SPORTS >> Heartache again for Red Devils
Leader sports editor
When the ball left Seth Tomboli’s bat, it had the look of a heroic shot — a potential game-winning, walk-off, two-run home run.
Instead, it went down in the books as a long out — the final out, in fact, of the Jacksonville season.
For the second straight year, the Red Devils were eliminated from the 6A state tournament in heartbreaking fashion in the quarterfinals. Lake Hamilton held off Jacksonville for a 5-4 win in a game which began on Monday and ended on Tuesday afternoon at Burns Park in North Little Rock. Last year in the tourney, Jacksonville lost a late three-run lead and fell 6-5 to Watson Chapel.
“I thought that ball Seth hit was going to hit the top of the fence,” said emotional Jacksonville head coach Larry Burrows. “When he hit it, I was screaming at Tommy (Sanders, who was on first base) to come on, come on, come on. Because I knew we were going to score right there.”
But Lake Hamilton center fielder Tauno Vannuci hauled it in against the screen in deepest right-center field and Jacksonville’s season came to a close at 19-9.
The game was suspended on Monday evening with the game tied at 3 and it appeared destined to remain that way when Michael Harmon struck out the first two Wolves he faced on Tuesday afternoon in the top of the sixth inning.
But what appeared to be a harmless two-out walk turned into a Lake Hamilton rally. Rob Curry followed with a sharp single.
Tyler Bradshaw hit a tricky two-hopper to the left of the mound, and on the wet turf, Harmon bobbled it for an error to load the bases.
Freshman Jonathan Daniels, who drove in four of the five Lake Hamilton runs, lined a 2-2 pitch into the gap in left to drive in two and give the Wolves a 5-3 lead.
The Red Devils threatened to come right back when Sanders walked and Tomboli doubled off the top of the screen in left center. Devon McClure narrowed the gap to 5-4 with a sacrifice fly and Jacob Abrahamson walked.
Terrell Brown hit a hard grounder, but right at the shortstop. He mishandled it, though, to load the bases and put the tying run at third with just one out. But Lake Hamilton pitcher Jared Webb got Caleb Mitchell on strikes, and Bradshaw robbed Patrick Castleberry of a two-run single when he dove to his right at second to stab a hard grounder and flipped to the shortstop to end the inning.
“You get those hits, you advance,” Burrows said. “It just didn’t happen. But I thought (Castleberry’s grounder) was through. I was already waving (Jacob Abrahamson) around to score.”
Webb retired the first two Red Devils in the seventh before Sanders drew a walk. Tomboli then launched a high and deep fly to right-center on Webb’s first offering to him for the final out.
Jacksonville had one-out singles in each of the first four innings, but didn’t break through until it scored three times in the fourth to overcome a 2-0 deficit. After Nick Rodriguez blooped a one-out single, Logan Perry beat out an infield hit. A passed ball moved the runners along and Tomboli was safe on another infield hit as Rodriguez scored. McClure lined a single into left to tie it.
The Red Devils took the lead when Abrahamson beat out an infield hit down the first base line and Webb threw wild past first on the play. That allowed Tomboli to come around from second.
A walk, a sacrifice and two singles tied it up in the Lake Hamilton fifth and chased Tomboli, the Red Devil starter. Harmon came in and walked Josh Fortner to load the bases. But he got Josh Profitt on strikes to leave the score tied at 3. That’s when the next round of rain began, suspending action until Tuesday at noon.
“We got through all year with hitting and pitching and defense, and winning close games,” Burrows said. “I don’t know how to explain it. They made more errors than us and I think we out-hit them. You just scratch your head and wonder what happened today.”
Jacksonville had 10 hits to Lake Hamilton’s seven, but left nine men on base. Mitchell and Tomboli had two hits each. McClure had two RBI. Harmon, one of four senior Red Devils, took the loss in relief, allowing two walks, two hits and two runs — both unearned — over 2 1/3 innings. He struck out four.
Tomboli worked the first 4 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs, while walking four and striking out three. Tomboli, Brown, Harmon and Sanders are the departing seniors.
“The four seniors have been character and class all the way,” Burrows said. “I will miss them very much. They’ll always be special to me.”