Gwatney Chevrolet played two very different game to end the Area 3 Tournament, but it ended well for Jacksonville with a win over Cabot White in the championship game Monday night.
Monday’s 8-5 win came despite the Chevy Boys making seven errors in the game. On Sunday, Gwatney lost 2-0 to Cabot despite a 21-strikeout performance from Derek St. Clair.
"Whatever it takes to win, I’ll take it," said Gwatney coach Bob Hickingbotham. "We came back tonight and it wasn’t very pretty, but it was a win."
Sunday night, St. Clair scattered six hits and three walks over ten innings. The big story of the game was the 21 strikeouts St. Clair amassed on the night. He had at least two strikeouts in every inning until the tenth, when he struck out his 21st.
"He had some soreness and hasn’t pitched all year long," said Hickingbotham. "He told me he wanted to go tonight and he looked as strong in the tenth as he did in the first."
St. Clair found himself in a couple jams during the game, with runners reaching scoring position in the second, fourth and seventh innings. Strikeouts and groundouts kept the scoreboard full of zeroes.
While St. Clair and the defense were taking care of business, the offense wasn’t having the same luck for Jacksonville. Cabot’s Adam Hicks and Gavin Tillery didn’t have the same strikeout numbers, but they did combined for 12 strikeouts while giving up just five hits. Gwatney missed some key opportunities in the second, third and seventh innings.
Gwatney had the bases loaded with no outs in the second inning thanks to a single by Greg Jones, a bunt single by Courtland McDonald and another single by Brandon Hickingbotham. Hicks snagged a line drive back at him by DJ Scott, and then struck out the next two to end the inning. St. Clair started the third inning with a double, but was followed by two strikeouts and a grounder as he was stranded there. McDonald was hit by a pitch to begin the bottom of the seventh, and was sacrificed into scoring position by Hickingbotham. Hicks fielded another come backer by Scott for the second out, then struck out the final batter to send the game to extra innings.
Cabot finally broke through in the tenth inning with two hits, a walk, an error, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly. Neither run was earned.
A win on Sunday would have put Jacksonville as the undefeated team in the championship game against Conway on Monday. Instead, Jacksonville had to wait for Conway and Cabot to play the first game Monday and take on the winner.
Jacksonville had a hard time making the timely hits on Sunday, but didn’t have that problem in the title game. The problem with unearned runs did seem to carry over from that final inning however, as all five of Cabot’s runs were unearned.
Trailing 2-0 beginning the second inning, Gwatney took the lead in the top of the inning. After two quick outs, Gwatney loaded the bases with Hickingbotham drilling a hard single, followed by Scott walking and Dontae Harris being hit by a pitch. Starting pitcher James Tucker helped himself out by drilling a fastball to the left field corner, clearing the bases for three RBIs.
Two more Jacksonville errors let Cabot tie the game in the bottom of the inning, but Jacksonville came back to take the lead for good in the third.
Again with two outs, Greg Jones hit a double and scored when McDonald followed right behind with a double. Jacksonville had a little bit of help scoring in the fourth when Scott’s bunt was fielded and thrown wide of first down the right field line. Scott made his way to third on the error, and then scored on a single by Harris to give Gwatney a 5-3 lead.
Gwatney extended its lead in the sixth inning with two more runs. Harris was walked and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tucker. St. Clair beat out an infield single, but Harris wasn’t able to advance. Another sacrifice moved both into scoring position, setting up Blake Perry for a two-run double.
Jacksonville got out of a jam in the fifth inning, holding Cabot scoreless despite giving up three singles. After two singles to start the inning followed by two outs, a single to left was bobbled by Scott. The lead Cabot runner tried to score on the bobble, only to be gunned down at home from left.
Cabot scored two in the bottom of the sixth inning with the help of Gwatney’s seventh error. McDonald got one of those runs back in the top of the seventh after singling and scoring to set what became the final 8-5 margin.
Cabot got two runners on in the bottom of the inning, but Tucker got the last three batters out in order to give Jacksonville the district title.
The junior American Legion State Tournament begins this weekend at Cabot. Game times for Gwatney have yet to be determined.