Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SPORTS >> Devils rout W. Memphis

Leader sports editor

WEST MEMPHIS — Jacksonville pitching just keeps getting better and better and, with the return of injured hurler Michael Harmon expected next week, prospects look even brighter.

The Red Devils have allowed only two runs over the past three games after routing West Memphis in a doubleheader on Monday, 14-0 and 7-2. Last Friday, Tommy Sanders threw a five-inning shutout in the Red Devils’ 10-0 win over Little Rock Central.

“We’re pitching like I thought we’d be,” said Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows after watching Seth Tomboli pitch a one-hitter and Michael Lamb pitch five strong innings in the nightcap.

Tomboli came within a strike of a no-hitter on Monday, but still got the win and the shutout while striking out nine. Jacksonville, which improved to 8-5 overall and 4-2 in the 6A-East, took advantage of a lot of walks to parlay eight hits into 14 runs. Sanders led the way with a pair of hits, while Caleb Mitchell drove in three runs.

Jacksonville trailed for the only time in the twin bill when it fell behind 2-1 in the nightcap. But the Devils rallied to take a 4-2 lead into the seventh, then added three insurance runs. Terrell Brown had a single, double and RBI in the game.

Lamb allowed only two hits over five innings while fanning five. Sanders closed out the final two innings. The Red Devils turned double plays to end the fifth and sixth innings.

The Red Devils had little trouble dispatching 7A Little Rock Central on Friday night, turning in a near-flawless performance in a 10-0 win.

Seven of the nine spots in the lineup had hits, with Sanders going 3 of 4 with three RBI. Sanders was masterful on the mound as well, pitching five innings of two-hit ball. He struck out six and walked four.

“Two of his outings have been like that,” Burrows said. “We expect that out of him. The big deal on Friday was he was throwing strikes. In the five games we’ve lost, with the exception of Catholic, we haven’t been around the plate. The games we’ve won, we’ve thrown strikes.”

Jacksonville wasted little time pouncing on the Tigers. Sanders beat out an infield single and scored on the first of Patrick Castleberry’s two doubles.

The Red Devils added three more with two outs in the second. Tomboli led off the inning by lining the first pitch left for a base hit. With two outs, Brown drew an intentional walk and Sanders doubled down the left field line to score Tomboli. Castleberry ripped a double to left to drive in two more for a 4-0 lead.

Sanders pitched out of a couple of early jams after walking two in the first, and loading the bases in the third on a walk, a hit batter and a single.

Jacksonville invoked the mercy rule with a six-run fifth, which included four hits. Nick Rodriguez walked, and Devon McClure was safe on an error when he laid down a sacrifice. After Logan Perry singled, Jacob Abrahamson was safe on a throwing error as McClure scored. Brown followed with an RBI single and Sanders lined a 0-1 pitch to right to bring home two more.

Mitchell then cleared the bases by lining the first pitch down the right-field line for a three-run double.

Jacksonville finished with 11 hits — three by Sanders and two each by Perry and Castleberry.

“It wasn’t necessarily how many hits we got, it was the way we competed at the plate,” Burrows said. “The last (Central pitcher) was tough with a good change up. We were fouling off pitches with two strikes. That’s the best we’ve done from top to bottom down the lineup.

“Even our nine-hole hitter (Abrahamson) got two strikes on him twice, put the ball in play and scored.”

Burrows said having two hard-throwing starters like Sanders and Tomboli that he can mix in with the lower-velocity pitching of Lamb should really help keep conference foes off stride during the doubleheaders.

“Seth and Tommy are up around 85-86 (miles per hour),” Burrows said. “When people see that for a full game, then see someone like Lamb — it will be nice to be able to change speeds a little.”

Burrows was quick to add that Lamb, who is just a sophomore, will eventually be a fast-ball thrower.

“He’s throwing around 80 right now, but he’s just a pup,” he said. “He’s eventually going to be like Harmon.”

Harmon, who hurt his hip several weeks ago, has been cleared to pitch and may see some action at the Xtra Innings Tournament in Jonesboro this weekend.

Jacksonville will play Nettleton on Thursday, Russellville on Friday and Pocahontas on Saturday.