Sox wake up and drub Springdale
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
SPRINGDALE — What’s the old saying? “Let sleeping dogs lie?”
Sunday night, the Springdale Harp’s Grocery American Legion baseball team had a whole new appreciation of that old saw. They had a “sleeping dog” in their sights Sunday afternoon when they faced the Bryant Black Sox. The Sox, ranked No. 1 coming into the AAA Legion State Tournament at Springdale’s Rob Lyall Field in the Randall Tyson Sports Complex, had been unceremoniously bounced 7-1 in their opener against Russellville Superior Foods on Saturday afternoon. Saturday night, the Sox were left bickering among themselves and distracted from their baseball fortunes as they spent the night at a nearby motel.
And when Sunday afternoon’s gametime rolled around, it didn’t appear that the Bryant team was focused or enthused.
“We came out ready to get beat today,” said Bryant manager Craig Harrison after the game, echoing a statement he made prior to the contest. “We were griping at each other and didn’t have a real good mental approach, just pretty much ready for the year to be over, it seemed like. And we went out there in the first two innings and played like it.”
The Sox took a 1-0 lead on a bloop single by Jordan Davis in the top of the first but stranded three runners and, in the bottom of the inning, Springdale’s Mike Fears belted a homer to tie it.
That’s when the trash talk began. “Somebody said something,” Harrison recalled. “Then they said something else.”
In the second, consecutive singles by Matt Lewis, Chris Sory and Dustin Morris produced a run with no one out, but the Sox couldn’t add to the 2-1 lead, leaving two on.
It stayed that way until the third with the teams trading verbal jibes. Finally, with one out in the third, Bryant pitcher Michael McClellan and catcher Beau Hamblin decided they’d had enough and Springdale’s Tim Faires got plunked in the back.
Joel Garcia followed with a bloop single that was juggled in the outfield allowing Faires to score. Fears then doubled to make it a 3-2 Springdale lead and the trash talk intensified.
“I didn’t call for (the batter to be hit by a pitch),” Harrison said, “but I didn’t care because (Springdale’s players) were saying some stuff they didn’t need to say. They went ahead and they kept on. And our guys forgot about fighting with each other and said, ‘Let’s go kick somebody’s you-know-what.’ And that’s what they did.”
Leaving little doubt, the newly inspired Sox buried Springdale, ending the Grocers’ season with a 20-4 shelling in eight innings.
“They did me a favor,” Harrison allowed. “They did what I couldn’t do. They got our attention. It just goes to show you, you don’t kick that dog when he’s laying their, ‘cause he’ll bite. Hey, the guys would’ve scored 40 if they could’ve.”
With the win (their 40th of the season), the Sox advanced to another elimination game against the Sylvan Hills Bruins on Tuesday.
The offensive explosion was highlighted by the revival of Lewis’s hitting prowess. After hitting .372 with five home runs in just 43 AAA Legion at-bats last season (and hitting .382 with four more homers in A), Lewis struggled at the plate much of this season, hitting just .214 without a homer in his first 42 at bats and bringing a .244 batting mark with one homer into Sunday’s game.
Down the stretch, Lewis, who was a revelation as a pitcher for the Sox this season with an 8-0 mark, was replaced by hot-hitting Kevin Littleton. But Sunday, Lewis was in the starting lineup at first base against Springdale.
“It was a hunch,” said Harrison. “Littleton had been on a hot streak but he’d struggled the last two, three games. So, we decided to go back to Matt.”
It also was a factor that the Sox would be without McClellan after Sunday. McClellan, a projected starter on the Henderson State University football team, had to report for two-a-days and would most of the tournament. When not pitching, McClellan ably manned first base.
“We knew (Lewis) was going to have to play Tuesday,” Harrison noted. “I didn’t want him going out there without having played and, man, the guy went nuts at the plate.”
The definition of “nuts?” How about 5-for-5 with a double, a homer and four runs batted in? The bumper day bumped Lewis’s batting average up 42 points.
His double came in the top of the fourth. He advanced to third on a groundout to the right side by Chris Sory then scored on a wild pitch to even the game, 3-3.
McClellan worked a 1-2-3 bottom half of the inning then the Sox took control of the game with a six-run fifth that began with a one-out double by Cody Graddy. McClellan walked and Matt Brown singled to put the Sox on top.
Lewis followed with his third base hit to load the bags for Sory, who grounded into a force at second. But Lewis slid hard into the bag and the throw from Springdale shortstop Tim Faires was wild. Brown followed McClellan across home plate.
Morris followed with an infield hit then Matt White chased two runs home with a triple. White scored on a wild pitch to make it 9-3.
Lewis launched his two-run homer to highlight a three-run sixth. Brown, who had singled, scored in front of him. Walks to Morris and White with two outs, led to an RBI single by Hamblin to make it 12-3.
Bryant made a bid to invoke the 10-after-seven mercy rule in the seventh when McClellan walked, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Lewis’s fifth hit, a single to right. But Springdale’s Aaron Gisler opened the bottom of the seventh with a solo homer to keep the game going.
It merely prolonged Springdale’s agony as Bryant posted another touchdown and extra point. The seven-run eighth featured an RBI single by Davis, a two-run single by Graddy, a run-scoring single by Brown, a sacrifice fly by Lewis and a double by Morris that drove in the 20th run.