SPORTS>>Sylvan Hills sweeps Lions
Leader sports editor
The first game began as a close one and turned into a rout. The second one began as a rout, turned into a close one and finished with a flourish.
Both were Sylvan Hills wins. The Bears improved to 11-1 in the 6A-East and 22-6 overall with a dramatic seventh-inning rally to beat Searcy 12-9 in Game 2 of a doubleheader on Monday at Dupree Park. In the first game, it was all Sylvan Hills from the second inning on in a 12-0, five-inning affair.
“We go as our bats go,” said Sylvan Hills head coach Denny Tipton. “Our pitching and our defense has been pretty good all year. We either get two hits or 10 hits. That’s kind of the way it’s gone all year.”
Sylvan Hills, which solidified its spot atop the conference standings, figured to be in for a battle with perennial power Searcy. But it looked like smooth sailing after the Bears cruised in the opener and opened up a 6-0 lead in the top of the third in the nightcap.
But some uncharacteristic fielding woes allowed the Lions to rally for three in the third, and Mac Ellis’ grand slam in the fifth put Searcy on top 8-6. The Lions added a run in the sixth to push the lead to three.
Hunter Miller led off the Sylvan Hills seventh with a base hit and D.J. Baxendale, the Game 1 winner, belted a home run to narrow the lead to one. Jake Chambers singled and pinch runner Michael Maddox stole second to put the tying run in scoring position with two outs.
Jordan Spears delivered him with a two-out, two-strike, game-tying single. Blake Evans followed with an infield hit, and Clinton Thornton gave the Bears the lead with a two-run triple off the fence in right-center. A wild pitch made it 12-9.
Baxendale came in to set down the Lions in order in the seventh, picking up the save. Chris Dalton, who got the final out of the sixth inning in relief, picked up the win.
Baxendale tossed a three-hitter in the opener, and while he wasn’t overpowering — at least by the standards he’s set this season — he was plenty good enough. He allowed three hits over the first two innings, then pitched hitless ball over the final three. He struck out four and walked two.
“I didn’t think D.J. threw as well as he’s been throwing,” Tipton said. “But he’s come off a couple of 100-pitch outings and we were hoping to get out of here with 75. We’d have probably pulled him if he’d reached that. [Baxendale threw only 66 pitches]. We know it’s a long year.”
His counterpart, Searcy hurler Anthony Dillon, set down the Bears in order in the first before Baxendale’s single, Chambers’ double and Justin Treece’s single in the second put Sylvan Hills up 2-0. The Bears missed an opportunity to blow it open in the third when they left the bases loaded.
Ellis drew a walk with one out in the Searcy fourth and the game still very much up for grabs. But third baseman Nathan Ellers turned a slow hopper by Tate Ruddell into a sparkling double play. Thornton’s quick turn at second and throw to first completed the 5-4-3 twin killing.
“Knock on wood, but except for the Forrest City game when we made four errors in one inning, we’ve really kept our errors down,” Tipton said. “We’re probably averaging less than one a game. And Nathan has played great for us all year.”
But they began to get to Dillon in the fourth, when they scored three more runs. Treece doubled leading off, and Spears singled. Evans sent a sharp single to right to score Treece, then came across on Mark Turpin’s double off the top of the fence in left. Miller’s bloop single over the second baseman scored Turpin to make it 5-0.
Evans delivered a two-run single in the fifth, when Sylvan Hills put the game away. Thornton drove in another with a long sacrifice fly to right, and Miller ended it with his 10th home run of the season — a towering three-run blast to left.
Miller had four RBI in the contest to go along with three for Evans and two for Treece. Sylvan Hills had 13 hits — two each by Miller, Chambers, Treece and Evans.
The Bears were coming off a 3-1 loss to top-ranked Fayetteville on Friday, a game in which they hit the ball hard but with little luck.
“It was nice to have a few fall for us today,” Tipton said. “Searcy is always a good club.”
The Bears finish up 6A-East play with a doubleheader with Jacksonville next Tuesday.