By LARRY “SCOOP” McCARTY
Heber Springs breezed into the fifth inning with a 6-1 lead and apparently on the way to give first year head coach Monterio May a win in his debut, but Morrilton rallied to tie the game at 6-6 by scoring five unearned runs in the fifth inning and took the lead in the sixth and defeated the Panthers 8-6 in the 4-4A Conference baseball opener at home.
Despite the loss, May said he was proud of his team’s effort.
“We committed two mental errors (in the fifth inning), but we will work on correcting those mistakes,” May said. “We kept competing until the end of the game. We talked in practice about not worrying when we make one mistake. We don’t want it to become two mistakes, but it turned into five. When we face adversity, we need to keep competing and finish the rest of the game strong. We had too many things happen at one time and couldn’t slow the game down. We need to learn to step back and take a deep breath.”
Heber Springs scored runs in the second and third innings. Cole Payton, who walked earlier in the second, scored on Conner Riddle’s infield grounder. The Panthers added one run in the bottom of the third on a bases-loaded walk for a 2-0 lead.
Morrilton scored one run in the top of the fourth, but Heber Springs answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning. Riddle led off with a single, stole second base and scored on Matthew Cook’s single. The Panthers loaded the bases as John McBroome was safe on a throwing error that got past the first baseman and rolled into right field for three runs and increased the lead to 6-1.
Morrilton took advantage of two Heber Springs errors for three runs in the top of the fifth. Cade Halbrook hit an RBI single and the Devil Dogs tied the game at 6-6 on Maddox Hogan’s base hit.
May said Garrett Hudspeth had a good performance in his first pitching start. Hudspeth allowed six runs (five unearned) on seven hits, struck out four and walked two. Cook relieved Hudspeth in the fifth. Gage Buford relieved Cook in the sixth.
“Garrett pitched well and into the fifth inning and showed he will be one of our team leaders,” May said. “Morrilton players showed relief in their faces when he came out of the game.”
Morrilton took the lead on an infield out in the sixth, followed by Drew Tiner’s RBI single.
Riddle and Kenan Sneed each had two singles for the Panthers.
“Conner was one of our bright spots,” May said. “This was the first time we hit against live pitching. We had a good collective team effort. Garrett made a great defensive play in the sixth when he caught a line drive at shortstop and stepped on second.”
Heber Springs was scheduled to play at Clinton in a nonconference game Thursday. The Panthers will host conference foe Pottsville at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
Morrilton 000 152 0–8 13 2
Heber Springs 011 400 0–6 7 5
Morrilton hitters — Cade Halbrook 2 singles, double, 1 RBI, 2 stolen bases; Maddox Hogan 2 singles, 1 RBI; Jackson Dixon 2 singles, 1 stolen base; Drew Tiner single, 1 RBI; Luke Carter single, 1 RBI; Casey Jones single, 1 RBI; Beau McElroy single; Braydan Garrett single; Hunter White single; Maddox Hogan 2 stolen bases; Phillip Drilling 1 stolen base.
Morrilton pitchers — Phillip Drilling 2 hits, 2 earned runs, 2 strikeouts, 5 walks in 3 innings; Braydan Garrett 4 hits, 4 runs, 1 earned run, 2 strikeouts in 1 inning; Casey Jons (W, 1-0), 1 hit, 0 runs, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk in 3 innings.
Heber Springs hitters — Connor Riddle 2 singles, 1 RBI, 1 stolen base; Kenan Sneed 2 singles; Matthew Cook single, 1 RBI; Gage Buford single; Garrett Hudspeth single.
Heber Springs pitchers — Garrett Hudspeth 7 hits, 6 runs, 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts, 2 walks in 4.2 innings; Mathew Cook (L, 0-1) 5 hits, 2 earned runs, 1 strikeout in 2/3 of an inning; Gage Buford 1 hit, 0 runs, 1 walk in 1.2 inning.