Leader Blues

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SPORTS >> Centennial Bank repeats at Classic

By JASON KING
Leader sportswriter

Cabot Centennial Bank has found something to break up the monotony of the long summer baseball season — adversity.

It began with a 7-6 loss to Sheridan junior in the first round of the annual Sheridan Wood Bat Classic when Cabot was faced with a depleted pitching staff, and continued on Sunday when head coach Jay Darr had to sit out the tourney championship due to the Arkansas Activities Association’s athletic dead period.

Through all of that, Cabot (8-6) found a way to win its final four games, including a 4-1 victory over Gurdon in the championship game, on the way to capturing its second consecutive crown at the Wood Bat Classic. Centennial Bank benefited from complete game performances by Cole Nicholson, Josh Brown, Andrew Reynolds and Tyler Erickson from Friday through Sunday, and a heads-up job of substitute coaching on Sunday by Cabot junior assistant coach Chris Gross, who didn’t even know he’d be taking over head coaching duties until late Friday.

“Chris did an excellent job of leading them,” said Darr, “He’s been an assistant with the junior team, which means he hasn’t worked with the senior bunch hardly at all. It was a team effort all the way. Our pitching and offense were clicking.”

The dead period prohibits contact between any coach connected to a high school in the state and their athletes for two weeks.

Because Darr volunteer coaches for the Cabot High School Panthers baseball team under Jay Fitch, the AAA said he was subject to the rule. The dead period also affects junior legion coach Andy Runyan, who also teaches and coaches two sports at CHS.

If all that weren’t enough, Cabot on Sunday didn’t have Drew Burks and his .389 average for either of its games. Burks played Thursday through Saturday, but reported to Fayetteville on Sunday to take part in High School All-Star week, where he will play for the East All Stars in the East-West baseball game at Baum Field on Wednesday.

An 11-4 win over Sylvan Hills early Sunday put Centennial Bank in the championship game, where they took on a stout Gurdon team. Gurdon had knocked off zone dominators North Little Rock in the semis.

Erickson got the nod to throw the title game, and came through with a complete-game, five-hit performance. Ty Steele led the way offensively, going 3 of 3 at the plate. Sam Bates, Matt Turner and Joe Bryant all recorded RBIs for Centennial Bank.

Cabot outscored its opponents 42-13 through five games at the Wood Bat Classic.

“The guys were going through the summer league motions. We just weren’t playing as a team,” said Darr. “I challenged them after we lost on Friday. I told them that we could be a sound team, but we weren’t living up to our potential. They responded.

Our pitchers shut down their opponents, and everyone stepped up to the plate and hit well.”

The rebound began with Cabot’s second game of the tourney in a 4-1 win over Pine Bluff/White Hall. Cole Nicholson went seven innings and allowed only four hits, and Burks provided the offensive punch with a 3-of-4 performance, which included a home run. Joe Bryant went 2 of 4 with a double, an RBI and a run. Bates was also 2 of 4 with a run.

Cabot hammered Hot Springs 17-1 on Saturday behind Sam Bates’ two doubles and three RBI. Joe Bryant was 2 of 3 with a double and an RBI, while Turner was 2 of 2 with two RBI and two runs.

Brown went the distance in the run-ruled contest, allowing only three hits through five innings.

A nine-run fourth inning propelled Centennial Bank over Sylvan Hills in the semifinal matchup on Sunday. Reynolds got the win after giving up five hits and three earned runs, while striking out seven.

Matt Turner led the offense with a 3-of-5 showing, driving in four. Joe Bryant was 3 of 5 with a double and two runs, while twin brother Powell Bryant was 2 of 4 with an RBI.

Darr said he hopes the prestigious crown will give his up-and-down club some momentum for the rest of the summer.

“I think now that they see what we can do and what we are capable of accomplishing, anything else will seem like a failure,” said Darr. “This team has a lot of pride, and I think that will continue for the rest of the year.”

SYLVAN HILLS

A solid start to the Sheridan Wood Bat Classic ended in disappointment for Sylvan Hills over the weekend.

The Optimist Bruins seniors handily beat Stuttgart 8-0 in the first round on Thursday and held on to beat a stubborn Benton team 4-3 on Friday, but fell 10-2 to Maumelle and 11-4 to Cabot in their final two matchups at the annual tourney. Sylvan Hills is 10-6 on the season.

“Anytime you get to use wood bats, it’s a good experience,” said longtime Bruins coach Mike Bromley. “You find out what kind of swing you have with a wood bat. You can get away with a lot of stuff with a metal bat that you can’t with wood. Plus, I think the kids enjoy using the wood bats.”

Jordan Spears led the way against Stuttgart with a two-run home run. Korey Arnold earned the win at the mound, and also contributed offensively with two hits. Casey Cerrato had a hit and also reached two other times on walks, and Gino Jameson finished with a double.

Nathan Eller threw a strong game against Benton on Friday, allowing only three hits. Those hits all came late, and Benton rallied in the seventh inning after the Bruins claimed a 4-0 lead early.

Sylvan Hills got all four of its runs in the top of the second, and held Benton scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning. The Bruins gave up one run in the fifth, and two more in the seventh before closing the deal.

After falling to Maumelle on Saturday, the Bruins gave up nine runs on just three hits in the fourth inning in a loss to Cabot in the semis on Sunday.

“We’ve got to start making the routine plays,” said Bromley. “If you’re making the routine plays, you give yourself a chance to win. If you can’t, you’re in trouble. We’ve been kind of up and down so far. Some games we play pretty good, other games we don’t do very well.”