SPORTS >> Red Devils get to Rockets late
By TODD TRAUB
Leader sports editor
It’s too bad for Jacksonville that Friday’s Arkansas Activities Association benefit game with Little Rock Catholic didn’t count.
It certainly was a keeper as far as Jacksonville was concerned.
Jacob Abrahamson and Patrick Castleberry hit home runs as the Red Devils broke open a close game in a 6-1 victory over the Rockets at Dupree Park.
“What I like about this group is we may not put the total thing together every day but they find ways to win,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “We found a way to win today with our pitching and defense and just scratched a few out. That’s what we seem to have done so far.”
Burrows said Jacksonville and Catholic couldn’t get the benefit game played in the preseason. Burrows said he used a hole in the schedule to not only play the game Friday, but to treat it like a real varsity matchup.
Specifically, Burrows had a few pitching objectives to accomplish and saw everything he wanted out of starter Nick Rodriguez and relievers Mike Lamb and Castleberry.
Rodriguez went five innings with three hits allowed, one run, two walks and two strikeouts to get the victory, and Lamb and Castleberry, who started at catcher, worked a scoreless inning each.
“The pitching is exactly what we wanted to see,” Burrows said. “I didn’t know if Nick would get five but we wanted five out of him and today would have been Lamb’s bullpen day so we wanted him to throw one and we wanted Castleberry to close.”
If there were a wild card, it was Castleberry. Burrows, looking to improve his bullpen depth, wanted to see his junior slugger throw and Castleberry worked around two walks in his scoreless seventh.
“He has thrown a couple times,” Burrows said. “But we got in a situation where one game we wanted to use him and our catcher, I’d done pulled him and screwed up. But I think that’s his third appearance of the year. We’re kind of thin there and it’s something we’ve tinkered with. You never know when we may need that arm.”
Abrahamson, the Red Devils’ leadoff man, hit a two-run home run to make it 4-1 in the fifth and Castleberry led off with a homer in the two-run seventh.
“I didn’t feel like we swung it very good,” Burrows said. “Luckily we got a few that got out of the ballpark.”
The late-game power broke open what had been a tight struggle early.
Catholic’s Drew McMahon singled with one out in the first but was erased in a double play. The Rockets went down in order in the second, then leadoff man Nick Battisto reached on an infield hit to lead off the third and was caught stealing.
But Catholic’s defense was even more stingy in the early going. Castleberry got a one-out, infield hit in the first and was the Red Devils’ lone base runner though three innings as Rockets starter Conner Gilmore struck out three and Battisto made four assists at third.
Zach Gibson drew a two-out walk from Rodriguez in the Rockets fourth and scored when diving right fielder Alex Tucker couldn’t quite glove Drew Turner’s high fly and it fell in for an RBI double.
Jacksonville responded with three straight singles to right by D’vone McClure, Castleberry and Caleb Mitchell in the fourth. Mitchell’s drive drove in McClure, then Rodriguez scored Castleberry with a sacrifice fly.
But Mitchell, who was on second after a double steal, was caught off base and tagged out in a rundown and Jesse Harbin struck out to leave Jacksonville in front 2-1.
The Red Devils padded their lead with Abrahamson’s home run and made the Rockets pay for an error in the fifth. First baseman Stuart Montez muffed Logan Perry’s two-out roller and Abrahamson followed with a drive over the left-field fence to make it 4-1.
Jacksonville tacked on two more in the sixth. Castleberry, facing reliever Will Ogles, homered over the left field fence and Mitchell doubled, setting the stage for courtesy runner Jake Lovercheck to steal third and score on catcher Logan Wewers’ throwing error for the 6-1 lead.
“No matter if we’re struggling pitching, if we’re struggling hitting, our guys think they’re going to find a way to get it done,” Burrows said. “That’s what I’m encouraged to see.”
Jacksonville (13-3, 6-0 6A-East) had a conference game at Little Rock Parkview then was looking to a stretch in which it faces Jonesboro, Mountain Home and Searcy, all 6-0 late last week.
Jacksonville plays host to Jonesboro at Dupree Park on Friday.
“Late-season games, they’re supposed to be important,” Burrows said.