By Rob Patrick
It’s a difficult thing to do consistently but, in recent weeks, the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team has[more] — pretty consistently — fallen behind early in games only to surge late to victory. On Sunday, in the winners bracket final of the Zone 4 Tournament, it looked like they might go a less stressful route as they built a 7-2 lead through four innings on the Texarkana Razorbacks.
But this time, the Sox wound up being the victims of that formula as the Texarkana Razorbacks rallied for a 10-8 win that garnered the defending State champions a return trip to the State Tournament in Jonesboro starting July 22.
In addition, the Hogs will play for the Zone tourney championship tonight at 8 p.m.
Bryant will try to get back to that game with a win over Pine Bluff Simmons at 5, a game that will determine the league’s second bid to State. Simmons rallied for a 16-15 win over Hope in the wee hours of Monday morning to keep its hopes alive. (The game was interrupted in the eighth inning by the automatic sprinkler system on the Bryant High School field, which kicks in around midnight. Hope led 15-9 at the time.) Hope had advanced earlier in the day with a nearly four-hour game against Little Rock Express. In 12 innings, Hope prevailed 20-18. The Wildcats ended their season playing 21 innings in one day (mostly) in games that included 69 runs, 75 hits and 23 errors between them.
Adding to the emotions for the Bryant-Texarkana game was the bad blood that developed between the two teams earlier in the season when the Sox, with all its players from the Bryant School District, went to Texarkana, which has culled its team from eight different school districts in Arkansas and Texas including as far away as El Dorado, and swept a doubleheader.
Neither regards the other very highly.
If they meet again tonight, it will be seeding at State. A Bryant win would force a winner-take-all final on Tuesday at 7. There have been many years in which the championship round winds up being pretty laid back affairs with both teams already certain of going to State. This year, however, if Bryant gets past Pine Bluff — no certainty, by any means — that might not be the case.
On Sunday, the Sox were ripping the ball early. After starter Jordan Taylor worked around a bloop double by Texarkana’s Daniel Thompson in the top of the first, Tyler Nelson hit a shot off of Texarkana pitcher Reid Peavy’s glove for a base hit. With one out, he was able to race home all the way from first on Taylor’s long drive to the gap in left-center. Hunter Mayall followed Taylor’s double with one of his own to make it 2-0.
With two down, Chris Joiner beat out an infield hit but Peavy, using the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff move, caught Joiner for the third out.
Sheldon O’Dell and Daniel Spears each singled in Texarkana’s second but Taylor got Preston Ellis to pop to second baseman Lucas Castleberry to end the inning. And, in the home half, the Sox tacked on another run on doubles by Josh Pultro and B.J. Ellis. Tyler Brown made a bid at a hit to knock in Ellis but, with two out, was robbed by second baseman Carlton Bailey, who plays in the spring at Harvard.
By the way, Joiner and Pultro each had three hits for Bryant. Alan Copeland and Will Powell had three apiece for Texarkana and they combined to get the Razorbacks on the board in the fourth. Powell singled to left and, with one out, Copeland connected for a two-run homer to left.
But Bryant responded in the bottom of the inning, turning a 3-2 lead into their 7-2 advantage. Pultro got the inning started with a base hit to left, advanced to second when the return throw to the infield got away. Castleberry walked then B.J. Ellis was hit by a pitch (which resulted in the Texarkana pitcher dropping an F-bomb).
With the bases loaded, Nelson drew a walk to force in a run then Brown hit a roller to Copeland at first. Trying to get a force at the plate, however, Copeland threw wildly and both Castleberry and Ellis scored. Nelson followed moments later on Taylor’s bouncer to second.
Texarkana regrouped with two runs in the fifth. Thompson walked and Josey Langston singled him to third and took second himself when Joiner’s throw missed the cutoff. Thompson scored on a passed ball then Langston came in on a single by Levi Saxby. The inning ended when Powell’s liner was picked off by Nelson at short who threw to first to double off Saxby who was running on the pitch.
Peavy finished his mound work by pitching around a one-out single by Joiner in the bottom of the fifth. He was aided by Saxby’s circus catch that robbed Castleberry of extra bases to end the inning. To get hrough five innings, the Texarkana right-hander needed 105 pitches.
Taylor quieted the Razorbacks in the sixth, working around a two-out single by Spears but, after reliever Caleb Hawkins set the Sox despite a one-out walk to Nelson who was stranded at third, trouble returned.
Thompson led off the seventh by reaching on an error. Langston followed with a bouncer to Castleberry at second. Trying for the force, Castleberry pivoted and threw toward Nelson only to have it get away. Thompson reached third and Langston second. Bailey and Saxby followed with sacrifice flies to make it 7-6.
But when the Sox tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the inning, it looked like they might’ve regained the momentum. Singles by Mayall, Joiner and Pultro produced the run. Joiner and Pultro, at first and second with one out, were stranded, however, which gains significance only in light of what ensued.
Bryant closer Dylan Cross took over in the top of the eighth and started well, striking out Hunter Wilcher. He walked Thompson but induced a grounder to first. Mayall stepped on the bag for the second out as Thompson took second.
That brought up Bailey who chopped an 0-1 delivery over Brown at third for a base hit. With runners at the corners, Cross and Saxby battled to a 3-2 count. Saxby took ball four to load the bases. A wild pitch got Thompson home but Cross came within a strike of ending it there as well and, on a 2-2 pitch, Powell stroked a single to left to drive in two.
Leading 9-8, Texarkana added some padding when, after another walk, Copeland singled to left to bring in Powell.
Hawkins closed it out by retiring the Sox in order in the eighth and the ninth.
TEXARKANA 10, BRYANT 8
Senior American Legion
Razorbacks ab r h bi Black Sox ab r h bi
Thompson, lf 4 3 2 0 Nelson, ss 2 2 1 1
Langston, ss 5 2 2 0 Garrett, rf 1 0 0 0
Bailey, 2b 4 1 1 1 Brown, 3b 5 0 0 0
Saxby, cf 3 1 1 2 Taylor, p-ss 5 1 1 2
Powell, c 5 2 3 2 Mayall, lf-1b 5 1 2 1
O’Dell, 3b 3 0 1 0 Pickett, 1b 4 0 0 0
Freeman, ph 0 0 0 0 Cross, p 1 0 0 0
Gilley, ph 0 0 0 0 Joiner, rf 5 0 3 0
Copeland, 1b 5 1 3 3 Pultro, cf 4 2 3 1
Spears, rf 5 0 2 0 Castleberry, 2b 3 1 0 0
Ellis, dh 3 0 0 0 Hurt, 2b 0 0 0 0
Wilcher, dh 2 0 0 0 Ellis, c 3 1 1 1
Peavy, p 0 0 0 0
Hawkins, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 40 10 15 8 Totals 38 8 11 6
Texarkana 000 220 240 — 10
BRYANT 210 400 100 — 8
E—Langston, Copeland, Castleberry 2. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Texarkana 11, Bryant 7. 2B—Thompson, Taylor, Mayall, Pultro Ellis. HR—Copeland. SB—Nelson, Thompson. SF—Bailey, Saxby.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Peavy 5 7 4 8 2 3
Hawkins (W) 4 1 1 3 1 4
Taylor 7 6 4 10 2 4
Cross (L) 2 4 4 5 3 1
HBP—Ellis (by Peavy), Bailey (by Taylor). WP—Hawkins, Cross 2. PB—Ellis.