Leader Blues

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SPORTS >> Bates leading Cabot mash unit

By KELLY FENTON
Leader sports editor

Sam Bates went 8 of 9 on Saturday with four doubles, a home run and seven RBI. On Sunday, with his Cabot Centennial Bank team up against the wall in two elimination games at the Zone 3 American Legion tournament at Burns Park, Bates fell off to a 5-of-9 clip with five RBI.

Cabot head coach Jay Darr figures that if his power-hitting, run-producing second baseman can keep it up at that clip, he’ll do more than land himself a Division I scholarship; he may help Centennial Bank land a state title as well.

“He is just on target with his bat,” said Darr, whose team three times escaped with wins in elimination games last weekend and opened state tournament play against Jonesboro last night. “I updated my stat book (after the Russellville game on Sunday) and he was up to .541 with an .861 slugging percentage. He’s just mashing the ball.”

Cabot junior Legion coach Andy Runyan contacted several Division I coaches in the area and Darr said UALR was there to watch Bates’ show. The Trojans are suddenly very interested.

“Sam has kind of flown under the radar a little,” Darr said. “But he hit .371 at Crowder last year with six home runs.”

First things first, though. Cabot has reached its first-ever senior state tournament just one year after the junior team accomplished the same feat. Centennial Bank is hitting the ball as well as anyone coming into the tournament at Burns Park, with Bates just happening to be the hottest among them.

Through the first five games of the tournament (Cabot fell 7-4 in the second game to North Little Rock last night and settled for a No. 2 seed), Bates belted .667 (14 of 21) with a remarkable 15 RBI and nine runs. Not far behind was catcher Ben Wainwright, who went 11 of 24 over that same span with 11 RBI and five runs.

Ty Steele was 9 of 21 with eight runs and five RBI.

Centennial Bank scored 50 runs in the tournament, and that was with two of its top hitters — Drew Burks and Matt Turner — combining to go just 7 of 35 with five RBI.

“During the dead period (when coaches are not allowed to have contact with their players), I went out to watch the guys play and their bats just really came alive,” Darr said. “It seemed like the hotter the weather got, the hotter their bats got. They’re hitting the ball better than they have all season.”

Which, as it turned out, was a good thing, given that the normally solid pitching got knocked around pretty good last weekend, surrendering 41 runs.

“The last couple of games, Cole (Nicholson) has been hit,” Darr said of his ace. “Cole for the most part this year has been dominant and he’s going to find it. The other guys have done about as well as expected. Everybody gets their bats going this time of year. And these teams are going to hit it in the state tournament.”

Darr listed Fayetteville and Jonesboro as the teams to beat. Joining them and Cabot this week at Burns Park will be Paragould, North Little Rock, Fort Smith, defending champion Bryant and Texarkana.

Darr is preaching patience this weekend.

“The thing about nine-inning games is you can’t panic if you get down early,” he said. “These are long games and there are going to be a couple of big innings.”

If his club didn’t believe him before, they probably do now after twice rallying from five-run deficits in elimination games at the zone tourney last weekend. Darr said it will likely come down to the bullpen and defense if Cabot is to reach the title game.

“I like our lineup,” he said. “The thing about our squad is, one through nine, there’s not a whole lot of a break (for opposing pitchers). But every one of these teams will be strong one through nine.

“The key will be our pitchers throwing strikes, but our defense and our bullpen will be the wild cards.”