Heber Springs has shown a flare for the dramatic lately, rallying from seven and five down to win two games over the past week.
After rallying from five down to beat Harding Academy on Monday, the Panthers (7-12, 3-2) led the entire way against rival Clinton on Tuesday at Panther Field, winning their third straight 2-4A Conference game with a 7-3 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
Heber didn't need a late comeback this time, but the Panthers allowed Clinton to put the tying run at the plate with two outs in the seventh, causing Coach B.J Greene to pull starting pitcher Judson Smith, who held Clinton to three earned runs in 6 2/3 innings while scattering eight hits, issuing five walks and striking out four.
Smith, a battle tested senior, threw 124 pitches. “I can't say enough about Judson on the mound,” said Greene. “That last inning I went out there and he was up to 120 [pitches] and I have never let a kid go that far and he said 'Coach I am not coming out.' I said alright, I will give you one more. That's big for us with another conference game on Thursday we didn't waste any pitching.”
Smith walked that next batter, Jace Bradley, loading the bases and forcing Greene to bring in first baseman Michael Kramer, who retired Drew Forman on a pop-up to shortstop, where Smith secured the catch to compete the win.
The Panthers, who improved to 3-2 in league play, close 2-4A regular season play at Taylor Field versus Pine Bluff Dollarway, which is winless in conference play. “I don't think anybody in this conference gave these guys a chance to have a chance to be sitting where they are now with a chance to take third,” said Greene. “I think it's a testament to our kids. They are really starting to buy into it.”
The Panthers jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning as Zac Ingram singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on Harley Hooten's groundout.
Paden Flippin drove home Ingram with an RBI single.
Heber added another run in the second inning as Brooks Morgan laced a double down the right field line, moved to third on a passed ball and scored on an RBI sacrifice-fly to center field off the bat of Chandler Marquardt.
Clinton, which fell to 1-4 in 2-4A Conference play, responded with a run in the top of the third, leaving Heber with a 2-1 lead entering the fourth inning.
The Panthers countered with two runs on three hits in the bottom of the fourth, starting when Kramer walked and Smith doubled, placing two runners in scoring position.
Morgan delivered an RBI single that plated Kramer then Tyler Moss, who entered the game as a courtesy runner for Smith, scored on an RBI single from Chandler Jones, giving the Panthers a 4-1 lead.
Page 2 of 2 - In the top of the sixth, Clinton's Cody Lowder beat out an infield single to lead off the frame, but Heber used a trick play to catch him napping at first base.
Smith stepped off the rubber and faked a throw to first base as Kramer dove while the other Panther fielder's got in position as if the ball was rolling into right field on a botched pickoff attempt.
However, Smith never threw the ball and tagged out Lowder between first and second for the first out of the sixth. Smith retired the next two, including one by strikeout, as the Panthers maintained a 4-1 entering the bottom of the sixth.
Heber scored three runs on one hit while taking advantage of two errors by Clinton in the sixth. Kramer crushed a double to deep right field to start the inning then Smith pulled an RBI double past third base and into left field.
With Heber leading 5-1 after Kramer scored, Morgan reached on an error and stole second before Marquardt lifted an RBI sacrifice-fly to right field, plating Moss, who entered as a courtesy runner for Smith.
Jones added an RBI groundout to second base, scoring Morgan as the Panthers took a 7-1 lead entering the final frame.
In the top of the seventh, the 'Jackets stirred up a rally when Nic Tester worked a one-out walk and Fielder Dufrene beat out an infield single. With two outs, Dalton Jackson prolonged the game with an RBI single through the hole on left side, scoring Tester as Clinton cut its deficit to 7-2.
Cody Lowder drilled an RBI single down the left field line that scored Dufrene, pulling Clinton within four at 7-3 before Bradley worked a walk, loading the bases and ending Smith's outing one out short of a complete game.
Morgan led Heber, finishing 3-for-3 with two singles, a double, two runs and one RBI. Smith (2-for-3) followed with two hits ¬ both doubles, while Kramer (1-for-2), Ingram and Jones also registered a base hit for the Panthers. Jones and Marquardt each collected two RBI to pace Heber.
Weather permitting the Panthers are scheduled to wrap up conference play at Taylor Field in Pine Bluff on Thursday versus Dollarway. The game will be pushed back to Friday (today) if rain prevents play on Thursday. Opening pitch is set for 4 p.m.
Greene said he is excited about playing at the historic ballpark in Pine Bluff.
“Taylor Field is an awesome place for high school baseball and I don't think we have a kid on our team that has ever played there so it's going to be an exciting time. If we get rained out Thursday we play Friday. I think the kids are going to really like it and if we can get some of the parents and fans to come I think they will enjoy the atmosphere.”