Leader Blues

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SPORTS >> Panthers settle for 2nd when Wildcats rally

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

PINE BLUFF — The Cabot Panthers made it to the championship game of the Billy Bock Invitational baseball tournament at White Hall over the weekend. The Panthers downed Bryant in Thursday’s opening round before squeaking by White Hall 2-1 in the semis at their own Taylor Field in Pine Bluff.

Their luck did not hold in Saturday’s title game with North Little Rock, however, as the Charging Wildcats overcame a 3-2 deficit with a sixth-inning rally, eventually winning 6-3.

Pitcher Tyler Erickson had tallied a high pitch count by the sixth inning when NLR began to rally, leaving head coach Jay Fitch with the difficult decision of pulling or not pulling his ace.

“There was a little frustration, but we didn’t want to take a chance,” said Fitch. “We wanted to win, but it wasn’t a conference game, and I told the guys the main thing with these games was to learn what we can now before we have to face them in league play.

“We feel really good about Tyler Erickson. He is a complete pitcher, and he mixes it up well.”

North Little Rock took an early 2-1 lead in the first inning before the Panthers put up two runs in the second inning. The score remained 3-2 until the Wildcats added two runs in the sixth inning to go up by one, and they finished with another pair of runs in the top of the seventh to set the final.

Breaks were few and far between for the strong-hitting Panthers. They won the hits battle 8-6, but a number of long fly balls with runners in scoring position stayed in the park.

Joe Bryant was 3 of 4 with a RBI and Drew Burks was 2 of 3 with a RBI.

Friday’s game with White Hall was scoreless until the top of the third inning, when Matt Williams led the inning off with a single. Burks then reached on an error, and a single to left field by Matt Turner loaded the bases with only one out.

Starting Panther pitcher Cole Nicholson drove in the first run on an error, and Erickson brought in what turned out to be the winning run with a sacrifice fly to right field.

Nicholson earned the win with a complete-game performance. He gave up seven hits, one run and no walks while fanning five. He also worked his way out of a big jam in the bottom of the fourth when the Bulldogs began to rally.

They scored to pull within one and had the go-ahead run at first with no outs, but Erickson struck out the next batter, then forced a pop-up and got another strikeout to retire the side.

“That was a big inning,” said Fitch. “Things got a little hairy there for a while. They had a lot of fans there, and they were whooping and making some noise. Tyler had a JV outing that didn’t go that well, and we had to have a heart-to-heart before this one.

“I think it helped him get some confidence. He threw a magnificent game.”

The Panthers had six hits. White Hall finished with seven hits.

With the departure of projected ace Matt Evans, the pitching staff has gone through a shake up to start the season, but Fitch said the pieces are starting to fall back into place with Erickson, Andrew Reynolds and Nicholson. He also said that C.J. Jacoby and
Chase Beasley should fill out the pitching depth with a little more work.

The Panthers are 7-3, and are enjoying a week off for spring break before returning to action next Monday at home against Little Rock Hall. They will resume 7A-Central Conference play that Tuesday at Van Buren.