Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

SPORTS>>Title bid ends for Bruins in

Leader sportswriter

Sylvan Hills bounced back from a loss to Benton during the first day of pool play to win its next two games of the Fourth of July Classic American Legion baseball tournament at Dupree Park in Jacksonville over the weekend. The Bruins shut out Dunklin Co., Missouri, Saturday morning to set up a battle with familiar foe and host team Jacksonville for the pool A runner-up slot. Sylvan Hills would take the win over the Chevy boys 10-4.

The teams were familiar, but the locale was slightly different, as the two teams took to Shireman Field at Dupree Park instead of the usual Hickingbotham Field. Shireman Field, better known to locals as the North Pulaski field, was used for the Gwatney/SH showdown while the Chevy boys’ normal home field was in use by Sheridan and Paragould.

Besides battling each other, the two teams also faced a strong threat from Mother Nature during the Saturday afternoon contest. Most of the first five innings were played during a steady drizzle, with one solid outburst in the fourth inning that ended just quickly enough to avoid what seemed to be an unavoidable rain delay.

The wet stuff subsided, and the Bruins proceeded to send the tourney’s host packing after a strong opening day on Friday.
The first three innings were fairly uneventful, but once Sylvan Hills got going in the top of the fourth inning, they would steadily increase their advantage over Gwatney during the final half of the contest.

UALR signee Ross Bogard got things going for the Bruins in the fourth when he received a walk from starting Gwatney pitcher Jordan Payer to lead off the frame. Jarrett Boles followed that with a single grounder down the third base line. A single to shortstop by Grant Garlington loaded the bases for Sylvan Hills, followed by the first RBI of the game by Ryan Wood. Wood’s single down the left side scored Bogard and Boles, giving the Bruins the early advantage, 2-0.

Gwatney answered those two scores on the bottom side of the fourth. The Chevy boys scored their first run on a single by Caleb Mitchell, and Mitchell’s courtesy runner crossed the plate one batter later on an error during Seth Tomboli’s charge to first base after an infield hit.

That would tie the score at 2-2, but the game would not stay that way for long. The Bruins came back in the top of the fifth to regain control. Henderson State bound Taylor Roark led off the inning with a single grounder to left field, and advanced on two straight walks by Payer for Nathan Eller and Bogard. Roark then tagged up on a pop-up by Garlington to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.

That would lead up to the biggest hit of the game for Sylvan Hills. Wood stepped up to the plate with one out and two one, and proceeded to blast Payer’s offering over the left field wall to take the game from closely contested to a healthy 6-2 lead for Sylvan Hills.

Wood’s homer did more than just give the Bruins a cushion; it also proceeded to take the wind out of what had up to that point been a spirited and competitive Jacksonville team. The Chevy Boys played hard up until the home run, but just appeared to be going through the motions from the bottom of the fifth on.

Casey Winstead relieved Payer at the mound to close out the fifth, but one more Bruins run managed to slip through before the end of the frame. Future ASU Indian Tony Pavan doubled right before Payer’s exit, and was driven in for the score off a single by Eller on Winstead’s first batter faced.

Sylvan Hills pitcher Joe Gardener gave up one hit in the bottom of the fifth to Blake Mattison on a hopper to left center, but Mattison and walk recipient Adam Ussery were left on the bag when the next three batters flew out.

The Bruins started the sixth inning out threatening once again, landing their first two batters of the frame on base with singles off of Winstead, but the Gwatney defense caught one of the few breaks in the late going, retiring the next three batters to thwart the runaway.

Little insurance was needed for the Bruins in the seventh inning, but they took it anyway. It wasn’t so much that their hitting was the best of the game, but four Gwatney errors in the top of the seventh kept the turn going much longer than either team intended.

Garlington led off the inning for Sylvan Hills by taking advantage of an error up the middle to reach, and scored on a fielder’s choice by Wood. Pavan was the next error recipient on a simple hit up the middle, and moved to second on a walk for Eller.
Both runners moved to third and second when balking was called on Winstead, and a big error at first for an attempted out against Chris Eastham scored both runners to give the Bruins a 10-2 lead.

Gwatney was able to do some level of damage control during their final chance in the bottom of the seventh inning. Gardener took the win for Sylvan Hills, but not after giving up a double to Mitchell that scored Eric Berry and Clayton Fenton to set the final score at 10-4.

Jacksonville looked like they would be a serious threat during Friday’s opener against Benton. Despite having a number of players absent due to work obligations during the early afternoon contest, the Chevy boys enjoyed one of their strongest defensive performances of the season backed by a two-hitter performance at the mound by Seth Tomboli.

They were not able to keep the momentum going for a Saturday morning game against Dunklin County, as the visitors from Missouri downed Jacksonville 15-5. The loss to Sylvan Hills would be the end of pool play for Gwatney, and consequentially the end of their stint in the tourney altogether.

The Bruins’ journey through the Classic was quite the opposite. Sylvan Hills’ defense struggled tremendously during a 13-11 loss to Benton during the opening game Thursday night, but bounced back to down Dunklin Friday afternoon in a 3-0 shutout. The win over Jacksonville on Saturday earned Sylvan Hills the runner-up out of Pool A, sending them into Sunday’s semifinals in a game against Paragould, who breezed though pool play undefeated with wins over North Little Rock, Sheridan and Little Rock Blue.

Benton was the first team to make it into the final game scheduled for Sunday evening.

Sylvan Hills held strong against Paragould, playing them to a 4-4 tie through four innings. Mother Nature would intervene, however, as a strong downpour would render Hickingbotham field useless, and Paragould would take the tournament title with their undefeated record during pool-bracket play.

In other Saturday games, Little Rock Blue defeated North Little Rock 3-2, Benton beat Dunklin County 11-5 and Paragould downed Sheridan 9-1.