Leader Blues

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

SPORTS >>Panthers beat 18th-ranked Hogs

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Cabot head coach Jay Fitch knew it wouldn’t be easy. He just didn’t figure it would be this costly.

The Cabot Panthers rallied behind a 10-run fifth inning to knock off top-ranked Texarkana, 15-12, on Monday in Cabot, holding off the nation’s 18th-ranked Razorbacks’ own rally attempt in the seventh inning.

It may have been a non-conference game, but Fitch didn’t deny he wanted a win against the best in the state.

“I told our kids, this is an opportunity to play a nationally ranked team and that doesn’t come along very often,” said Fitch. “It’s been almost 10 years since we’ve played a nationally ranked team. This is as big as it gets.”

It came with a price, however, as shortstop and key rotation pitcher Matt Evans broke his nose on a sharply hit, bad-hop grounder in the third inning. He was unavailable for yesterday’s critical 7A-Conference matchup with North Little Rock.

“Matt has a heart of a lion,” Fitch said, noting that Evans also took a bad-hop ground ball to the chin in an earlier game at North Little Rock. “It’s just been a crazy season all the way around.”

With other top rotation hurler Sam Bates unavailable as well on Tuesday, Fitch was left scrambling for a starter to face the potent Charging Wildcat lineup.

Bates closed out the win against Texarkana on Monday, coming on in relief of the winner, Josh Brown. He appeared to be in for some rare smooth sailing in a game that featured three different Razorback hitters with four hits. After allowing a single around a pair of strikeouts, Bates ran into trouble with a double, a walk and a hit batter.

That loaded the bases and put the tying run on first.

But Will Wagner sliced a shot to third baseman Chad Bryant, who scooped it up and stepped on third to end the nearly three-hour affair.

Though Cabot was guilty of several fielding miscues on Monday, the Panthers made some key defensive plays early that allowed them to stay within reach. Starting pitcher Sean Clarkson allowed a single and a double to start the game, but escaped further damage when Cabot center fielder Jeremy Wilson turned a fly out into a double play after Texarkana’s Tyler Weir tried to take third on the play.

Cabot then began its own hit parade, parlaying a leadoff double by Evans, and singles by Wilson, Drew Burks, Bates and Powell Bryant into a three-run first to take a 3-1 lead.

Texarkana scored two more to tie it in the second, but it, too, might have been a bigger inning. Ryan Nevels stole second and tried to reach third on a wild throw into the outfield, but again Wilson came up throwing and nailed him at third base. Colt
Galloway then popped a bunt back to Clarkson, who fired to Trey Rosel at second for an inning-ending double play.

But the Razorbacks, who banged out 18 hits, erupted for four in the fourth and two in the fifth to lead 9-4. Cabot had scored its fourth run in the fourth on Powell Bryant’s double and Rosel’s two-out single.

Cabot then sent 15 men to the plate in their big fifth inning. The Panthers collected only five hits against three Texarkana pitchers, but used four walks and four Razorback errors to score 10 times and take a 14-9 lead. The big hits in the inning were Powell Bryant’s RBI double, Matt Turner’s two-run single and Drew Burks’ opposite field, two-run single.

The Panthers added insurance in the sixth with Bates’ run-scoring bloop single to make it 15-11.

Texarkana wasn’t the only team smacking the ball on Monday. The Panthers erupted for 14 hits, including three each by Burks,

Bates and Powell Bryant. Burkes and Bates each drove in three runs. Rosel added two hits.

But while Cabot pitchers weren’t exactly fooling the Razorback hitters, they were throwing strikes. Panther hurlers issued only two walks and hit a batter. Texarkana pitchers walked five and hit two more.

“I tell the kids, no one’s figured out how to defense the walk yet,” Fitch said. “They saved their good pitching for later on and we tried to save our top pitchers for league. We figured it would be high scoring.”

Cabot outfielders lost a couple of routine fly balls in the outfield, something Fitch chalked up to continued rust after a springtime of rainouts.

“The sun turned a lot of routine plays into plays that weren’t routine,” Fitch said. “This time of year, the sun is just at the right angle. And we just haven’t been able to work on that. Wednesday, we’re going to give our outfielders a chance to work on that.”

Cabot improved to 11-5 overall and took a 2-3 league record into its battle with North Little Rock yesterday.

“This was a big-time win and a big feather in our caps,” Fitch said. “It was a beautiful day for baseball. You don’t want to tie your hands for conference play in a game like this. Still, it was a game we wanted to win.”