TOP STORY >>Jacksonville A gets back to Legion state
By JASON KING
Gwatney Chevrolet dodged every bullet imaginable to advance to the state tournament for the first time in 17 years with a 3-2 win over Conway Wednesday afternoon in the finals of the American Legion Class A Zone 3 tournament finals at the Diamond Center in Maumelle. The Chevy boys overcame a 2-1 deficit in the top of the sixth inning with two scores that would prove to be just enough to prevent a third meeting between the two teams in the tourney.
Jacksonville sent Conway into the consolation bracket earlier in the tournament with a decisive 12-6 win, but the Wampus Cats were determined to shut down Gwatney this time, holding the normally lethal Gwatney bats silent through much of the contest.
Gwatney took to the plate trailing 2-1 in the top of the sixth inning. Five-hole hitter Hayden Simpson led off for Jacksonville in the sixth, and reached on an error in left field to put the tying run on base. Daniel Thurman advanced Simpson to third with a single up the middle, and Simpson scored by tagging up on a pop up by A.J. Allen.
That would tie the score at 2-2 with a runner on with one out. Thurman made it to second when a pick attempt at first went sour, but Gwatney got its second out when Jeff Tillman sliced one up to Conway pitcher Ryan Valovich.
That would send Jacksonville back to the top of the order with Tyler Wisdom. Wisdom came through with a single to left field that advanced Thurman to third. Terrell Brown then came to the plate for Gwatney and sent in the winner with a blooper into left field. Brown’s hit may not have been altogether pretty, but it was undoubtedly the most important hit of the day, as Thurman crossed the plate to put Jacksonville back out front for the first time since a brief 1-0 lead held in the third inning.
Jacksonville pitcher Seth Tomboli didn’t do his team any favors by walking Conway lead-off Jordan Cates in the bottom of the seventh inning, but struck out the next two Wampus Cats batters, leaving it all in the hands of Conway first baseman Anthony Nail. Nail hammered Tomboli’s second offering, but Wisdom robbed him in shallow center with a diving catch to send the Wampus Cats home for the season.
The Zone 3 final was postponed for two days due to ongoing rain in the area, but the Diamond Center dried out quite nicely for Wednesday’s finals. The field appeared to be in decent shape for the game despite the downpours, and the fast pace of the game meant it was not subjected to extended wear and tear in the brief hour and 40 minute contest.
Starting Gwatney pitcher Tomboli had a shutout on his mind at the start of the game, sending the first two Conway batters back to their dugout with strikeouts before forcing a groundout from three-hole hitter Valovich. He would do more of the same in the second inning with another strikeout and two more infield smacks that were easily turned by the Jacksonville defense.
Gwatney landed three runners on in the top of the first, but they were not able to convert. A single for Allen in the top of the second inning could not be advanced, and the game remained scoreless through two innings.
Brown broke the silence for Jacksonville in the top of the third inning when he led off with a single, and advanced to third when Conway first baseman Nail allowed a pick attempt by. This put Brown at third with no outs.
Caleb Mitchell sent Brown in for the score with a sacrifice fly to centerfield. The final two batters of the inning grounded out to third, leaving one runner on.
The lead would be short lived. An error would allow the only two Conway runs of the evening in during the bottom of the third inning. Gwatney got the first two outs rather quickly, but a routine throw to first on a grounder to shortstop by Jay Magee got by first baseman Jason Regnas, and allowed Nail and Dominique Teague in to give Conway a 2-1 lead. Tomboli recovered to retire the next batter to end the frame.
The bottom of the fourth would be a close call for Jacksonville when two fielding errors and a walk allowed Conway runners at first and second. Gwatney had an infield meeting at the mound at that point, and Tomboli answered with two of his total eight strikeouts on the evening to retire Conway without a run.