Leader Blues

Friday, April 11, 2008

SPORTS >>Cats’ bats come to life in victory over Panthers

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

CONWAY — As eager as Jay Fitch is for the weather to let up a little and allow his team to get in some games, he’s probably wishing it had just kept raining on Wednesday.

The Cabot Panthers were never in a 12-2, five-inning loss at Conway, and fell to 2-3 in the 7A-Central Conference. Conway scored three in the first and five in the second, pounding out 18 hits over just four innings against three Panther hurlers.

“I started considering just playing us out of position,” Fitch said. “They hit it well, but it seemed like they hit it right in the holes. But my hat’s off to them. They’ve apparently had some games where they haven’t hit the ball well. I don’t know how.”

Wednesday was not one of those games. The Wampus Cats greeted Cabot starter Tyler Erickson with three singles and a double in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Though Erickson escaped further damage by striking out the final two batters of the inning, he got off to another rocky start in the second. Two doubles and a single ended his day, but reliever Sean Clarkson didn’t fare much better against the aggressive Cat bats, and Conway led 8-0 after two.

Cabot made a small dent in the deficit when Jackson Chism led off the third with a singleand came in on a throwing error by the Conway second baseman. But Conway went back to work in the bottom of the inning, scoring three more runs on seven singles. Josh Brown came on in relief of Clarkson and was aided by catcher Ben Wainright’s perfect throw to third to catch a would-be stealer. But that was an all-too-rare highlight for the Panthers, who trailed 12-1 after Conway added another run in the fourth.

Cabot got off to a good start in the fifth in trying to extend the game beyond a 10-run mercy rule, getting another leadoff single by Chism. Trey Rosel was safe on an error.

Matt Evans hit a hard grounder, but right at the Conway shortstop for a tailor-made double play. It brought home Chism to make it 12-2, but Cabot couldn’t push across another run in falling to 10-6 overall. Conway improved to 12-6, 2-1 in conference play.

Fitch wouldn’t blame rust on his team’s performance.

“It’s the same for everybody,” he said. “It’s been raining in Conway, too. And we played well in Russellville a couple of days ago and hit the ball real well.”

Cabot walloped the Cyclones, 14-0, and Sam Bates got back in the rotation for the first time this year, pitching well.

“He did a great job,” Fitch said of Bates, who got a late start to baseball season due to the Panthers’ deep run in the state basketball tournament. “It’s good to get him going. If he’s not my No. 1, he’ll be my two. Matt Evans will be the other.”

Pitching has been an issue through the early part of the conference season, as Cabot has endured big losses to North Little Rock, Bryant and Conway.

“We threw our seniors tonight [in relievers Clarkson and Brown], and they threw strikes,” Fitch said. “Our pitching’s not just going to dominate you. We have to throw strikes and keep you off balanced. But Conway’s too well coached to get off balanced.

I haven’t seen anybody hit the ball like that all year.”

Cabot finished with four hits — two singles by Chism, a single by Drew Burks and a double by Wainright.