SPORTS>> Bruins capture zone championship
Leader sports editor
Former Chicago Cub great Ernie Banks once famously said on a sunny afternoon, “Let’s play two!”
No one, not even Russellville, was likely relishing the prospect of two games on a hot Monday evening in the championship of the American Legion Senior Zone 3 Tournament at Burns Park. And Russellville needed two games to have a chance at the title.
Though the Mustangs tried to rally from a 6-run first-inning deficit — once narrowing the gap to two and putting the go-ahead run on base — the Sylvan Hills Bruins played add-on late and ran off with a 15-7 victory to claim the zone championship.
Nathan Eller drove in four runs and Ross Bogard drove in two more with three hits. Matt Rugger reached base all six times with four walks and two singles, scoring three times and driving in two.
Russellville came into the game with an earlier loss to Sylvan Hills, which was unbeaten in the tournament, meaning the Mustangs would have had to have won twice on Monday.
Sylvan Hills will be a No. 1 seed when the state tournament gets underway at Burns Park on Friday.
“We’ve said all along that if we get everybody here, we’d be pretty tough,” said Bruins head coach Mike Bromley shortly after the three-hour-and-three-minute slugfest ended.
The Bruins ran through the competition over five scorching days, going 5-0 and rarely being challenged in the process. Their most impressive win came in Saturday night’s 8-0 shutdown of high-powered host North Little Rock, when ace D.J. Baxendale struck out 17 in a 2-hit complete game.
“He had an outstanding performance,” Bromley said. “He threw hard. He was in command. He was dominant against a good lineup.”
The Bruins began the tourney with a 13-2 win over the Sylvan Hills Blue team, then took care of Russellville, 11-1, on Friday.
After cruising past North Little Rock on Saturday, the Bruins had little trouble in Sunday’s 11-1 win over Cabot behind a 4-hit performance by Ross Bogard.
Russellville, which dealt a second consecutive shutout to North Little Rock on Sunday to advance to the championship, came out flat on Monday and the Bruins took full advantage. Bogard and Clint Thornton delivered RBI singles and Nathan Eller a 2-run double in the first as Sylvan Hills raced to a 6-0 lead. The Bruins had an opportunity to drive in the stake but left the bases loaded, a trend that continued throughout the game as they stranded 16 for the game.
Nathan Cathcart came on in relief for the Mustangs and shut down the Bruins over the next four innings, while Russellville began to peck away, scoring single runs in the first and third innings, and two in the fourth off starter Chris Eastham to make it 6-4.
“Chris wasn’t real sharp tonight, but he moved the ball around and kept us in the game,” Bromley said. “He pitched, he didn’t throw.”
The Mustangs made it real interesting when they loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, but Eastham got a strikeout and a pop out to leave them stranded.
Sylvan Hills then got back in business offensively, batting around in the sixth and scoring five runs. Three straight bases-loaded walks accounted for three of the runs, and Justin Treece added a run-scoring single as the Bruins extended the lead to more comfortable 11-6.
Sylvan Hills added runs in the seventh and eighth, then plated two more in the ninth.
Nathan Eller came on in relief of Eastham in the seventh and allowed no hits and a walk over the final 2 2/3 innings. Eastham got the win, going 6 1/3 and giving up 12 hits and five earned runs. He struck out six and walked one.
Four Bruins had seven plate appearances each in a game in which Sylvan Hills pounded out 14 hits, received 10 walks and had five batters hit.
The 16 stranded runners brought to 57 the total number of Bruins left on base over five games, but Bromley hardly seemed concerned.
“We scored a lot of runs, too,” he said.
It wasn’t offense but Baxen-dale’s remarkable performance on the mound that provided Saturday’s storyline. The Colts, coming off a 14-run outburst against Cabot Community Bank on Friday night, struggled all night against Baxendale, who allowed only two hits and walked three while fanning 17.
Garrett Eller’s sacrifice fly in the first provided all the support Baxendale needed. Treece added an RBI single in the second and the Bruins made it 4-0 with two more in the third.
In the fifth, Cody Cormier delivered a 2-run single. The final runs came on Treece’s solo home run in the eighth and Turpin’s double and a passed ball later in the inning.
Baxendale had three hits, while Treece, Thornton and Cormier added two each.
Bogard struck out three and walked three and allowed no earned runs in Sylvan Hills’ win over Cabot on Sunday. Mark Turpin, Baxendale, Bogard, Hunter Miller and Rugger each had two hits for the Bruins.
Turpin finished the tournament with 10 RBI.