BENTON — The Pine Bluff baseball team played Marion pretty evenly over the final five innings on Thursday afternoon.
The problem was the hole the Zebras dug themselves in the first two innings of their first-round game in the 6A state tournament.
Two three-run innings by the Patriots to start the game was too much for the Zebras to overcome in a 9-1 loss at Bill Perry Field at Bernard Holland Park.
“That’s kind of our m.o.,” Pine Bluff coach Ryan Stinson said. “If we don’t give up that many (runs), we do pretty well. We’re not an exceptional hitting team, so it’s hard for us to come back.
“They never gave up, though, and kept battling. If you continue to do it, eventually something good will come from that.”
Marion (14-15) took advantage of some shaky defense by Pine Bluff (12-12) in the early going.
Freshman pitcher Jaylon DeShazier got the first batter of the game to ground out, but a high throw from catcher Gealander Harris III after a strikeout let Zach Morris reach first base.
Bailey Burford followed with a double — his first of three two-baggers — to put two runners in scoring position. Quinn Tabler poked a single to right field scoring Morris easily but Burford only scored when Brandon Little’s throw got past Harris.
Tabler later scored on a wild pitch as the Patriots took a 3-0 lead.
In the second inning, a one-out double by pitcher Cody Raymond, a single and a hit batsman loaded the bases for Marion before Burford cleared the bases with his second double.
Burford was tagged out in a rundown between second and third on the play, and after that DeShazier seemed to settle in, allowing just one run over his next four frames.
“The first two innings they scored three runs each,” DeShazier said, “but after that we just settled down and started playing ball.”
After going down 1-2-3 the first two innings, Pine Bluff finally mounted a challenge against Raymond in the third inning.
Brandon Little, who finished 1 for 1 with two walks, led off with a base on balls and Braylen Jones drew a two-out free pass to put two runners on base.
The Zebras couldn’t come up with the clutch hit, though, a sign of things to come.
Pine Bluff left runners on base in four of the final five innings, including multiple runners in three innings. The Zebras managed just two hits — an RBI-single by Jordan O’Guinn and a single by Little — but drew seven walks in the loss.
“We got ourselves out more than we should have,” Stinson said. “(Raymond) did a good job. He got us to reach and pop up a lot.
“That’s something we talked about (Wednesday) is putting the ball on the ground and making them make a play.”
Pine Bluff will lose just four seniors — two starters — from this year’s squad. Stinson thinks the future could be bright for those returning.
“I told them we had a good year,” he said about his post-game message to the team. “We didn’t go out the way we wanted.
“Things will get better for us.”
Getting an ace like DeShazier state tournament experience is a big help.
“I gained a lot of experience getting to pitch in big games this year,” he said. “I learned how to hit corners and keep the ball down.”
DeShazier thinks the experience will help the rest of the team, too.
“I think it will help us a lot for next year,” he said. “Hopefully we can come back next year and win.”