SHERIDAN — There’s an old baseball adage that goes: “If you always hustle, you’ll never embarrass yourself.”
Ozzie Hurt, the manager of the Bryant Black Sox Junior American Legion team, said it this way:
“Whenever you learn how to play hard, good things will happen.”
On Monday night at Oliver Williams Field, with the Junior Legion State championship on the line, the Black Sox trailed Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet, 5-3, going into the seventh inning. The Sox’ chances for repeating as State champs were down to three outs. And when Jacksonville starter Clay Burrows struck out Bryant lead-off man Ryan Riggs, it was two outs. The count went to 2-2 on the next batter, Logan White. The next pitch, White rolled one to the right side. It looked like a fairly routine grounder to second. But Jacksonville second sacker Seth Gray had to range to his right and wasn’t able to charge the ball. White, running hard, made a last-ditch dive for the first-base bag and beat Gray’s throw to an inspiring infield hit.
What followed with a six-hit, three-error rally that brought nine runs home for the Sox. It explosion was capped off by White, who belted a two-run triple to right-center and scored when the relay to third skipped into the home dugout.
The 5-3 deficit turned into a stunning 12-5 lead.
It was ironic that, on Sunday, it was Jacksonville which had rallied dramatically in two must-win games. The first was against Bryant. The Black Sox led 5-4 going into the seventh only to have Gwatney rally for two runs and winning 6-5. That evening, Jacksonville trailed North Central Arkansas 8-3 going into their final at bat. They rallied for seven and advanced with a 10-8 victory.
On Monday, Bryant turned the tables on them.
But, even after the Sox’ big inning, Hurt was not taking anything for granted, reminding his team of Sunday’s results.
“We talked about that right before we went out for the bottom of the seventh,” he allowed. “I told them this thing is far from over.”
But Tyler Bates, who had been the losing pitcher in the loss on Sunday, finished up a three-inning relief stint of shutout ball by retiring Jacksonville in order in the bottom of the seventh with a pair of strikeouts and a pop to Jordan Knox in right.
Cue the dogpile.
Hurt expressed his pride in the team and added, “I think they took a lot of steps forward this summer.”
The Sox finish the season 18-9-1. And it wasn’t that long ago that Hurt was questioning his team a little bit.
“I remember the last time we talked, that was the biggest issue I had with them wasn’t it?” he recalled. “I think I told them that they didn’t know how to win. I even called them a bunch of losers.
“But, for as bad as we started tonight, that’s pretty impressive,” he declared.
The start of the game was rough. Jacksonville built a 5-0 lead in the first two innings with the Sox contributing four errors behind starter Will Hathcote.
“I don’t think it was nerves,” said Hurt. “Maybe they were too loose.
“But it started yesterday when we played Jacksonville,” he stated. “We got here kind of late, which was my fault. We showed up a little late and we didn’t go through everything we usually go through. And out here today before the game, I could tell there was something that seemed off. I didn’t think it was that far off, but I knew something was off.
“But the way that they turned it around is very, very impressive,” he reiterated.
Following White’s hustle hit in the top of the seventh, Connor Martin slapped a sinking liner to right for a single. Colby Morrow followed with a hot shot past Jacksonville first baseman Ryan Ready, just inside the bag. White scored to make it a 5-4 game.
With his pitch limit in play, Burrows issued a four-pitch walk to J.T. Parker and had to come out at 106. Riley Malone came in from left field to relieve.
Luke Dreher greeted the new hurler with a sacrifice fly to center to tie the game. It looked like the game was headed to the bottom of the inning deadlocked when Cade Parker hit a fly to right that was dropped.
It’s a problem at Oliver Williams Field. The lights aren’t very high and it’s easy to lose a ball above the lights.
Anyway, Morrow and J.T. Parker scored as Cade Parker hustled into second with Bryant ahead 7-5.
And when Jaxon Ham’s single to center got past the Jacksonville outfielder, Cade Parker scored, and Ham wound up at third. He scored when Jordan Knox, hustling out of the box, beat out an infield hit that, again, was a fairly routine grounder to second that was not misplayed.
Knox stole second then Riggs, who was named the tournament MVP, drew a walk ahead of White’s triple.
Jacksonville had scored twice in the first inning. Alex Moss beat out an infield hit then Burrows was struck by a pitch. Ryan Ready’s fly to center was dropped by White but he recovered in time to get a force at second on Burrows as Josh Colvert, running for Moss the catcher, took third. He would score on a wild pitch.
Will Hutson reached on an error then Ready scored when Wyatt Rippeto grounded into a force at second.
Hathcote walked Malone to load the bases but struck out Gray to keep it 2-0.
In the second, Will Belford reached on a third-strike wild pitch that Riggs recovered only to throw too high to Morrow at first. Terrius Williams bunted for a single then Moss sacrificed to get runners at second and third. Burrows singled in a run and, with two out, Hutson’s base hit to center brought Williams home. And when White’s throw to the plate skipped past Riggs, Burrows scored to make it 5-0.
Meanwhile, Burrows and Jacksonville were retiring nine of the first 11 batters over three innings.
An error and a two-out single by Williams had the Sox in jeopardy of giving up more but Hathcote got Moss to groundout to Martin at short.
The Sox got on the board in the fourth when Martin led off with a long double to center. He went to third on Morrow’s grounder to the right side then scored on J.T. Parker’s single to left.
And when the ball was misplayed in left, Parker wound up on third. He scored on a wild pitch as Gavin Burton drew a walk. As Parker scored, Moss tried to throw to Burrows covering the plate, but his throw went awry, and Burton took second.
Cade Parker’s grounder to third drew a bad throw to first so the Sox had runners at the corners with two out and Knox up. On the first pitch, he turned on a ball and drilled a bouncer between the bag and Belford, the third baseman. When Belford tried to backhand it, the ball took a bad hop and ended up in left field. Burton scored and Knox wound up at second, but he was stranded there.
With the lead whittled to two runs, Hathcote eased through the middle of the Jacksonville order in the bottom of the fourth.
Bryant made some noise in the top of the fifth when Martin’s pop to shallow left was dropped and Morrow was stuck by a pitch, but Burrows got out of the jam.
In the bottom of the fifth, Hathcote issued a lead-off walk as his pitch count reached the max of 105. Bates relieved and balked to allow Rippeto to take second. After a strikeout, Gray singled to right. Rippeto stopped at third. Moments later, Gray stole second to put two in scoring position with one out.
But Bates fanned the next two to escape. He would pitch around a hit batsman in the sixth.
“I think I gave the same speech every inning,” said Hurt regarding the comeback. “It was, ‘Just find a way. If you hit a ball, you run as hard as you can.’ And the inning started because Logan White grounded out to second base — or should’ve been — but he slides into first safe, giving it everything he’s got. Then he finishes the inning with a triple, and they throw it into the dugout.”
The did indeed find a way.