By Ronn Rowland
Phoenix Sports Writer
FORT GIBSON – The Hilldale Hornets picked the most inopportune time to go into a hitting slump in defense of its Class 4A championship.
The Hornets managed one hit against No. 1 Berryhill, the team Hilldale beat for the title last year, in falling to the Chiefs 4-0 at Carr O’Dell Tiger Field on Friday. The struggle continued for the Hornets (19-12) in the final elimination game of the day against Stilwell as the 7-3 loss to the Indians brought their season to an end.
“When you get in a regional situation, especially when you get in the loser’s bracket, and you don’t hit, you’re not going to hit,” said Hilldale coach Darren Riddle. “We had our chances in the first game to try and put something together. Against Stilwell, we don’t get going until we’re down 7-0.”
They were hitless until the fourth against the Indians.
The first game of the day was a one-man show for the Chiefs (32-5) as Arkansas signee Zach Jackson was in complete control. His no-hitter was thwarted by Colby Mullens’s single in the sixth inning. Jackson finished the game with nine strikeouts.
“I haven’t pitched actually in about two weeks,” Jackson said. “It took me a little bit to get going. I’d feel it at times and others it wasn’t so natural.”
Lost in the defeat was the courageous effort of Hilldale’s Hunter Harrison who tossed a complete game and scattered five hits while striking out eight while dealing with back spasms.
“I pitched as best as I could,” Harrison said. “(Jackson) is a great pitcher. He didn’t have his best stuff today but his slider’s nasty.”
The Chiefs opened the scoring in the top of the first on an RBI double by Nick White, bringing home Christian Davidson. Berryhill would make the score 2-0 in the top of the fifth on a single by Tyler Rosenquist, eventually moving to third on an error, and scoring on a fielder’s choice by White.
After Mullens singled and advanced on a passed ball, Harrison drew a walk off Johnson and both runners moved up a base after another passed ball. However, Jackson worked out of the jam by striking out Bailey Puckett to end the inning.
“We had a great chance to score there,” Riddle said. “That’s where you have to tip your hat to (Jackson).”
Berryhill would put the game away in the seventh with two more runs when Justin Jackson reached on an error, White singled and both came home on a double by Mason Million to close out the scoring.
The loss put the Hornets in a must-win situation against Stilwell after the Indians eliminated Fort Gibson 5-1. Stilwell was looking for a little revenge after the Hornets defeated the Indians 6-1 in the second game on Thursday.
Stilwell’s Brody Clay mowed down the first 10 batters he faced while his teammates were staking him to a 7-0 advantage. Mullens again had the Hornets’ first hit, a single through the left side of the infield, and would come around to score his team’s first run on a groundout by Puckett.
The Hornets cut the deficit to 7-3 in the fifth inning on an RBI double by Aaron Sanders and a single by Miles Jackson. Hilldale mounted another threat in the sixth inning when Harrison and Puckett began the frame with a walk and single, respectively. However, Derek Altman ripped a ball on a line to Clay who turned and doubled off Harrison. Scott Rodden ended the Hornets’ final threat of the season by striking out.
“Derek hit the ball as hard as a you can hit the ball,” Riddle said. “I don’t think the pitcher even knew he caught it. There’s nothing Hunter could do at second.”
Berryhill and Stilwell meet at 1 p.m. today to settle the regional championship. A Berryhill victory punches the Chiefs’ ticket to next week’s Class 4A state tournament. Should Stilwell prevail, the two teams return at 3 p.m. to decide to issue.
Stilwell 5, Fort Gibson 1
The Tigers saw their seven-game winning streak end on Thursday and their season come to a close on Friday.
Fort Gibson (15-16) managed only one hit in the first five innings and that came courtesy of Zach Drain to lead off the first inning.
As the Indians (28-8) were putting up a single run in the third and two runs each in the fourth and fifth, the Tigers put their only run of the game in the sixth on a fielder’s choice by Brayden Williams. Fort Gibson was looking to add more runs in the inning when it loaded the bases with one out but Stilwell’s A.J. Deason got Tyler Stach to pop up to shortstop and Colton Dorris to ground out second to first.
“We made some errors early and that’s been kind of our story this season,” said Fort Gibson coach Randy Smith. “We just didn’t hit the ball like we should.”
Tristan Johnson started on the mound for the Tigers and finished the game surrendering four earned runs with four walks and two strikeouts.
“Tristan struggled all day,” Smith said. “It’s hard when you’re pulling tarp and hauling dirt. I’m not making excuses and when you’re the host team, you’ve go to be able to do that. You’ve got to be able to work through it.”