Phifer twirls no-hitter, Rockets sweep Van Buren
by Anthony S. Puca
Rockets have chemistry
The Forrest Rockets (5-5, 4-0) sit atop the District 9A standings and are still the team to be beat, even after the loss of many key players from last year's state runner-up team. The Rocket squad still has key senior leadership on their roster with Andy Burkett, Chase Beaulieu, Brian Whitley, Blake Arceneaux, and Will Gerweck.
Combine that with a talented group of experienced underclassmen such as Kristian Albarran, Colin Henson, Jacob Davis, Micah Phifer, and Seth Brothers and the formula could be perfect for another run at a District title and a chance to go deep into post-season play.
Phifer twirls first career
The old adage of baseball says that pitching and defense wins championships and the Rockets used that and a lethal offense to sweep the visiting Van Buren Eagles in a double-dipper Tuesday by the scores of 15-0 and 14-1.
Forrest head coach Babe Hardison sent junior Micah Phifer to the mound in the first game and Phifer rewarded Hardison with his first career no-hitter. Phifer (2-0) kept the Van Buren hitters off balance the entire game, changing speeds and finding his location with pin-point accuracy.
After retiring the Eagles in order in the first inning, the Rockets came up and scored six runs in the bottom of the frame to give Phifer all the support he would need. Colin Henson walked to start the game, Chase Beaulieu reached on an infield single, "Dickie" Arceneaux hit one through the legs of the Eagle's second basemen to score Henson, and then Brian Whitley nailed a two run double to left to plate two more Rocket runners and the home team had an early 3-0 lead.
Whitley scored on a throwing error on a ball hit to shortstop by Kristian Albarran, Seth Brothers walked, and both runners moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Andy Burkett. Will Gerweck then stepped to the plate and ripped a single through the hole to score both runners and give the Rockets the 6-0 lead.
Phifer was masterful in the second inning as he easily put down the Eagles 1-2-3.
Rockets send twelve batters to the plate to crush Eagles
Van Buren turned the contest into a dodge ball game as the first three Rocket hitters were plunked to start the second inning. After Whitley walked to plate the seventh run, Van Buren changed pitchers and Albarran greeted him with stinging double down the 3rd base line to score two more and make it 9-0.
Albarran's courtesy runner, Wyatt Fuller scored on an RBI single by Seth Brothers, who stole second and scored on a 4-3 fielder's choice by Burkett to make it 11-0. Gerweck walked to put runners on first and second and Phifer singled to load the sacks. Henson then tattooed a pitched off the left-field fence to plate two more runners to make it 13-0.
Phifer also pitched splendidly in the third inning and was helped out by his battery mate, Albarran, who made an unbelievable play against the backstop fencing on a pop-up.
The Rockets rallied with one down when Whitley singled to left, Albarran sent a soaring triple over the centerfielder's head to score Whitley, and Brothers knocked in Albarran with a single up the middle to make it 15-0 and send Van Buren to the brink of defeat with one at bat to score six runs to keep the game going.
Phifer ends masterpiece with strikeout
With a perfect game on the line, Phifer retired the first batter on a fly-out to center and got the second on a line-out to center. After a Forrest miscue broke the perfect game, Phifer reached back and whiffed the last batter to secure the victory and the no-no.
"It feels good (the no-hitter), I threw strikes, and hit my spots where I wanted," Phifer said after the game. Albarran praised Phifer's performance when he said, "Phifer looked really good, he was not trying to overthrow, and he just relaxed and threw strikes."
Albarran, who has been struggling at the plate early in the season, broke out with a double and a triple in the game and credited an adjustment made in his stance. "I changed my stance a little by bringing my hands up higher so I can get the bat cocked sooner", he said.
Van Buren catches early bus home
"We needed to leave early because our girl's softball team had a game at Cascade and they are coming to pick us up for the 2 1/2 hour trip home", said Van Buren coach Ricky Jarvis after his team decided to "line-up" after only four innings of game two.
A believable excuse, but this is the second time in two years that Van Buren has thrown in the towel early against the Rockets after being pounded. They quit after the Rockets even let Van Buren be the home team for the second game.
Eagles score, then Rockets soar
Colin Henson led off the second game with a single to center, raced to second on a wild pitch, and then was called out on a horrible call by the ump as he executed a perfect hook slide into third on a tag-up. The ump called him out of the baseline while he was grabbing the bag, a call that was argued to no avail by the Forrest coaching staff.
Van Buren came up and looked like they would make a game of it as they scored their only run of the entire afternoon in the first on three singles.
Forrest came back to tie the game at one apiece in the second as Albarran continued to swing a hot bat, singling into the leftfield hole with one down. On a bizarre play, Forrest was caught in an 8-4 force-out to make it two outs and a man on first.
Starting pitcher Andy Burkett gave the Rockets two-out life as he singled to center to put runners at first and second and Phifer drove home the run with a single up the middle to tie the game at one.
Burkett would not have much trouble the rest of the game and was helped out with some hot leather by Colin Henson in the second when the sophomore standout shortstop dove to his left to snag a hard hit liner to end any threat the Eagles would mount in the ballgame.
Rockets score four runs in third inning
The Rockets would blitz the Eagles again in the third inning with a two-out rally that would net four runs. The inning started with a walk to Henson, who stole second, and went to third on a wild pick-off attempt. Beaulieu walked to make it first and third and Arceneaux knocked Henson in with a sacrifice fly.
After a strikeout to make it two down, Albarran singed a single down the third base line to score Beaulieu. Seth Brothers singled to knock in another run, Burkett walked, and Blake Arceneaux laced a single up the middle to make it 5-1.
Burkett easily handled the Van Buren hitters in the bottom of the inning and the game went to the fourth.
The Rockets had a field day in the fourth, sending thirteen batters to the plate and scoring nine more runs to make it 14-1 going into the bottom half of the inning.
Burkett sent the Eagles down 1-2-3 in the frame; Jarvis had seen enough and packed the bus for trip back to the mountain. The Rockets evened their record at 5-5 on the season and sit atop the District with Cascade being their biggest challenge. The two teams play a home and home series on Monday and Tuesday of next week.
Cascade's coach was in attendance and must not have liked what he saw, but Rockets coach Hardison did as he said after the contest, "We played as good as we could have played today. We had very few strikeouts, put the ball in play, and played good defense. We must continue to strive to get better every ballgame."
Jarvis was also impressed as he said before boarding the bus, "Forrest is an excellent team with a well balanced hitting attack from top to bottom." Jarvis added, "Forrest looks like it will be the team to contend with again."