Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

SPORTS>> Cabot survives

Leader sports editor

Over a period of about 48 hours, Cabot Community Bank and Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet got to know each other very, very well.

The two teams played three times over that period, producing, strangely enough, 20 runs in each of the games – including identical 12-8 finals in two of them.

When Cabot’s fourth relief pitcher, Matt Evans, finally got a third strike past Gwatney’s Terrell Brown a few minutes before 11 p.m. on Monday night, Community Bank had secured a 13-7 win, and a Junior American Legion Zone 4 Tournament championship to go along with its Zone 4 regular season championship.

“It was interesting, to say the least,” said Community Bank head coach Andy Runyan. “My hat’s off to both teams. Their kids obviously came out to send a message they weren’t going to roll over, and they were able to come back. But the same thing goes for our kids. We get beat the first game and instead of getting down, we battled back.”

Cabot will take on Little Rock Continental at 4 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the state at Batesville. Gwatney will battle Texarkana at 1 p.m.

Powell Bryant, the starter and winner in the second game, drove in six runs, including a momentum-killing grand slam in the bottom of the sixth. Bryant drove ineight runs in the doubleheader, going 4 of 7 and scoring four times. Matt Evans reached base in seven of his nine plate appearances on Monday, going 6 of 8. That included a leadoff home run in the nightcap.

“It’s funny, we had just got done talking before coming to the ballpark that we had scored 31 runs in the tournament but Matt had only been on base two times,” Runyan said. “I put the challenge to him and told him, ‘You’re the key if we’re going to go where we want to go.’

“The biggest thing for me was, after that tough loss in the first game, we were down and upset, and Matt hits that leadoff home run. That sent a message we weren’t going to lay down and it gave our kids a boost.”

For Gwatney, Tommy Sanders carried the big stick, going 5 of 9 with six RBI on the night.

“You’ve got to make the routine plays and we didn’t always do that,” said Gwatney head coach Bob Hickingbotham. “But we’ve got a lot of young kids playing and that’s part of the game.

“The kids stepped up with the bats in their hands as well as they have all year. I’m as pleased with them over these five days as well as I could be. They fought back in a tough situation and showed character. That’s what you want, and then let the chips fall where they may.”

Cabot, undefeated in tourney play heading into Monday’s contest, needed just one win to claim the crown, while Gwatney needed a 2-game sweep.

Cabot was within three outs of securing the title earlier on Monday evening when it carried an 8-6 lead into the final inning of Game 1. But Gwatney took advantage of two errors, two hit batsman and four singles to rally for six runs and a 12-8 victory, the exact same score by which Cabot had beaten Gwatney in the winner’s bracket finals on Saturday night.

The two games on Monday produced 40 runs, 46 hits – 23 in each game — 36 stranded runners, 19 walks, six hit batsmen and 10 errors.

Community Bank never trailed in the nightcap, though Gwatney matched its seventh inning total in the opener with a 6-spot in the sixth inning of Game 2 to rally from 9-1 to 9-7.

But Cabot got its cushion back after two walks and an error loaded the bases in the bottom half, and Powell Bryant belted a grand slam over the fence in left-center to push the lead to six.

Given the nature of these two teams’ battles over the past weekend, there was no reason to think it was done deal for Community Bank and, sure enough, it wasn’t. Evans, the fourth pitcher in the game – and seventh on the night – for Cabot, walked three batters in the seventh, but he also struck out three, including the final two with the bases loaded, to preserve the win.

With both pitching staffs nearly depleted after the five-day tournament, Gwatney called on Matt McAnally, and Cabot teed off early with Evans’ home run and doubles by Tyler Erickson and Joe Bryant to go up 2-0.

Powell Bryant was solid in his four innings for Community Bank, allowing just two hits and one earned run. Cabot added a run in the third on Matt Turner’s single, and bloop hit by Cole Nicholson and a passed ball.

Sanders’ RBI single in the fourth made it 3-1, but Cabot answered with three in the fourth and three in the fifth. Powell Bryant had an RBI triple and Ty Steele an RBI double, while Erickson drew a bases-loaded walk and Powell Bryant delivered a run-scoring sacrifice fly in the fifth to make it 9-1.

C.J. Jacoby, on in relief of Bryant in the fifth, gave up a Sanders’ triple, a walk and a Hayden Simpson RBI single to start Gwatney’s 6-run sixth. Stephen Swaggerty replaced Jacoby, but a walk, an error, an RBI single by McAnally and a 2-run double by Patrick Castleberry closed the gap to 9-7 and chased Swaggerty.

Evans put out the fire by striking out Sanders, then held on in the seventh for the save.

Community Bank picked up 15 hits, including three from Evans and two each from Joe and Powell Bryant, Erickson and Steele.

Sanders led Gwatney’s 8-hit attack with a single and a triple, while McAnally had a pair of singles.

Community Bank’s five errors in the first game resulted in four unearned runs – enough to provide the margin of victory for Gwatney.

Sanders’ 2-run triple in the first staked Gwatney to a 2-0 lead, though Cabot put up three in the bottom half on an RBI double by Powell Bryant and a run-scoring single by Steele to take a 3-2 lead.

“If we were giving out tournament MVP, Powell would have been a no-doubter,” Runyan said. “As proud as I was of him at the plate, giving us those four solid innings on the mound was the key to our victory.”

But a single by Brown and a double by McAnally eventually led to a 4-3 Gwatney lead in the third. Chase Thompson’s double, singles by Evans, Joe Bryant, Powell Bryant and Turner, along with a sacrifice fly by Nicholson, allowed Cabot to plate four in the fourth and take a 7-4 lead.

RBI singles by Sanders and Jeffrey Tillman in the fifth narrowed the Gwatney deficit to 7-6 in the fifth, but Evan’s run-scoring double in the fifth extended the lead to 8-6.

But Gwatney sent 11 to the plate in the seventh – the first seven reached safely – to score six runs. An error and two hit batsman set up Tillman for a game-tying, 2-run single. Two batters later, a dropped fly ball plated Simpson for the go-ahead run. Brown and Sanders added RBI singles and Castleberry a sacrifice fly.

Daniel Thurman, who got the win in relief, set down Community Bank in order in the bottom of the seventh. Thurman allowed only one hit over 3 1/3 innings, striking out five.

Hickingbotham said playing six games over five days did a lot of damage to his young arms, but that he hoped to have three or four rested enough to go on Thursday.

“Two days rest will help them, but we pitched them pretty hard and heavy for five days,” he said.