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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Ricebirds slide by Heber

  • Stuttgart left fielder Michael Smith made a routine fly-ball appear difficult, diving to snare the catch at the last moment to preserve the Ricebirds’ 5-3 win over Heber Springs on Thursday in 2-4A Conference action at Panther Field.
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  • Stuttgart left fielder Michael Smith made a routine fly-ball appear difficult, diving to snare the catch at the last moment to preserve the Ricebirds’ 5-3 win over Heber Springs on Thursday in 2-4A Conference action at Panther Field.
    Prior to the bottom of the seventh inning, Stuttgart right-handed pitcher Jack Morgan had limited the Panthers to only one hit and two base runners. But down to its final three outs, Heber scored three runs on three hits and had the bases loaded when Smith snared the ball near the ground to keep at least two runs from scoring, possibly three.
    The Ricebirds made several diving plays in the outfield. “It was just a little too late,” said Heber manager B.J. Greene. “Our starting pitching with [Andrew] Bradshaw, Chase Vines and Hunter Chandler … those three guys have done really well for us. The ball just didn’t go our way. I think they made five diving catches. It’s tough to swallow. I think we are a better team than them. I think we have better pitching.
    “Right now we are just really struggling at the plate. We’ve got to figure out a way to hit the baseball with some consistency and we are not getting that right now. But, baseball is not a sprint. It’s a marathon and whoever is playing good at the end of the year is who will have a chance to go far in the state tournament.”
    The Ricebirds took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second as catcher Jacob Clawson led off with an infield single and moved into scoring position on an error. Clawson advanced to third on Jack Morgan’s groundout and scored moments later on a wild pitch.
    Morgan retired the Panthers in order in the first, second, third and fourth innings while only allowing shortstop Shane Kimble to reach on an infield single. Kimble was forced at second on a fielder’s choice, which allowed designated hitter Chandler Marquardt to reach. Clawson threw out Marquardt attempting to steal second, ending the third frame.
    The Ricebirds added one run on four hits in the top of the fourth, starting when first baseman Lance Oltmann led off with a single to center field and moved to second on Clawson’s sacrifice-bunt.
    Morgan stroked an RBI single up the middle to score Oltmann, who had just advanced to third on a wild pitch. After consecutive singles off the bat of Spencer Simpson and Cole Morgan, Heber starting pitcher Andrew Bradshaw left two runners stranded in scoring position with the aid of catcher Tyler Moss.
    Cole Morgan’s single to left field appeared to load the bases, but the throw back to the infield got away. Moss chased the ball down near the backstop and flipped to Bradshaw alertly covering home plate, cutting down Jack Morgan.
    Page 2 of 3 - Morgan retired Heber in order in the fourth and Stuttgart tacked on two runs on two hits and one error in the top of the fifth. Third baseman Cole Ward reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch and advanced to third on a passed ball before shortstop Blake Marks pulled an RBI single through the hole on left side, scoring Ward and pushing the Ricebirds’ lead to 3-0.
    Bradshaw responded with a strikeout, but Oltmann stroked an RBI single to left field, plating Marks, who stole second and moved to third on an error.
    With one out, Heber relieved Bradshaw with Chase Vines. The Ricebirds added one more run following an error that allowed Oltmann to score and Stuttgart reloaded the bases before Vines escaped further damage by inducing two fly-outs.
    Both teams went down quietly in the sixth and Vines pitched around a two-out single by Jack Morgan in the top of the seventh.
    Trailing 5-0, Heber suddenly stirred up a rally in the bottom of the seventh as second baseman Dillion Moore walked and right fielder Tyler Dennis looped a single to right field.
    Third baseman Michael Kramer followed with a sharp ground ball up the middle that deflected off Morgan for an RBI single, scoring Moore. Left fielder Hunter Chandler reached on a fielder’s choice that forced Dennis at third and left the Ricebirds two outs away from the victory.
    Heber kept battling as first baseman Conner Lindsey was hit by a pitch and Kimble pulled an RBI single through the hole on left side, scoring Kramer. Moss followed with a fly ball that dropped in shallow center, scoring Chandler, but Stuttgart center fielder Preston Earlywine threw out Lindsey at second on the play.
    With Heber down to its final out, Marquardt extended the game with a walk, loading the bases for center fielder Pierce Mitchum, who lifted a high fly to shallow left field, where Smith made a shoestring catch while tumbling to the ground for the final out.
    Three players had two hits for Stuttgart, which improved to 5-5 overall and 2-0 in conference. Oltmann led the way, finishing 2 for 4 with two runs and an RBI. Marks went 2 for 4 with a run and RBI, while Jack Morgan finished 2 for 4 with an RBI.
    Kimble (2 for 3) led the Panthers, who fell to 6-8 overall and 0-2 in conference play, with two hits and an RBI. Moss and Kramer each drove home a run for Heber. Kramer. Moore and Chandler also scored a run for the Panthers, who host Newport on Thursday in a 2-4A Conference matchup.
    The Panthers have four conference games remaining.  “You want to finish in the middle of the pack and this is a game that is going to keep us from finishing right there,” said Greene.
    Page 3 of 3 - “It’s going to push us to fourth or fifth maybe. We’ve got to win some games in conference. Newport is senior laden. They have two good left handed pitchers.”

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