Yellowjackets prevail over Lions in late-night contest

BENTON — While most people were settled in their beds after 10 p.m. on Thursday night, the Sheridan Yellowjackets and the Searcy Lions were clashing in the 6A state tournament on Panther Field at Benton High School in a game that finished Friday morning.

“Oh my goodness,” Sheridan head coach Mike Moore said with a laugh of the late finish. “I heard some of my players in the dugout saying, ‘Hey, you know we have a game later on today?’ when it turned (after midnight). That was tough … and could set you up for a dull performance, but our guys came out pretty sharp.”

The Yellowjackets, No. 3 seed from the South, indeed came out sharp and never really lost focus in a 5-1 win over the East’s sixth-seeded Lions to advance to the quarterfinals. The Yellowjackets and Lions were delayed nearly three hours due to rainfall and thunderstorms in the Benton area.

Sheridan (22-8) received a phenomenal performance from starting pitcher Tyler Raney as he faced the minimum through four innings before a Lion reached second base in the fifth inning. Raney pitched a complete game allowing two hits and one run (earned) with three walks and six strikeouts.

“Raney threw a great game,” Moore said. “He pitched great and our defense did pretty well behind him.”

Equally impressive was Searcy starter Will Dunavan. Although the Yellowjackets chased him out of the game, Dunavan put up a respectable line of 5 2/3 innings pitched while allowing nine hits and five runs (four earned) with three walks and six strikeouts.

“Searcy has a good team,” Moore said. “(Dunavan), he just settled in and he just started competing harder and harder.”

The biggest momentum builder for Sheridan came in the fifth inning when Raney found himself in a bases-loaded jam. With the Yellowjackets leading 3-0 and Raney throwing a no-hitter, the Lions manufactured a walk and an infield single to the shortstop for their first hit of the game.

Another walk loaded the bases for Searcy (8-13) with one out and an error on the shortstop allowed the Lions to score a run with the bases still loaded. Moore went out to settle his pitcher and his defense.

“In the games we have lost this year, we have been in that situation and we didn’t make plays” Moore said of the jam. “I just told them that if we are going to give ourselves a chance to win a state championship, this is when you have to make plays.”

Sheridan responded with Raney striking out the next batter looking and inducing a groundball to the second baseman to get out of a huge jam.

“He regrouped, gathered his composure and got us out of it,” Moore said. “For (Raney) to get that big strikeout and get out of that like we did, it could have been so much worse.”

That inning proved to be the closest Searcy would get as Raney didn’t allow a runner to reach third base the rest of the game.

“Overall, we had some clutch hits and played solid all around,” Moore said. “We’re just glad we won.”

Sheridan jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning. Tadd Daggett started the inning off with a high-towering fly ball that was misplayed by the first baseman allowing Daggett to reach second base before the ball dropped. After Daggett stole third, he scored on an RBI groundout from Raney.

In the second inning, an error allowed David Vilches to reach safely and a single from Tyler McKenzie put runners on the corners with nobody out. After a strikeout, Nick Whitley hit an RBI double into left-center field scoring Vilches. Later in the inning, Hunter Strong hit an RBI infield single to the shortstop to give the Yellowjackets a 3-0 lead.

Sheridan added two more insurance runs in the sixth inning with help from two errors by the Lions.

Strong led the Yellowjackets finishing 2 for 4 with a team-leading two RBIs. Daggett led the team with two runs scored and ended 2 for 3. Traike Elliott and Jacob Sexton collected the Lions only hits of the game.

With the win, Sheridan moves on to face the East’s No. 2 seed Russellville at 3 p.m. Friday at Benton High School.

Russellville dispatched Siloam Springs 10-0 in six innings on Thursday. Moore said he is familiar with Russellville and expects a good game.

“We know Russellville is a solid team,” Moore said. “We’re going to have to play our best game. We’ve seen them play a couple of times. I don’t think it’s going to be a surprise because we know what they are capable of.”

Moore also joked about not having a repeat performance of Thursday.

“Hopefully we don’t have a lightning delay of three hours and we’ll get home at a decent hour.”