Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SPORTS>> Gwatney’s long season comes to close in loss

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

In the end it was defense and pitching that let down the Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet senior Chevy Boys.

And a whole lot of exhaustion.

Gwatney’s season came to a close with a 13-11 loss to Cabot Community Bank in an elimination game in the American Legion Senior Zone 3 Tournament on Saturday afternoon at Burns Park.

In three games in the tournament, Gwatney allowed 39 runs and committed 16 errors.

“You go through the whole summer missing a lot of your players either because they’re playing on the junior team or they’re off on vacation or they’re injured,” said Gwatney coach Bob Hickingbotham. “Then what you’re hoping for is to get them back two or three weeks before the (zone tournament) and get the team settled down and ready to go.

“That didn’t happen to us. It was injuries and a whole bunch of things. We had four kids with broken bones, and pitchers with bad shoulders.”

Hickingbotham also had a bunch of exhausted, worn-out players who had played a large slate of games over two months — many for both the junior and senior Legion teams. As a result of the rugged schedule, practice time was cut short, which in part accounted for all the defensive breakdowns, Hickingbotham said.

“We had two stints where we played 15 days out of 20,” Hickingbotham said. “We had one stretch where we played 11 straight days. With a 9-week season, in order to get in that many games, you’ve got to have more depth. We had a lot of young kids, and from the middle to the end of the season, we didn’t have enough players to play.”

Still, Hickingbotham said he was proud of the way his kids continued to fight. Twice over two days, the Chevy Boys rallied from large deficits, coming from way back to beat Sylvan Hills Blue on Friday afternoon and stay alive. Against Cabot on Saturday, they gave up eight first-inning runs to fall behind 8-3, and trailed 9-3 before tying the game with six runs in the fifth, aided by Daniel Henard’s 3-run home run.

Drew Burks deflated all that momentum by belting a 2-run home run in the bottom half. Cabot added single runs in the sixth and seventh to extend the lead to 13-9. But even then, Gwatney had life left as Terrell Brown belted a 2-run homer in the eighth to narrow the gap to 13-11. But that would be the final margin.

“I’m proud of the kids because so many times during the year, they could have turned it off completely and they didn’t do that,” Hickingbotham said. “After playing so bad the day before and then playing so bad against Sylvan Hills, we got quite a few hits late (against the Bruins on Friday) that we needed to come back.”

Gwatney jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first with the help of Michael Harmon’s 2-run double, but four Chevy Boys’ errors in the bottom half, along with Ben Wainright’s 2-run home run, allowed Community Bank to score eight runs on just four hits. Matt
Turner’s RBI double in the second pushed the lead to 9-3.

Wainright finished with three hits, three runs and two RBI, while Burks added two hits and two RBI and Ty Steele and Powell Bryant chipped in with two hits each of Cabot’s total of 14.

Gwatney finished with 11 hits, including a single, a double and two RBI by Matt McAnally, a double and two RBI by Harmon, two hits by Adam Ussery, a 2-run homer by Brown and a 3-run homer by Henard. Gwatney committed five errors in the contest.

Gone from next year’s team will be Ussery, Henard, Ricky Tomboli and pitcher Clayton Fenton.

“But we have a lot of kids coming back and we’re expecting big things next year,” Hickingbotham said.