Photos courtesy of Paul Dotson and Matt Roth/The American Legion
At one point, there was a very real chance that the Bryant Black Sox wouldn’t be an American Legion baseball team this summer. The outrage and anger over the fiasco that was the end of the 2016 Mid-South Regional Tournament (read here) had some folks dead-set against it.
Manager Darren Hurt, as well as another prominent Legion manager in the state, was investigating other options.
In the end, however, he reported to the Bryant Athletic Association along with the players and parents, that there just wasn’t a better option where the Sox could play in a league, mix in travel to weekend tournaments, play for a State championship with a chance to advance to a Regional tournament and, ultimately, hopes of playing for a national championship.
Stung by having the rug pulled from them when they were one win away from going to the World Series, the Black Sox themselves reassembled for the 2017 season with a few of the vital cogs from the 2016 season returning from college including catcher Dylan Hurt and centerfielder Logan Allen from the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith and Alex Shurtleff from Harding University. Aaron Orender, who went to Arkansas State and did not play in the spring, returned as well.
Coupled with players from the Bryant Hornets high school team who had surprised a lot of people by make it to the Class 7A State Tournament semifinals, the Sox embarked on the campaign with no sign of wanting vengeance but a clear will to win.
The losses were few but, particularly to the veterans on the team, each was taken as a gut-punch.
And, as it turned out, the trip to the World Series wound up being merely delayed a year.
Playing with plenty of heart and sound fundamentals, they came within a win of playing for the World Series championship.
The 7-3 loss to Henderson, Nev., in extra innings proved to be a painful way for it to end.
But, when you consider how close the Sox came to reaching the Series three years in a row (they lost in the Regional in 2015 in the losers’ bracket final to the eventual champion), it’s a testament to the coaches and players.
Monday marked the final Legion game for the team’s tremendous core: Allen, Hurt, Orender and Shurtleff along with Beaux Bonvillain, Jake East and Seth Tucker. (Though a senior, pitcher Boston Heil has another year of eligibility in Legion.)
Like the players before them, that group of Black Sox continued a tradition of great baseball in Bryant, a tradition that those coming in behind them will strive to match.
They will be remembered with every season Black Sox teams play in the future. The challenge will be to equal or go beyond what this team did. Of all the success Bryant teams have had over the years, none went farther than the 2017 team.
The standard has been set.
And, led by the younger guys on the team that helped make this summer so special (Scott Schmidt, Myers Buck, Brandon Hoover, Coby Greiner, Jake Wright, Will McEntire, Logan Chambers and others in spot roles), the tradition will continue.
Below are the final semi-official stats on the summer. One game, a 2-1 victory over the Three Rivers Bandits on June 9 was not scored.
Thanks to all those who helped keep BryantDaily.com up-to-date, particularly, John Tucker, Sandy Orender, Madison McEntire and Mendi Greiner. And special thanks to Paul Dotson for sharing his tremendous photographs.
Oh, and one other thing: Enough with the green-and-camo shirts.