apparently mobile foul lines, but kept plugging away until a big fifth inning gave it the lead for good.

“This team proved again that it can overcome things when they get bad,” Gwatney A coach Travis Lyda said. “We’ve jumped on teams and we’ve had to fight back, but this team doesn’t give up. It doesn’t get much worse than yesterday (an 11-1 loss to Jonesboro). For this group to come back from that, blow all the chances we had today and fall behind, they could have given up. They didn’t and that says a lot about them.”

A line drive down the right-field line landed on the line in right field, even exploding white chalk into the air. The rope would have driven in a run and given Jacksonville a 1-0 lead in the second inning, but was called foul.

In the top of the seventh inning, Jacksonville led 4-3 and had a runner on base when Daniel Thurman sent one over the fence down the right- field line. It seemed apparent to everyone but the home plate umpire that the ball was fair, but it was ruled foul. Thurman, who hit the ball hard every at bat, and twice at this one, followed the foul with a single to centerfield that put runners on first and second. AJ Allen then singled to left field to load the bases with one out. That brought Tyler Wisdom to the plate, who attempted a squeeze bunt, but couldn’t reach the low-outside pitch. Haydem Simpson was charging on the pitcher’s first motion and slid head first, safely to steal home and give Jacksonville an insurance run.

Gwatney fell behind 2-0 in the third inning, but answered the call in the fifth. Tillman walked and moved to second on a balk. Brown walked and both runners scored on a two-RBI double to right field by Jason Regnas. Caleb Mitchell grounded out and Seth Tomboli popped up for two outs, but the rally quickly resumed. Simpson singled to centerfield to drive in Regnas, and Thurman doubled to left to score Simpson.

“Daniel Thurman was dialed into today,” Gwatney A coach Travis Lyda said.

Thurman went 4 for 4 with a double and an RBI.

Mountain Home got one run back in the bottom of the sixth, but starting pitcher Clayton Fenton got a key strikeout to help squelch a big rally. After hitting another batter and a sacrifice bunt, Mountain Home got an RBI double to make it 4-3. Fenton then record his first strikeout of the game against Greg Maples, who had two of the six total hits Fenton conceded in the game.

Jacksonville blew a golden opportunity to break a scoreless game in the third inning. Leadoff hitter Jeffrey Tillman doubled to left field to start things off. Terrell Brown moved him to third with a grounder to second base, and Regnas walked and stole second to put two runners in scoring position with one out. The next two batters then popped up in the infield to end the threat with no damage done.

It could have used some runs in that frame. Mountain Home took advantage of pitching mistake, a passed ball and a fielding mishap to take a 2-0 lead.

Fenton put Mountain Home shortstop Troy Knott into an 0-2 hole. Knott fouled off four pitches and looked at one high pitch before being hit by a pitch while still facing 1-2. Fenton got a fly ball to right field for out number two. Knott stole second base and Dakota Melton singled to shallow centerfield. The hit wouldn’t have scored the runner, but Brown and centerfielder Simpson collided, giving the runner time to round third. A passed ball advanced Melton to second, and a base hit by Alex Johnson scored the runner.

Jacksonville blew another chance to score in the fourth. After putting its two leadoff hitters on first and third with no outs, Daniel Thurman was caught stealing, AJ Allen lined out to second base and Cody Spears grounded out to the same spot to leave Simpson, who had reached on an error, stranded at third.

Fenton went the distance, recording two strikeouts and no walks while hitting two batters. He gave up six hits and two earned runs.

On Sunday, Gwatney saw its six-game winning streak come to an emphatic end in the second round. Jonesboro, the favorite coming into state with a 25-1 record, pounced on the Chevy Boys, who helped the Crain team out by committing a few errors, and won going away 11-1. Tomboli pitched the game and took the loss.

If Jacksonville won two games last night, they will play Jonesboro against at 5:30 p.m. tonight for the state championship.