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Cleveland rocks for Sheridan after tough spot

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Photographs by Staton Breidenthal

Greenwood shortstop Peyton Holt (left) runs down Sheridan base runner Justin Pruitt during the semifinals of the Class 6A state baseball tournament Monday. The Yellowjackets got a solid outing on the mound from Tyler Cleveland to hold off the Bulldogs 1-0 and advance to the state title game.

BENTON -- Once Tyler Cleveland stopped trying to be perfect, the Sheridan junior was.

Sheridan's Tyler Cleveland delivers a pitch Monday against Sheridan during the 6A state baseball tournament in Benton.

Cleveland set down the final 15 Greenwood batters in order, and the Yellowjackets scored a run in the seventh inning to dispose of the Bulldogs, 1-0, in Monday's semifinals of the 6A state tournament at Panther Field.

Sheridan (32-5) advances to Saturday's state championship game to face defending state champion Jonesboro at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

Greenwood (25-7) loaded the bases with no outs against Cleveland in the third inning, but he worked out of the jam with a strikeout and two ground balls.

"He was trying to be a little bit too fine with his pitches," Sheridan Coach Mike Moore said. "I told him he was just going to have to man up. After that, he went to another level."

A pop single to right by Ryan Daggs to lead off Greenwood's third inning wound up being the Bulldogs' lone hit. Cleveland then walked Jake Smith and hit Ronnie Berg with a pitch to load the bases, which brought Moore out for a trip to the mound.

"It was a very good visit," Cleveland said.

Greenwood leadoff batter Colton Sagely hit a ground ball to first baseman Nick Whitley, who threw home for a force out. Cleveland struck out Cooper Van Kooten for the second out, then got Peyton Holt to hit a three-ball, one-strike pitch for a fielder's choice.

"[Cleveland] was pretty good, but we should have scored in the third," Greenwood Coach Trey Holloway said. "One score, that's all we needed."

Cleveland outdueled Greenwood ace Connor Noland. The Bulldogs junior struck out 8, walked 1 and allowed 5 hits, but 3 of them came consecutively in the seventh inning.

Junior Hunter Hicks started the rally with a single and moved to second on David Rainwater's single. Senior David Vilches followed with a slicing double to right field.

"[Vilches] hasn't hit a ball to the opposite field three times all year," Moore said. "But he picked a good time to do it today."

In his final four innings on the mound, Cleveland retired all 12 batters he faced, striking out four. In the final inning, Sheridan shortstop Chance Wallingsford turned two tough ground balls into outs.

"I was trying to rush myself," Cleveland said of his third-inning troubles. "My curveball wasn't working, but I knew my teammates would have my back. They did a great job behind me."

JONESBORO 5, BENTON 0

Senior Sam Edwards blasted a two-run home run, sparking a four-run first inning as the Hurricane (29-3) defeated the host team.

Jonesboro pitchers Will Batson and Thomas Fletcher limited Benton to five hits. Batson struck out 4 and walked 7 in 5⅓ innings. Fletcher gave up two walks in 1⅔ innings.

Jonesboro Coach Mark Dobson said getting off to such a good start took the pressure off of his team.

"I think when you're playing somebody at their place, you have to win the physical battle and the emotional battle," he said. "To come out and score four runs against them, it makes it tough for them to use that against you."

Jonesboro's first four batters reached and scored against Benton junior pitcher Yates Prickett, who gave up only two hits in his final five innings. Prickett struck out 4, walked 1 and hit 2 batters.

Both teams finished with five hits. The difference was that Benton (18-15) left 10 runners stranded.

"We battled," Benton Coach Mark Balisterri said. "We didn't have many strikeouts today. We just couldn't get that hit. Jonesboro is a heckuva team, and we knew we'd have to play well. I've said all year that we have to pitch, play defense and get timely hits. Our pitching was fine and our defense was good. We just didn't get any timely hits."

A sacrifice fly by senior Kayden Boyle and a run-scoring single by sophomore Logan Orr capped Jonesboro's four-run first inning. The Hurricane added a run in the fifth on a leadoff single by Batson and one-out double by junior Cameron Poston.

Sports on 05/16/2017

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