At the beginning of an American Legion baseball season, especially at the Junior (17-and-under) and AA (18-and-under) levels, the primary goal for a coach is to get some playing time for those that didn’t play in the spring and mesh them with those who did. Get their feet wet so to speak.
Of course, the primary goal every time you take the field is to win but, short of that, as the season unfolds, every game, win or lose, is valuable.
To say there were hiccups along the way for the Bryant Black Sox AA team as they opened the 2017 season at Bryant High School Field Monday night against the Black Cats of Acme Brick (headquartered in Magnet Cove), would be ignoring the obvious. But the Sox, especially those that were on the field in competition for the first time since last summer, needed to play more than anything.
As it turned out, one of those hiccups came in the fourth inning as the Cats scored eight times on just two hits to bust up a tight 2-1 game. They wound up with a 13-1 victory in five innings.
Acme Brick only managed one more hit than the Sox, 7-6, but the Cats benefitted from eight walked, four errors and a hit batsman as a trio of Bryant pitchers “got their feet wet,” after not throwing in a game since last summer.
Meanwhile, Cats’ right-hander Noah Lankford, a starter for the Glen Rose Beavers in high school combined with Lakeside’s Ethan Bates and Lake Hamilton’s Ben Slate to allow just two walks with a hit batsman while striking out nine.
Noah Easterling started for the Hornets and worked the first three innings. He fanned four, walked two and gave up just three hits. Those hits all came in the first inning. With two down, he was a strike away from getting through the frame unscathed but Brandon Stovall lashed a double to right and, moments later, Josh Smeltzer drilled a home run to left-center.
Jarrett Allison followed with a single but was stranded as Zack Melugin popped out to Brandon Hoover outside first base.
The Hornets’ first began with Lankford drilling Logan Catton with a pitch. An out later, Hoover grounded a single up the middle. But Lankford got out of the jam, though Konnor Clontz made a bid for a two-out hit only to have his drive to right flagged down by Austin Wright.
Easterling struck out the side around a two-out walk in the second then Cade Drennan singled to open the bottom of the inning. Jeffrey Hastings sacrificed courtesy runner Cade Dupree to second and, with two out, Easterling worked a walk. Catton hit the ball hard but Lankford made nice play on a one-hopper to finish off the inning.
Easterling completed his work by pitching around a walk and an error. Jack Bornhoft, who drew the walk to start the inning, was thrown out when Drennan pounced on a pitch in the dirt that got a few feet away and gunned it to second in time.
Bryant got its lone run in the bottom of the third as Bates relieved. Myers Buck greeted him with a single to right. He stole second and, with two down, scored on Clontz’ single. With Drennan at the plate, Clontz stole second drawing an errant throw. He scrambled to his feet and headed towards third but Slate, the Acme centerfielder, charged the ball and fired to third in time for the out, ending the inning.
Kyle Kling would single for the Sox in the fourth then, with Slate on the mound, Catton beat out an infield hit and Grayson Prince walked to no avail.
The Cats’ fourth included four walks and a hit batsman to go with three errors. The only hits were a single by Bates early in the inning and an RBI knock by Wright to cap the inning.
Drew Brown started the inning on the mound for the Sox. He might’ve gotten out of the inning unscathed but for the second error of the frame. With one down, the sacks were full. A grounder to third looked like it might be good for a 5-2-3 doubleplay or at least a force at the plate. But it was booted and the inning got away from the Sox.
Ryan Lessenberry relieved and eventually ended the debacle.
Acme scored three more in the top of the fifth. Stovall doubled and Melugin came through with a two-out, two-run single. The inning ended when Melugin was thrown out trying to advance to second by Buck from left field.
The Sox are scheduled to play again on Wednesday at 8 p.m., against a team based in Harmony Grove.