LITTLE ROCK — Mixing and matching and maneuvering, Bryant Black Sox manager Darren Hurt channeled his inner Joe Madden Friday night. Or, considering his allegiances to the St. Louis Cardinals, maybe his inner Whitey Herzog.
Back in the day, Herzog, on more than one occasion, sent his closer Todd Worrell to right field after getting out a right-handed batter. He would then bring in a southpaw reliever to get a lefty swinger out. Then, with another righty coming to the plate, he’d bring Worrell back to the mound to pitch again.
Recently, Madden, the manager of St. Louis’ archrival Chicago Cubs, famously brought in lefty reliever Travis Wood, a Bryant product, to relieve against a lefty then sent him to left field as he brought in a right-hander to face a right-handed batter. Wood capped that off with a sparkling clutch catch as he backed into the ivy at Wrigley Field to end a threat. The next inning, he returned to the mound.
So, back to Hurt, who gave hard-throwing right-hander Austin Kelly the “Travis Wood treatment” against the Sedalia Travelers Friday night, not only to keep Kelly available to pitch but to get his bat in the line-up despite starting the game with Jordan Gentry serving as a designated hitter for the pitcher.
As creative and confusing as Hurt’s splendid juggling act was, the biggest impact at the plate came from third baseman Garrett Misenheimer who went 3 for 3 with a walk, a sacrifice fly and four runs batted in. His two-out, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth turned the Black Sox’ thin 4-3 lead into a 6-3 advantage.
That big hit came a half inning after Misenheimer had a hand in a tremendous defensive play that choked off the potential tying run at the plate. Sedalia’s Derrick Bivins tried to score from second on a single by Mason Sanders with two down in the top of the eighth only to have Aaron Orender, in left, charge the ball, hit the cut-off man (Misenheimer) who relayed it to Dylan Hurt, the catcher, in time for the tag.
Seth Tucker, who was 3 for 4 at the plate, took over as Bryant’s fourth pitcher and retired the side in order in the top of the ninth as the Sox secured a wild 6-3 win over the Missouri champions in the winners bracket final of the 2016 Senior American Legion Mid-South Regional Tournament at UALR’s Gary Hogan Field.
The victory left the Sox as the only unbeaten team remaining and clinched a spot in the final round on Sunday as they vie for an elusive berth in the American Legion World Series. The Sox made it to the Regional finals and were denied in gut-wrenching fashion two years ago and, last summer, reached the semifinals of the Mid-South.
In today’s semifinals, Missouri takes on League City, Texas in an elimination game at 2 p.m. Bryant faces longtime rival Texarkana at 5 p.m., with a chance to knock the Razorbacks out of the tournament.
“We’ve got to get it done now,” Hurt stated. “We’ve got to get two more (wins). We absolutely do not take anything for granted. Tomorrow (Saturday), we have to win. This is not a game where we can just take one off. We have to win.”
Along with Misenheimer and Tucker, Logan Allen had another big night for the Sox, going 2 for 3 with a walk and a sacrifice fly, two RBIs and three runs scored. His hits were a triple and a double. Allen also had three hits in Thursday’s win over Ada, Okla.
“He wasn’t happy with his performance the last weekend of the State tournament and he got some extra work this week,” Hurt related, referring to Allen’s 2 for 12 in the last three games at State. “He’s back swinging it like he does.”
Kelly wound up getting the victory on the mound, allowing two runs on just one hit over the first 5 2/3 innings. He moved to right with two down and runners at first-and-third in the top of the sixth as lefty Beaux Bonvillain came on to relieve.
Kelly walked six, hit a batter and fanned four. He held the Travelers without a hit until Jake Kindall’s two-out RBI single in the fourth, which tied the game 2-2. Landon Dove lined to Tucker at second to end the inning, keeping it even.
Sedalia took a 1-0 lead in the first when Baxter Mays walked and, with two down, Chase Plymell drew a pass. With runners at first and third and two away, Kelly had Mays picked off third but his throw sailed and Mays sprinted home.
Bryant broke through to take a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third. Alex Shurtleff ignited the uprising with a single then scored all the way from first on Allen’s triple. An out later, Misenheimer’s sacrifice fly got him home.
Kelly eased through the top of the fifth, needing just nine pitches to set down the Travelers.
In the bottom of the inning, Allen drilled a one-out double then scored on Misenheimer’s two-out single up the middle to make it 3-2.
In the top of the sixth, the juggling act commenced. A hit batsman and a two-out walk brought on Bonvillain who issued a walk to load the bags but got out of the jam by getting Dove to groundout to Tucker. Gentry, the designated hitter, took over at first defensively when Bonvillain came in. Orender, tellingly, went to left.
The Sox increased the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Jake East walked and Tucker beat out an infield hit. Orender bunted for a hit and, with one out, Allen came through with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2. Kelly returned to the mound in the top of the sixth but a walk and a single on a swinging bunt finished his evening on the bump. Boston Heil relieved and gave up an RBI single to Steven Bradbury. The right-handed submariner then induced a doubleplay ball as Mays held at third. Chase Plymell bounced out to third and the threat was over.
Sedalia reliever Tristan Jackson worked around a trio of walks in the home seventh as the Sox were unable to take advantage.
Bivins opened the eighth with an infield hit. Christian Jones sacrificed him to second and, with two down, Sanders drilled his single to left resulting in the out at the plate.
Bryant’s eighth began with Orender beating out his second hit then stealing second. Allen drew a walk then Dylan Hurt sacrificed them to second and third.
Darren Hurt, among others, figured Sedalia would intentionally pass Misenheimer to load the bases, setting up a force at any base. But Jackson went after him.
“As soon as (Misenheimer) came up, I told Gentry, ‘They’re going to walk him,’” Hurt related. “I just told him to look for something up in the zone and pound it then I get back to the dugout and they throw the first pitch. I did not see that one coming.”
Misenheimer drilled a 3-2 pitch up the middle making it 6-3 and, for good measure, Gentry singled as well. Tucker eased to a 1-2-3 ninth, fanning Jackson for the final out.
Asked about his maneuvers, Darren Hurt explained, “The thing that it all boiled down to was we wanted AK (Kelly) to swing the bat. We wanted him to get some AB’s. We cannot sub while we’re on offense when we’re DHing for him. We had to mix keeping him from having AB’s early and being on base and wearing down, we needed to DH for him but the only way we could get him in the line-up batting by the sixth inning was to do it while we’re in the field, then bring him back.
“We were going to do it the inning before but the five-hole was six spots away so we didn’t do it,” he continued. “We ended up with the last out being in the five-hole so the next inning we went ahead and did it so we could get him in there.
“The whole time, we wanted him to keep throwing. We thought that he felt great. We thought he was in command. He had a few walks here and there, some bumps in the road but, even in the inning when we put him back in, he gets an 0-2 count on a guy and the guy ends up drawing a walk. Then the next guy has a swinging bunt that we can’t make a play on. So I thought, even on those two batters, he did a good job. We were trying to get one more inning out of him but, with his pitch count, once those two guys got on, we decided to go ahead and go with Boston then.
“I’d like to tell you I knew what I was doing the whole time but I can tell you we went over it 100 times down there, making sure that I didn’t make a mistake because the key is Gentry’s got to go in the field and two people have to come out. It’s a confusing sub even to the umpires but, once they get it all down, it worked out.”