Leader Blues

Friday, July 18, 2008

SPORTS>> Gwatney advances on clutch hit

Leader sportswriter

BATESVILLE — Patrick Castleberry’s RBI double to left field in the bottom of the fifth plated the two runners necessary for Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet to claim a 5-3 win over Texarkana in the first round of the American Legion junior state tournament on Thursday at Batesville North Sports Complex.

The first inning was eerily similar for each team at the plate. Both leadoff batters were retired before the next three hitters reached and scored.

Kenny Spencer got a one-out single for Texarkana, followed by walks to Josh Stringfellow and Matt Warner loaded the bases. All three eventually came across.

Jacksonville turned a double play to stop the bleeding after that, but still needed to answer on the bottom side.

They did just that.

Terrell Brown was the first to reach for Gwatney, followed by walks for Matt McAnally and Castleberry to load the bases. Jarod Toney was walked after that to score Brown. Hayden Simpson delivered the big blow of the inning with a 2-run double to tie the game. Toney was out at the plate trying to score on the play.

Both teams went three up and three down for the second and third innings as the defenses began to settle in. Warner struck out the side in the third.

Gwatney squandered a great opportunity in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Chevy boys had loaded bases with only one out when Daniel Thurman grounded into a double play to third.

More opportunities for Gwatney came in the bottom of the fifth, and this time, the Chevy boys cashed in. A.J. Allen led off with a single to left. Brown was hit by a pitch, which brought Castleberry to the plate with one out.

Castleberry put it right in the middle of the gap between shortstop and second into left center, as Allen and Brown came around to score.

“I wanted to take the ball the other way,” Castleberry said. “But I got a pitch inside, so I decided to pull it. We just wanted to get through the first round and get into the winner’s bracket. We just need to keep hitting the ball like we have been.”

Gwatney manager Bob Hickingbotham says his team has picked the perfect time in the season to peak.

“It was a good defensive ballgame; we didn’t make any mistakes really,” Hickingbotham said. “We had one error in the infield, but it really didn’t hurt.

“We had a little confidence in the game, we beat Texarkana earlier in the year, and we knew they were good — they won their half. We have a chance to play against another one of our teams in North Little Rock if they can get by the hosts tonight, and that was a little bit of incentive, but these guys want to win. I don’t see anybody out there who isn’t playing like they want to win.”

Thurman relieved winning pitcher Tom Sanders for the final two innings, and finished strong to pick up the save. Thurman gave up a walk and a single in the top of the seventh, but also struck out two before Toney sealed the win with an unassisted play at first.

Brown and Castleberry each scored two runs for Gwatney Chevrolet. Gwatney played Batesville in the winner’s bracket last night after Leader deadlines.