Newport’s Greyhounds pulled out of Heber Springs with two wins behind an outstanding performance from crafty left-handed pitcher Michael Reynolds, who left the bases loaded while picking up the save in a 4-3 Game 1 victory. Then, Reynolds went the distance in the nightcap, limiting the Panthers to only two hits as the Greyhounds rolled to an 8-1 victory, completing a 2-4A conference sweep on Friday evening at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.
In Game 1, Heber took the first lead in the bottom of the first, stirring up a two-out rally against starting pitcher Grant Black ¬ a strong right-handed hurler. Following a pair of strikeouts, Michael Ludwig drew a walk, stole second and moved to third on a passed ball before Paden Flippin ripped an RBI single to right center, scoring Ludwig for a 1-0 lead.
With two runners in scoring position after Tyler Dennis reached on a full-count walk and stole second, Black avoided more damage with his third strikeout.
Ludwig, Heber’s strong-armed right-handed ace, breezed through the first two frames and pitched out of trouble in the top of the third when Newport loaded the bases with two out. Following a possible run saving block by catcher Harley Hooten, Ludwig left the bases loaded when cleanup batter Gunner Bullard lifted a fly-ball to center, where Geoffrey Anderson made the play.
Black pitched around a one-out single by Ludwig in the bottom of the third and the Greyhounds knotted the score with an unearned run in the fourth inning. Reid Johnson reached on a two-base throwing error to lead off the inning, then Colton Willis was hit-by-a-pitch and both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch.
Hayden Shulz brought home Johnson with an RBI groundout as Willis advanced to third, where Ludwig left him stranded with two straight strikeouts.
Jackson Thomas and Anderson worked consecutive walks with two down in the bottom of the fourth but Black got out of the inning when first baseman Reynolds handled a Brooks Morgan bunt to right side.
Newport busted the game open with three runs on three hits in the top of the fifth, beginning when Grant Smith pulled a one-out double down left field line. Smith advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on an ensuing throwing error before Black slapped a single to left field.
After Bullard nailed a single up the middle, Johnson walked to load the bases for Willis, whose RBI walk plated a Greyhound courtesy runner for a 3-1 lead. Schulz added an RBI groundout to Flippin at shortstop that scored Johnson as the Greyhounds built at three-run cushion before Ludwig ended the top half with a strikeout.
In the bottom of the fifth, Ludwig, who finished 2-for-2 with a pair of walks, roped a one-out single up the middle. But Newport quickly ended the Panthers’ threat when shortstop Kordray Taylor started a 6-U-3 double play on a grounder up the middle off the bat of Flippin.
Ludwig pitched around an error and walk in sixth but Black struck out the side in the bottom half after walking Dennis to start the inning.
Thomas relieved Ludwig to begin the seventh inning and retired the Greyhounds in order. Then, down to its final three cracks, Heber put together a rally in the bottom of the seventh.
Morgan and Smith each walked with one out to get the Panthers started and both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch as Ludwig worked a hitters’ count on Black, who was replaced by Reynolds with a 3-1 count on Ludwig.
Newport elected to walk Ludwig before Flippin pulled an RBI single to the left side that scored Morgan and reloaded the bases but Reynolds fired back with a strikeout. With two down, Hooten sent a chopper to third base that turned into a throwing error just wide of the bag as Hooten reached safely while Smith scored, cutting Heber’s deficit to one at 4-3.
With the bases still loaded and two out, Reynolds notched a strikeout ¬ his second with the bases loaded as the Greyhounds pulled out a nail biter.
Newport 8, Heber 1
The Greyhounds built a 5-0 lead in the first two innings of Game 2 and never looked back, rolling to an 8-1 victory.
Heber starting pitcher Brooks Morgan retired the first batter of the game but Smith and Black each drew a walk and Bullard pulled a single down third base line, loading the bases for Johnson, whose RBI walk scored Smith and caused Heber to relieve Morgan with Anderson.
With the bases loaded and one out, Anderson got Willis on a chopper back to the mound but a Greyhound courtesy runner would score on a wild pitch before Anderson pitched out of more trouble with a strikeout.
Reynolds pitched a perfect bottom of the first, including two strikeouts and Newport added three runs in the second as Taylor walked and took second on a passed ball before Reynolds stroked a single to left field.
Smith followed with a 2 RBI triple to center that rolled to the wall as Taylor and Reynolds came around to score. After Smith scored on a passed ball, Anderson worked his way out of the inning despite a fielding miscue, leaving the Greyhounds with a 5-0 advantage.
Reynolds continued to cruise in the second, striking out the side in order but Anderson found a groove in the top of the third, shutting down Newport without allowing a base runner.
Reynolds kept his perfect game intact in the third while striking out two more batters then Newport tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the fifth, starting when Schulz reached by error.
With two out, Taylor singled down the left field line before Reynolds plugged the gap in right center with a 2 RBI triple that plated Schulz and Taylor, extending the Greyhounds’ lead to 8-0. Flippin relieved Anderson and retired Smith on a fly-ball to Ludwig in centerfield.
Reynolds lost his perfect game bid on a fielding miscue in the fourth and Heber tried to piece together a rally in the fifth as Derrik Fisher walked on four pitches and Smith reached on an error with one out.
But, Reynolds retired the next two batters, including one by strikeout as Newport took an 8-0 lead to the sixth. After issuing a leadoff walk to Black, Flippin held the Greyhounds scoreless in the top half and Ludwig led off the bottom half with a single to left field, breaking up Reynolds’ no-hitter.
With one out, Flippin drilled an RBI double to deep left field that scored Ludwig but Reynolds responded with a pair of strikeouts, giving Newport’s southpaw pitcher 13 strikeouts for the game and 15 for the doubleheader.
Flippin pitched around a two-out Taylor single followed by a Reynolds walk in the seventh. But, Reynolds continued to dominate on the mound in the bottom half, only giving up a one-out walk to Thomas while striking out two more.
Newport (10-4, 5-1) kept its position atop the 2-4A standings and will likely battle Lonoke for the top spot. Newport and Lonoke split head-to-head.
Heber (4-7, 2-4) played Batesville on Monday before resuming 2-4A conference play at Southside Batesville on Thursday. The doubleheader is scheduled to start at 4 p.m.