Fayetteville ends Blacksox’ run
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
FAYETTEVILLE — The end never comes easy for an athletic team that has paid the price for success, a group that made the sacrifices, committed their time, enthusiasm, and hard work; that pulled together, picked one another up when things weren’t going well, spurred each other on to greater heights when they were; bickered, at times, like family and, just so, being there for each other at disheartening moments.
It’s life in microcosm.
And the end never comes easy.
The tears that were shed when the Bryant Blacksox AAA American Legion team was ousted from the State Tournament on Monday, Aug. 5, weren’t so much because of the heartbreaking 5-4 loss to the Fayetteville Lindsey & Associates Dodgers, though the shock of it all ending on a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth certainly had its effect. It was all about endings.
Endings for a team of players that achieved more than many thought they were capable of; endings for players that had been a part of the program for three years; endings for teammates scattering to different schools this fall; and endings for players that will never take the field again including one — Matt White — who is one of the finest athletes Bryant has ever produced.
The game marked the end of an intensified six-month commitment to the game and each other. And it may have also marked the end of an eight-year run for coaches Craig and Tic Harrison, a duo whose passion for and knowledge of the game, helped take the Bryant program to unprecedented heights, kindled the admiration and respect of rivals all over, and inspired many individual young men to become better than they realized they could be, as teammates, players and people. A run that produced an impressive number of players that gained opportunities to play in college.
It was quite a day, that Monday. The Blacksox had opened the tournament with a disheartening 7-3 loss to Paragould Dr. Pepper on Saturday, but came back on Sunday to unceremoniously oust the Russellville Cogswell Motors Bombers, 19-7, in seven innings. That left Bryant needing two wins on Monday to make it to the losers bracket finals with a shot at the championship round. In the morning — their third 10 a.m. start in as many days — the Sox retaliated against the Paragould team, sending it home with a 13-8 decision. That set up a showdown with defending champion Fayetteville, which turned into, probably, the most competitive — and certainly most dramatic — game of the tournament.
“This team probably gave it more than any other team I’ve had,” declared an emotional Craig Harrison. “They gutted it out and I’m so proud of my players.”
Bryant, 36-16, finished fourth in its fourth trip to State in the last eight seasons. Incidentally, they won the tournament in their first trip under Harrison in 1995, finished second in their second trip (1996), third in their third (2001).
Fayetteville advanced to play Sylvan Hills on Friday, Aug. 9, in the losers bracket final, with the winner taking on Jonesboro for the championship later in the evening and, if needed, on Saturday, Aug. 10.
Fayetteville 5, Bryant 4
With runners at first and second and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Fayetteville’s Justin Siebenmorgan hit a drive to right-center. The ball was slicing away from White, the Bryant center fielder, yet, with a sprawling lunge, White somehow got a glove on the ball. But he couldn’t close his glove around it as he came crashing awkwardly onto the artificial turf. The winner run scored.
“You know, there’s maybe not another center fielder in this state that even gets close to it,” Harrison asserted. “He’s got great speed and he’s been such fun to be around for so long. He’s my fishing buddy, him and (Cody) Graddy. That’s probably where we’ll be Saturday while they’re playing (the championship) out here.”
The Sox stranded 12 runners and had three runners thrown out at the plate in the game.
“It makes it tougher for me because I have to live through it all winter,” he said. “They do too, but a lot of these guys are going on to play and they’ll forget about it. But, yeah, it’ll eat on me for awhile.
“But we said we were going to run, run, run,” he added. “We couldn’t steal in this game because their catcher is so good, so any other opportunity we got we were going to try to run it. Even the fourth run we scored, normally, I’d stop him at third. We’d have had the bases loaded and one out. But we decided we were going to try it. We wanted to be aggressive. We left a lot of runners this year, with a man on third and less than two outs. I don’t know. That’s baseball.”
It didn’t help that the Sox didn’t have one of their better hitters available. Kevin Littleton, a .324 hitter, had injured his ankle earlier in the day during the win over Paragould. He was injured sliding into second on a stolen base, one of five the Sox had in that game, on the heels of a game in which they’d swiped seven bags (against Russellville).
Littleton, also, would’ve been a factor on the pitching mound for Bryant. In fact, he may have been the starting pitcher. As it was, Chance King, the team’s power pitching closer, was asked to step into the starter’s role. As might be expected from a closer, King eased to a 1-2-3 inning in the first but, extended beyond that, had more and more trouble as his stint continued. He hit two batters, walked one and gave up a sacrifice fly in the second. In the third, Fayetteville scored three runs on three hits, a walk and a sacrifice fly to take a 4-1 advantage.
Enter Daniel Minton, who pitched in three of Bryant’s games. Minton, who pitched mostly for the Bryant A team during the season, turned in a stellar performance, shutting Fayetteville out for 5 1/3 innings as Bryant eventually rallied to tie it.
