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29 May 2007
JSU Downs Samford, but Austin Peay Takes Nightcap to Claim NCAA Bid

By Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

Jacksonville State’s Kyle McCreary is tagged out at home plate by Samford catcher Luke Peavy during Saturday’s Ohio Valley Conference losers’ bracket final at Paducah, Ky. JSU rallied to win 10-8 but lost 3-2 to Austin Peay later Saturday, with Austin Peay clinching the tournament title.
Photo: Steve Latham/Jacksonville State Univ.

PADUCAH, Ky. — For the second time in three years, Jacksonville State third baseman Jake Ball sat glumly in the third-base dugout at Brooks Stadium and watched Austin Peay celebrate an Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship at the Gamecocks’ expense.

It’s a feeling you never outgrow.

Using another strong pitching performance, the top-seeded Governors beat the Gamecocks 3-2 Saturday to win the OVC Tournament and claim the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA regionals.

Speculation has the Governors (39-20) heading to Vanderbilt.

The Gamecocks have played for the OVC title all four years they’ve been in the league. They won it in 2004 and 2006, while Peay took it from them in 2005 and again Saturday.

“I got to do it twice,” said Ball, who played his last game in a JSU uniform Saturday. “You see another team do it, it’s tough to watch.”

For the second time in two days, Peay stifled the Gamecocks’ league-leading hitters. Ryne Mantooth, demoted to No. 3 starter after the Gamecocks swept Peay in the regular season series, limited JSU to five hits over 7 1/3 innings before Ben Wilshire closed the deal for his ninth save.

The Gamecocks (33-27) did threaten in the ninth, but left two runners in scoring position when pinch-hitter Jay Harrington ended the game with a ground out to short. Harrington had two of JSU’s four hits against Peay on Friday night.

“We’re a very good offensive team and have been, and they were able to shut us down,” JSU head coach Jim Case said. “We haven’t been shut down very often.

“To our guys’ credit, in both of those games, we kept clawing and trying to find a way to win. Today, when we fell behind. ... We found a way to get the winning run to second base to end the game. When you’re behind, that’s all you can ask for is that opportunity, and our guys gave us that chance.”

The Gamecocks put their hopes on extending the season on a veteran pitcher who had struggled most of the year.

Clark Jinks entered the game 0-3 with a 9.19 ERA and had allowed 12 earned runs and 12 walks in his last three outings. But on this day, stoked by something he found in a strong intra-squad outing right before the team left for Kentucky, he was as good as he had been in a while.

Case was looking for someone to give an extraordinary effort, and Jinks did. Making only his fifth start of the season, the senior right-hander gave the Gamecocks 6 1/3 good innings. It was his longest outing since going seven in a 10-strikeout performance against Alabama A&M as a freshman in 2003.

He was touched for a run in the first, but nothing more. He allowed six hits and struck out a season-high seven batters.

“I just wanted to go out there and give our team a chance to win,” Jinks said. “Hold them to as little runs as possible and hope we come through with a hit. I just did the best I could.”

Said Case, “For him to go six-and-a-third innings after not pitching that long this year was just a fantastic heart job by him.”

The Gamecocks were still leading 2-1 when Case lifted Jinks in favor of closer Alex Jones after the Govs got the tying run to second in the seventh inning. The first batter Jones faced kept the inning alive when Ball lost his concentration on Rafael Hill’s grounder and played it into an error.

“It wasn’t a tough play at all,” Ball lamented. “I just took my eye off it and missed it.”

Jones then walked Jacob Crass to load the bases. J.B. Gilbert scored the tying run on a sacrifice fly, and Hill scored what proved to be the game-winner on Jake Lane’s sharp single to left.

The walk was somewhat out of character for Jones, who had a 20-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his last six regular-season appearances. But he also walked the only two batters he faced in the elimination game against Samford.

“Walks are part of the game,” Case said. “I know he’s out there competing as hard as he can compete. I don’t have any qualms about going with Alex in that situation because that’s been our guy in that situation for a long period of time now, and I think there’s a lot of confidence when he’s out there.”

Just as they did in their 10-8 elimination game victory over Samford earlier in the day, the Gamecocks fell behind in the first, then took the lead in their first bat.

This time, they scored twice to take a 2-1 lead.

Ball, playing in his OVC-record-tying 224th career game, pulled a one-out double into the left-field corner to tie the score, then came home when Allen Rose beat the relay back to the bag on his potential inning-ending double play to first.

In the ninth, Brian Piazza singled, and pinch-hitter Eric Beck got hit in the foot. Both were replaced by pinch-runners — Josh Hoyle for Piazza and Daniel Adamson for Beck.

Adamson was erased on a close fielder’s choice by Kyle McCreary, but Hoyle made it to third. McCreary then swiped second without a throw, but the Gamecocks’ season ended on Harrington’s grounder.

“That was a great opportunity at the end, but we really didn’t have a lot of great opportunities after the first inning,” Case said. “The key to making those type of things happen is giving yourself more than one opportunity.”

JSU 10, Samford 8

The Gamecocks advanced to the championship round by coming from behind twice to beat Samford in a game Case speculated the night before could be a wild one.

JSU freshman starter Ben Tootle gave up three in the top of the first, but the Gamecocks scored five in the bottom of the inning. Then, after giving up bases-loaded walk in the top of the eighth to fall behind 8-7, they scored three in the bottom of the inning to go ahead for good.

Ball’s sacrifice fly tied the game at 8. Rose’s soft, opposite-field single put the Gamecocks ahead 9-8, and they got an insurance run when McCreary beat the throw to first on his potential inning-ending double play.

Samford tied the game 7-7 in the sixth on Bear Burnett’s second grand slam of the tournament.

The Bulldogs loaded the bases with none out in the eighth, but got only one run out of it. Brett Harris relieved Jones and gave up the bases-loaded walk to force in a run, then got out of the jam with a strikeout and fly out. Harris put the Bulldogs down in order in the ninth.

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for The Star.

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