BENTON – In a pitchers’ duel, the East No. 4 seed Russellville Cyclones scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to whisk away the South No. 5 seed Pine Bluff Zebras’ 6A state championship hopes with a 3-1 win in the first round of the 6A state tournament held at Bernard Holland Park.
Zebras’ senior pitcher Aaron McDonald pitched scoreless baseball for 5 1/3 innings before giving up a single to center field, which turned into a two-base fielding error on centerfielder Walter Ashley allowing Cyclone Cody Campbell to reach third base with one out.
Andrew Elam would plate the game’s first run the next at-bat with a single to centerfield for the 1-0 Russellville lead. After getting a fly out for the second out, McDonald would give up a double to Mitch Mullen and a two-run single to Cody Underhill to make it a 3-0 Cyclones’ lead.
Despite the season-ending loss, McDonald gave up three runs on six hits and four walks, and struck out three in six innings. He threw 98 pitches.
“Aaron is our best pitcher,” Pine Bluff coach Ryan Stinson said. “He’s a senior so I expect him to do that. He pitched a good game. We just couldn’t score enough runs. That’s normally been the case with us and when he’s on the mound. We just need to generate runs.”
Brandon Starks would lead the top of the seventh off with a walk and would go to second on Tyler Smith’s single to right field. But, J’Marlos Johnson would ground into a double play, moving Starks to third. Starks would score on a wild pitch by Austin Robinson for Pine Bluff’s lone run.
The Zebras had their chances to score. Pine Bluff put at least one runner on in each inning, but the only inning there was a runner at second base and less than two outs, other than the seventh, was the fourth when Adam Graham reached on an infield single and went to second on Demetrius Anderson’s sacrifice bunt. Russellville pitcher Mark Moyer would strike the next two Zebras out to get out of the inning unscathed.
“Sometimes it’s been scoring position, sometimes it’s been hitting,” Stinson said of his team’s inability to score,” but (Thursday) we had runners in scoring position. We just couldn’t get the runs across when we needed them.”
Smith finished 2 for 3 for the Zebras, Graham was 1 for 1 with two walks, Trey Harris was 1 for 2 with a walk and Johnson went 1 for 3. For the Cyclones, Andy Campbell went 2 for 3, Underhill went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI, Elam went 1 for 1 scoring and knocking in a run, and Cody Campbell and Mitch Mullen each went 1 for 3 and scored a run. Moyer got the win for Russellville giving up one run on four hits and three walks, striking out nine in six innings.