The Sox got on the board in the second. Derek Chambers, who went 4-for-5 in the game, led off with a single. He eventually scored when, on a third-strike pitch in the dirt, Fayetteville first baseman Khol Nanney missed a throw from catcher Blake Parker.
In the fourth, Clay Jones singled — the first of his three hits in the game. He was forced at second on a grounder to third by David Moore, but Yant singled and, with two down, so did Jeff Carpenter. Playing aggressively, Harrison sent Moore home from second on Carpenter’s hit but right fielder Josh Hankins gunned him down.
In the fifth, Graddy pulled a double down the left field line then Chambers tripled into the opposite corner. With two down, Jones lined one into the gap in right center. Chambers scored easily and Jones sprinted to third. When the relay ricocheted off the glove of third baseman Cody McCarter, Jones took off for home. But the ball hadn’t veered far from McCarter, who flagged it down, whirled and fired a strike — it had to be a strike — to get Jones at the plate.
But the Sox were within 4-3.
They loaded the bases in the sixth on walks to Moore and Carpenter and an infield hit by White with two down. Fayetteville starter Brett Thompson was then relieved by Rick Elliot as Graddy came to the plate. Graddy made a bid to duplicate the double he’d smacked in his previous at bat, but McCarter fielded the grounder behind the third base bag got the force out there to end the threat.
Chambers doubled and Jones singled in the seventh but both were stranded.
Down to their last six outs, the Sox finally got it tied in the eighth but again the aggressive baserunning cost them.
With one out, Carpenter singled as did White. Graddy then bounced one into left that brought Carpenter home. But Graddy was caught between second and third. Hoping he would be able to stay in a rundown long enough, Harrison sent White home. But Graddy was tagged out trying to get back to first and the relay home nailed White to end the inning.
Minton, who pitched out of the third-inning jam, had forced Fayetteville to strand baserunners in each of the subsequent four innings. He retired the side in order in the eighth after his teammates had tied it.
But Bryant couldn’t get anything going in the top of the ninth. Minton allowed a single to Eric Johnson to open the ninth and B.J. Wood came on in relief. He walked Wes Davis then got Parker to ground into a force at third. McCarter popped to first for the second out. The count went to 2-1 on Siebenmorgan before he laced the game-winner to right-center.
Bryant 13, Paragould 8
The Sox built an 8-0 lead, saw that disappear in one inning then revved up the offense again to earn the win.
Wood picked up the win in relief. Starter Justin Woods pitched 4 2/3 innings of scoreless ball before Paragould’s rally. Eight straight batters reached base against Woods and Minton before Wood got the final out then worked three scoreless innings as Bryant forged ahead again.
Jones went 3-for-4 with three runs batted in. Wood and Carpenter also had three hits.
Bryant broke on top with a three-run second. Littleton opened the inning with a single then was injured as he swiped second. Chambers walked after Littleton limped off the field. A.J. Nixon then singled in Woods, who was running for Littleton. Jones followed with a two-run triple.
In the third, Jones singled in a run then Yant and Wood belted back-to-back triples and Carpenter singled in a run to make it 8-0.
After Paragould tied it, Bryant regained the advantage in the bottom of the fifth. Wood singled, White walked and Graddy belted a ground-rule double to left-center.
Paragould threatened with two out in the top of the sixth but Wood got out of a second-and-third jam. In the bottom of the inning, the Sox put the game away. Jones singled to open the inning then, on a hit-and-run, advanced to second when Yant did a good job of getting the bat on a tough pitch and grounding to second. Singles by Wood and Carpenter followed. Wood scored when White reached on an error. Carpenter trotted home when White drew a wild throw as he stole second. Graddy then plated White with a sacrifice fly to right.
Wood allowed just one hit over the final three innings to close out the win.
Paragould 7, Bryant 3
Paragould scored four unearned runs in the top of the seventh to snap a 3-3 tie and right-hander Ricky Ferrin allowed just five hits as Bryant was relegated to the losers bracket.
The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the first. Wood singled, stole second and scored when Graddy’s two-out fly to right was dropped. But, after Littleton walked, Ferrin retired the next 13.
Paragould took a 3-1 lead in the third after Yant had allowed just one hit to that point. Paragould had four hits and a pair of sacrifice flies in the inning.
Bryant finally broke through with two out in the sixth. White walked, Graddy doubled him home then singles by Littleton and Chambers tied it. Littleton was on his way home with the go-ahead run but Paragould right-fielder Brandon Clark snuck a throw in behind Chambers at first. First sacker Matthew Davis got the tag down before Littleton could score and it remained tied.
Wood relieved in the seventh an issued a walk before retiring the next two batters. After Zack Birmingham singled, an error prolonged the inning and allowed the tie-breaking run to score. Paragould went on to a four-run inning.
Bryant could not take advantage of a two-out triple by Andrew Norman in the seventh and a lead-off walk to Carpenter in the eighth. Ferrin finished strong by retiring the last six Bryant batters in succession.