Heber Springs couldn't have picked a better time for its first win of the season, outlasting Morrilton 9-6 on Tuesday in the opening round of the Zone 3 American Legion Tournament at the Heber Springs Sports Complex.
Batting at the bottom of the order, Hunter Birmingham and Conner Lindsey led the Panthers' charge, combining for 5 hits and 5 RBI. Lindsey also scored 2 runs, while leadoff hitter Tyler Dennis helped set the table with 3 hits, 1 run and 1 RBI.
“Timely hitting was key,” said Heber Coach BJ Greene. “Hunter Birmingham had the best game I have ever seen him play in his life. The list goes on and on. Conner Lindsey and Tyler Dennis stepped up for us offensively too and defensively we made some mistakes but we did enough to get the win.”
Pierce Mitchum started on the mound for Heber before giving way to Hunter Chandler, who slammed the door by tossing 3 1/3 innings of relief, only allowing an inherited run to score.
“Right up front our pitching was good,” said Greene. “Pierce Mitchum, a ninth-grader, started the game and threw really well and Hunter came in and showed why he was our ace this year on our high school staff.”
Working around six errors, Mitchum and Chandler left eight Morrilton runners stranded in scoring position while the Panthers managed to push across all but two runners that reached second or third base.
“We tried to put some pressure on them. We hit-and-run a bunch, we straight stole a bunch and we bunted them over. We made them make plays and they didn't do it,” added Greene.
The Panthers, who lost a regular season meeting against Morrilton, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first frame, starting when Dennis singled to left field and stole second.
With one down, Mitchum reached on an error, using his blazing speed to beat a high throw from shortstop that briefly pulled Morrilton first baseman Luke Zimmerman off the bag.
Mitchum then stole second base as Morrilton attempted to pick Dennis off third. But, the throw sailed high into left field, allowing Dennis to score. After Mitchum swiped third, catcher
Chandler Marquardt lifted an RBI single to right field, giving the Panthers a 2-0 advantage.
Mitchum worked around an error while holding Morrilton scoreless in the bottom of the first inning and Heber added one run on two hits in the top half of the second. Lindsey led off with a single past third and down the left field line and Birmingham pushed him into scoring position with a sacrifice-bunt, which set up Dennis' RBI single to right field.
Morrilton scored an unearned run off Mitchum in the bottom half of the second, pulling within 3-1. Starting pitcher Jace Hill retired the Panthers in order in the third and Morrilton added another run in the bottom half when Jake Wilson poked an RBI single to right field, plating Reggie Toney, who was hit-by-a-pitch.
Page 2 of 2 - Clinging to a 3-2 lead, Heber scored two runs on two hits in the top of the fourth, starting when Chandler Jones reached on an error. Lindsey followed with a perfectly placed hit-and-run single through the hole on right side, which brought Birmingham to the batter's box with runners on the corners and nobody out.
Birmingham, batting left-handed, delivered a 2 RBI double to the gap in left center, scoring Jones and Lindsey as the Panthers took a 5-2 lead before Hill worked around further damage.
Morrilton chased Mitchum in the bottom of the fourth once Hill ripped a 2 RBI single to center field, plating Zimmerman, who was hit-by-a-pitch along with Bubba Stidham, who singled.
Chandler came on in relief and worked out of the jam after the Panthers committed two errors that led to a pair of runs as Morrilton suddenly snatched a 6-5 lead. With two out and two runners in scoring position, Chandler induced a fly-out to left field.
In the top of the fifth, Heber stirred up a two-out rally ignited by Marquardt, who drew a walk.
Jones followed with a single down the right field line then Lindsey nailed an RBI single through the hole on right side, scoring Marquardt.
Birmingham beat out an infield single for an RBI off a slow roller to the right side as Jones scored, but Morrilton caught Lindsey trying to sneak home from second on a close play at the plate.
With Post 64 leading 7-6, Chandler shut down Morrilton in the fifth, struck out the side in the sixth and used two more strikeouts to escape the seventh with runners stranded at the corners.
Meanwhile, Heber added two insurance runs in the top of the seventh as Caleb Payton walked and scored on a throwing error following Marquardt's bunt. After Jones pushed a bunt to the left side of the mound for a single, Lindsey drove home Marquardt with grounder to shortstop, extending the Panthers' lead to 9-6 entering the seventh.
Post 64 advances to play top-seeded Clarksville at 7:30 p.m. tonight. “They beat us 8-3 last Tuesday but they drummed us like yard dogs the first game of the year so we've got some things to prove to those guys,” said Greene.
“They are going to come up here thinking they are the No. 1 seed and nobody is going to touch them and they are a very good team. For AA baseball in Legion they are as good as I have seen, but I think we have a good opportunity. We are playing better than we have.”
Lindsey finished 3-for-4 with 2 RBI and 2 runs for Heber and Birmingham went 2-for-3 with a game-high 3 RBI. Dennis (3-for-4) added three hits, including 1 RBI and 1 run scored, while Jones contributed 2 hits and 2 runs scored. Marquardt, who finished 1-for-3, also scored 2 runs for the Panthers.