SPORTS>> Moving on up
Leader sports editor
Maybe it was the news over the weekend that they were moving up to a higher classification.
Whatever it was, the Sylvan Hills Bruins junior American Legion team jumped all over a pretty good North Little Rock Colts club, 11-4, on Monday evening at Burns Park.
Blake Evans pitched a solid game until he tired in the final inning, and Jordan Spears delivered the goods offensively with two hits, including a 3-run double.
The junior team has likely played its last game at the lower level after the Bruins received a ruling from American Legion over the weekend that, because of enrollment and the age makeup of the roster, Sylvan Hills will move up to the AAA level, joining the other Bruins’ club already playing AAA.
“We knew (the ruling) could go either way,” said Bruins coach Jim Fink. “But they’re looking forward to the challenge. It will give the 17- and the 18-year-olds, and some of the 16-year-olds a chance to face some better competition. They’re actually excited about it.”
The competition on Monday should have been high quality, but the Colts were in giveaway mode all night, surrendering eight walks and four hit batters, and committing five errors. That allowed the Bruins to do all their damage on just five hits.
“They had several mistakes they made to help us out,” Fink acknowledged. “But Jordan Spears hit the ball real hard.”
Spears’ hardest-hit ball came in Sylvan Hills’ eight-run fourth, when they sent 13 to the plate. He belted a bases-loaded, bases-clearing double into the left field gap to break open a 5-0 game.
While the Colts were kicking it around defensively, Sylvan Hills was turning in a flawless performance in the field.
Evans, who is easing his way back into the pitching rotation after undergoing shoulder surgery a year ago, struggled early to find his control, hitting the first batter, then issuing a two-out walk. But he settled down in the middle innings, and carried a one-hitter into the fifth.
That’s when the Colts began to solve him. Three consecutive doubles — one a misplay in the outfield — a strikeout-passed ball and an RBI single finally chased Evans with one out in the fifth and four runs across.
Chris Perez came in to set down the two batters he faced to close it out.
“Once Blake gets going, he does a good job,” Fink said. “He’s a slow starter. That’s the longest he’s pitched this year and I think he tired toward the end. But overall, he did a pretty good job. He’s got a good breaking pitch and has pretty good control of it.
“He’s only going to get better the more he pitches.”
The Colts made their first contribution to the Sylvan Hills cause in the first inning when their pitcher made a two-out throwing error on a routine tap to the mound, which allowed Ryan Dillon and Spears to score to make it 2-0. Evans pitched out of a two-on jam in the bottom half, and the Bruins added a run without a hit in the second on Dillon’s sacrifice fly.
With the game still up for grabs in the third, North Little Rock put two on with just one out, but Evans got a pop out and a strikeout to end the threat. The Bruins put it away with their eight-run fourth, picking up just four hits in the inning, including two RBI singles by Eric McKinney and Spears’ 3-run double.
Evans allowed five hits and four earned funs over 4 1-3 innings, striking out six, walking two and hitting two.
NLR AAA 10, SYLVAN HILLS 6
As generous as the Colts junior team was in the first game of the evening, the Sylvan Hills senior club was just as giving in the nightcap.
The Bruins committed three errors, issued eight walks and hit a batter, while stranding 10 in their loss to North Little Rock.
The Bruins out-hit the Colts 11-6.
Sylvan Hills entered the seventh trailing 10-3 and tried to stage a rally with five hits — including T.C. Squires’ 2-run home run to left. But Colts relief pitcher Hunter Benton came in to get Justin Treece on a bouncer back to the mound to end it.
Other than his struggles with control, Bruins starter Blain Sims held the potent Colts lineup in check for the most part. But he walked six and hit a batter in 3 2/3 innings. He allowed five hits, but two were bloops and another was an infield single. Only Travis Bearden hit the ball hard against him when he blasted a 2-run homer in the third, when the Colts took the lead for good.
The Bruins got singles from Matt Rugger and Ross Bogart to jump to a 1-0 lead after one, but the Colts tied it with an unearned run off an error and a bloop double in the bottom half.
Squires’ leadoff single, followed by a passed ball and two wild pitches, put Sylvan Hill back on top in the second, and Sims pitched around a two-out walk in the second. But an infield hit and Bearden’s homer run in the third put the Colts ahead 3-2.
A hit batsman, a walk and a bloop 2-run single extended the lead to 5-2.
The Bruins got one back in the fourth when Mark Turpin singled and eventually scored on a throwing error.
Four walks and a single put two more across for the Colts in the bottom of the inning, and two errors, a walk and a 2-run double pushed the lead to 10-3 in the sixth.
D.J. Baxendale led off the seventh with a solid single and one out later Garrett Eller grounded a sharp single to right.
Turpin’s sacrifice fly scored Baxendale before Squires’ home run. Nathan Eller doubled and Chris Eastham delivered a pinch single before Benton came in to close it out.
Counting Eastham’s single, every spot in the Bruin order delivered a hit. Bogart and Squires had two each.
Bryan Chastain allowed only one hit and one earned run over 2 1/3 innings of relief for Sylvan Hills.