SPORTS>> Bruins settle for third
Leader sports editor
The clock struck midnight on Sylvan Hills’ season a few minutes before 11 on Monday night — six hours after the Bruins’ took the field at Burns Park.
After staying alive with an easy 9-0 win over Fort Smith behind a 3-hitter from Ross Bogard, the Bruins fell to Fayetteville later in the evening and their season came up one win short of the American Legion senior state title game.
“It was a good season,” said Sylvan Hills head coach Mike Bromley. “The kids advanced and did well. We had a shot to win it, but we didn’t do what it took, so we ended up third.”
Jonesboro played Fayetteville late Tuesday for the championship.
The Bruins were facing an uphill battle after dropping a second-round game to Jonesboro on Saturday to fall into the loser’s bracket. That left Sylvan Hills looking at five games over three days against the best in the state.
The Bruins were right in the Fayetteville game early with D.J. Baxendale fanning 11 batters over four innings. But a first-inning error and a little bad luck had the Dodgers on top 2-0.
Sylvan Hills narrowed that gap to 2-1 with singles by Clint Thornton and Nathan Eller in the fifth, but things fell apart when Baxendale, suffering from a sore elbow, exited the game in the bottom of the fifth and Fayetteville responded with five runs to open up a 7-1 lead.
Even then, the Bruins appeared to have some life, but wasted a 1-out, bases-loaded opportunity in the seventh. It was the story of the night for Sylvan Hills, which stranded nine and had seven runners in scoring position with less than two outs and didn’t score any of them.
The fatigue of playing their fifth game in four days appeared to be a factor in a couple of first-inning miscues. Colton West drew a leadoff walk and went to second on a wild pitch. Chase Huchingson dropped a bunt down the first-base line but second baseman Matt Rugger was late covering first and Baxendale’s throw went down the right-field line as West scored.
Blake Roberts then chopped a 2-2 pitch over Garrett Eller at first for a run-scoring double. Baxendale got the next two on strikes to end the inning and begin a remarkable streak of seven straight strikeouts. The final 11 outs Baxendale recorded in the game were strikeouts as well as 11 of the 12 outs he recorded.
But Baxendale, who injured his elbow in throwing a complete game, 17-strikeout, 2-hitter against North Little Rock in the zone tournament last week, couldn’t make it out for the fifth.
Brandon Chastain entered and allowed five hits and five runs in the fifth. The Dodgers hit a couple of balls hard off Chastain, but also got a 2-run Baltimore-chop double from Andrew Thames and a bloop single over second that brought in two more.
Meanwhile, the Bruins were wasting precious opportunities. Mark Turpin walked and reached second with one out in the first. Rugger reached second with one out in the third and Baxendale reached third with no outs in the fourth after singling and going to third on a throwing error.
None scored. Baxendale tried to catch Fayetteville hurler Kyle Sargent unaware by taking off for home as the ball was returned from the catcher. But Sargent gunned him down.
Sylvan Hills finally broke through in the fifth when Thornton singled, stole second and scored on Eller’s single to center. Cody Cormier looped a 1-out single down the right- field line to put Eller on third. But Eller was thrown out trying to get back to the bag on Justin Treece’s sharp grounder to short.
Singles by Eller, Cormier and Treece loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but again the Bruins came up empty.
Fayetteville finished with 11 hits and received six walks and a hit batsman. The Bruins managed eight hits, with six of those coming from the bottom of the order. Thornton, Eller and Cormier had two singles each.
Earlier in the evening, Ross Bogard delivered a single, double and home run to go along with a complete-game gem in Sylvan Hills’ 9-0 win over Fort Smith. Bogard allowed only three hits for the Bruins’ third 3-hitter of the tournament. Eller opened with a 3-hitter on Friday against Little Rock Blue and Chris Eastham tossed one on Sunday in a win over North Little Rock.
“Eastham’s been throwing good for us all year,” Bromley said. “Eller’s been doing a good job closing for us. And Bogard threw two good games — one in the district and one here. We knew we had some depth pitching.”
On Monday, Sylvan Hills got a 2-run double by Baxendale and a 2-run homer by Bogard to open up a 5-0 lead in the third against Fort Smith, then cruised to the easy victory. The Bruins belted 13 hits, including three each by Bogard and Baxendale.
Each drove in three runs.
Bogard struck out five, walked one and hit four.
JONESBORO 6, SYLVAN HILLS 4
On Saturday, the Bruins fell into the loser’s bracket in a loss to Jonesboro. Sylvan Hills managed just four hits, but nearly pulled it out with the help of wildness from Jonesboro pitching.
Jonesboro scored unearned runs in the first and second to take a 2-0 lead before a Cormier single and four consecutive walks tied it in the bottom half.
But a pair of home runs off Sylvan Hills starter Blaine Sims put Jonesboro back out in front, 5-2, and three singles made it 6-2 in the seventh.
Three walks, a hit batsman and Thornton’s sacrifice fly made it 6-4, but that was as close as the Bruins could get.
SYLVAN HILLS 6, NORTH LITTLE ROCK 1
Chris Eastham tossed a 3-hitter and Treece homered and scored three times as the Bruins eliminated the host team.
The Colts got two of their three hits with one out in the first when they scored their only run. The Bruins tied it with a 2-out rally in the third on Turpin’s single and stolen base and Bogard’s run-scoring single. Baxendale’s double in the fifth put the Bruins on top and Treece’s solo home run leading off the seventh made it 3-1.
Doubles by Eller and Turpin led to a 3-run eighth and Eastham finished it off with a 1-2-3 ninth.