Photos courtesy of Paul Dotson and Matt Roth/The American Legion
SHELBY, N.C. — What a time to muscle up.
After going all summer — 48 games — without a single home run, the Bryant Black Sox pounded three of them at the Senior American Legion World Series on Saturday. Jake Wright, Logan Allen and Seth Tucker each went deep and, behind two-hit shutout relief from Beaux Bonvillain and some splendid defense, the Sox forged a 7-4 win over Hopewell, N.J., in the second round of pool play.
The Sox, Arkansas champion as well as the Mid-South Regional Tournament, complete pool play on Sunday evening at 6 against Randolph County, N.C. A bid to the four-team single-elimination championship bracket will be on the line.
Usually, a team that executes the short game and hits line drives, the Sox, now 42-8, had executed small ball to produce a 3-2 lead going into the fourth inning. On the second pitch of his lead-off at-bat against New Jersey starter Dom Gambino, Wright unloaded for Bryant’s first home run of the season to make it 4-2.
After Hopewell (38-11) rallied to tie it in the bottom of the fourth, Allen led off the top of the fifth with his jack. Jake East lined out to center then, on an 0-1 delivery, Tucker tomahawked his round-tripper to make it 6-4.
“Jake Wright hits one and everybody’s in the dugout juiced,” Tucker told American Legion reporter Jeremy Field. “It makes people think, maybe I can hit one today. Wind’s blowing out, maybe I can get one. Just get a ball you can drive, try to drive it; if it goes over, it goes over.”
“All of a sudden, we’ve got guys that go up there and hit it out of the park,” marveled Sox manager Darren Hurt.
He added later, “When Jake hit his everybody was fired up. It was a really neat moment. Then, the next inning, Logan, who of course we know has power and hadn’t had one this summer but has hit a lot of balls in the alleys and stuff. Logan actually just told the guys, ‘Well, I guess I’m going to have to hit one now that Jake’s hit one.’ So he kind of called his own shot. Then Tucker decided he would join them, I guess. It was crazy.
“I really thought we were going to have a good day offensively but I can’t say that I saw the three home runs coming,” Hurt related. “I just liked where we were at. You know, the first day (a 4-0 loss to Idaho), we came in and had a couple of days off there and there was a lot of stuff going on other than baseball. I don’t know — not that we lacked focus — but I thought today we were really, really sharp, really focused. And I’m talking about during batting practice (Friday) and today both, they looked ready to go.
After heavy rains on Friday, the Keeter Stadium field was a slow track that several teams have taken advantage of with bunts. Both Bryant and Hopewell followed suit but the Sox proved to be more effective with it.
(By the way, Friday’s storms and the forecast for more over the weekend moved Legion officials to shorten the games from nine innings to seven for the remainder of the Series.)
“We had planned on using the small-ball game to scratch because we thought anything we could put on the board early would be big, to kind of keep that lead,” Hurt noted. “We did a pretty good job but they kept coming back. Every time we’d get the lead, they’d come right back at us.”
Bryant got an insurance run in the seventh when, with one out, Jake East lined a single to left and stole second. Tucker got a bunt down that he beat out for his second hit then Dylan Hurt’s squeeze bunt plated East to make it 7-4.
Tucker stole third then just got back on a pickoff play as Hurt swiped second. But both were stranded.
Bonvillain, who got the final two outs of the fourth with the help of an eye-popping diving stop by East up the middle resulting in a force at second, worked around a one-out double by Chris DeClerico in the home fifth then retired the side with the help of another defensive gem by East as well as Aaron Orender at first in the sixth. The Bryant lefty then struck out the next two.
In the home seventh, Hopewell’s Will Karp bunted for a lead-off hit but Bonvillain got Sam Margulis to foul out to his catcher, Hurt, who made a nice play near the backstop. Luke Blair followed with a one-hop shot to Orender at first. He threw to second for a force. Despite the fact that Margulis was scrambling back to first apparently unaware that Orender had caught the ball on a hop while Blair sprinted down the line trying to beat the relay, Orender stretched out and grabbed the return throw from East for the game-ending doubleplay.
The game went back and forth early. Bryant took advantage of Gambino’s lack of command. In the first, he walked East with one out then unleashed wild pitches that allowed him to get to third while Tucker was at the plate. East scored the game’s first run on Tucker’s sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the inning, Shurtleff surrendered a lead-off single on a 2-2 bloop to left by Karp. Magulis bunted for a hit but then Shurtleff retired Blair and DeClerico. He almost got an out when he appeared to have Karp picked off second but it was ruled the base-runner got his hand back in just ahead of Tucker’s tag.
With both runners moving up on DeClarico’s hit-and-run grounder to second, Cam Cane shot a single to center to drive them in and give the Mid-Atlantic Regional champion a 2-1 lead.
Bryant got those runs back in the top of the second to take the 3-2 lead. Brandon Hoover socked a single up the middle for the team’s first hit. Wright then drew a walk and Orender beat out a bunt single to load the bases.
With Scott Schmidt at the plate, Gambino uncorked a wild pitch and Hoover crossed the plate to tie the game. With one out and Wright at third, Coby Greiner ran the count to 3-1 before perfectly pushing a squeeze bunt up the right side for an RBI.
Shurtleff, meanwhile, had settled in. He retired the side in order in the second and, in the third, pitched around a one-out error and a two-out single by Blair.
Gambino apparently found his stride as well, pitching around an error and his fourth wild pitch in the third. After Wright’s smash to lead off the fourth, he set down the Sox in order though Orender, Schmidt and Greiner each hit the ball hard.
In the bottom of the fourth, Cane’s bunt single got Hopewell’s rally started. Trying to contend with a tight outside corner as he had the whole game, Shurtleff got down 3-1 to Nick Psomaras and had to come to him with gut-shot fastball that was lined to the gap for a double. A bloop single by Andy Blake drove in a run to make 4-3.
After a visit from his manager, Shurtleff struck out Josh DeDufour. But a four-pitch walk to nine-hole hitter Chase Fleming loaded the bases and moved Hurt to call in Bonvillain with the top of the order in Karp coming up.
Karp drilled a 1-1 pitch up the middle and it looked like it would drive home two runs but East dove for the ball, caught it and flipped it with his glove to Tucker at second for a force as Psomaras scored the tying run.
On the next pitch, Margulis hit a sinking liner to right center that Allen ran down for the final out of the inning.
Moments later, Allen was circling the bases with a tie-snapping solo homer.
Sunday’s game will be like playing a host team. Randolph County enters with a 2-0 mark after a 4-1 win over Idaho Saturday.
“It’s going to be a packed house,” Hurt acknowledged. “I think they said 8700 people will be there. So, it’s going to be a challenge. They’re a great ball club. But I think a lot of locals are going to be rooting for us too, though. I think we’ll have pretty good support there. Boy, we’ve had a lot of people travel up here too. We’ve got a lot of support.”