Leader Blues

Friday, July 18, 2008

SPORTS>> It’s in the Cards

Leader sports editor

The Sylvan Hills Cardinal All-Stars finally broke through and won the biggest tournament yet.

After finishing second in a pair of earlier tournaments, and third at state, Sylvan Hills ran the table at the Cal Ripken 5-6-year-old Southwest Regional at Cabot this week to take home the title.

“They were tickled to death because it was the first tournament they’d won,” said head coach Randy Hindman. “And this was the biggest one.”

Sylvan Hills avenged a loss to the Cabot Rage in the state tournament by hanging on for a 17-10 win on Tuesday night to win the regional. The victory was secured in the top of the fifth inning after Grant Shahan and James Raley reached base and Alex Phillips got a base hit to end it (in T-ball, a team can score only six runs in one inning and that made the score 17-10 with just one inning left).

Hindman chalked up his team’s breakthrough after so many close calls to consistent hitting, defense and lots of repetition drills in the week leading up to the regional.

“We really worked on base running,” he said. “They learned when to tag up and run because in the regular season, most fly balls aren’t caught. But when you get to the All-Stars, they all can catch. So they learned about base running.

“Also, we’d been playing on a lot smaller field and the bigger fields (at the regional) meant a lot of our hits to the outfield were going for doubles and triples instead of singles.”

Sylvan Hills jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning of the title game. Bryce Overman doubled, Luke Hindman tripled and Drew Martin singled. Nick Reeves followed with a double and MacKenzie Burks a single.

But Cabot answered with four of its own, getting singles from Tanner Leonard, Austin Scritchfield, Zack Edmondson and Canon Collet and a double from Graham Turner to take a 4-3 lead after one.

Hindman and Phillips doubled and Jordan McCuin, Overman, and Raley singled in the Cardinals’ 6-run second as they claimed the lead for good.

But the Rage was not through by any means, scoring four more in the second to close the game to 9-8. Kobe Heagerty, Blayse Quarnstrom, Peyton Johnson and Scritchfield all singled and Logan Stephens added a double in the inning.

In the third, Nick Reeves singled and scored to make it 10-8, but the cushion grew to eight when Sylvan Hills plated six more in the fourth. Phillips, McCuin, Hindman, Martin and Reeves singled and Overman doubled.

Cabot stayed alive with two in the bottom half after a double by Gunner Sewell and a triple by Heagerty, but Sylvan Hills’ run in the fifth ended it.

Defense, Hindman stressed, is the key to winning games at the T-Ball level, and the Cardinals were outstanding throughout their 7-0 run through the 21-team tournament. Their biggest win — and their best defensive effort — came in the winner’s bracket finals against an Orange Grove, Mississippi, team that had never lost a game since the team was put together.

“They were telling us this team was 80-something and 0,” Hindman said. “And they scored seven runs in the first two innings on us.”

The Cardinals stuck with them and trailed only 7-5, and Mississippi managed only two more runs over the final three innings and Sylvan Hills rallied for a 10-9 win with a run in the last inning.

“We held teams scoreless in several innings in the tournament,” Hindman said. “That was the difference.”

Hindman said the games with the Cabot Rage and the Cabot Panthers have always been good ones, with the series about even.

The Rage won the state tournament, while the Panthers beat the Cardinals twice at state to eliminate them. The Rage advanced to the finals on Tuesday by outlasting Mississippi, 17-16 in the semifinals.

There is no World Series at the T-Ball level or, Hindman said, “We’d be going.”

Luke Hindman won the homerun derby, beating out 20 others during the event at the opening ceremonies on July 10.