By Rob Patrick
SHERIDAN — This is a story of pitching, defense and a bunt.[more]
The result was a 3-2 win for the Bryant Black Sox over the Texarkana Razorbacks that clinched a spot in the Senior American Legion State Tournament for the defending State champ Sox.
Tyler Nelson handled the pitching for Bryant, going the distance in the taut, tense nine-inning battle between the two rivals. He allowed just four hits, three walks with 10 strikeouts.
But the Sox, now 33-3, trailed most of the game. Texarkana managed a run in the second on a two-out RBI single by Nathan Stubber. In the fifth, Luke Maguire walked, stole second, took third on Trevor Rucker’s grounder to the right side and scored on a two-out wild pitch.
After that, Nelson retired 15 of 17 to close out the game.
Meanwhile, Texarkana lefty Dalton Willige had the Sox shutout on three hits, though Bryant had runners on base in every inning.
As was the case in the second game between the two teams during a regular-season doubleheader in Zone 4, defensive miscues haunted the Razorbacks. Though Willige pitched around a pair of them in the seventh, the game changed on an error in the eighth.
That brings us to the bunt.
With Rucker on the mound in relief of Willige in the eighth, the Sox, running out of outs, loaded the bases on walks to Marcus Wilson and Hayden Daniel with two outs. Cody Gogus, who had two of Bryant’s five hits, lined a single to left. With Austin Caldwell at the plate, Bryant manager Darren Hurt called for a rare two-out drag bunt. On the first pitch, Caldwell got the bunt down the third base line. Texarkana third baseman Kyle Duncan charged the ball and fielded it cleanly but, with the speedy Caldwell sprinting down the line toward first and Wilson sprinting home, Duncan chose to throw to first. But his rushed toss skipped in and past first baseman Jackson Murphy and down the first base line.
Wilson was in easily, Daniel followed then Gogus made it too as Caldwell slid into third, jumping up with excitement with the Sox taking the lead.
“We just took a shot,” Hurt stated afterwards. “The third baseman kept staying behind the bag. Bases loaded is kind of a tough spot to pull that off but Caldwell’s got good wheels and good bat control, so we took a shot and it paid off.”
Nelson, who had thrown 107 pitches through seven innings, went back out in the eighth and and the ninth. In the former, Murphy singled with one out, took second on a passed ball and third on Trey Jeans’ bunt. After getting down 2-0 to Jake Garrett, the Sox right-hander came back to strike him out.
He then proceeded to strike out the side to end the game, finishing with 136 pitches.
“Seven innings was going to be it,” Hurt said. “He was coming out. I let him tell me that he wasn’t. I said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you the eighth but I can’t let you go to no 120 pitches. But then he comes off after the eighth and the first thing he says is, ‘I’m not coming out. I’ve got this.’
“I didn’t want his pitch count to go that high,” he continued. “But when a kid’s competing like that and wants the ball, tells me he felt great — we let him go. Then he struck out the side in the ninth.
“When we got that lead, he immediately came to me and said, ‘I’ve got this. They’re not scoring another run.’ He wanted it and he competed his tail off the whole game. So I felt like he deserved a shot to finish it. That’s about as tough as it gets.”
It was about as good a game as the two teams have played. And they’ve been involved in a bunch of them with lots on the line over the last few years. And, if Texarkana beats the winner of the Benton-Little Rock game on Monday at 5:30, they’ll play again for the District tournament championship with both of them headed back to State in Mountain Home.
On Sunday, Texarkana’s first run came after Jeans walked and Jonathan Boucher singled in the second. An errant pickoff throw — Bryant's lone error of the game — allowed Jeans to take third but, with one out, Austin Roark hit a two-hopper to Bryant third baseman Trevor Ezell, who caught Jeans wandering too far off the bag. A throw to the plate nabbed him for the second out.
But, a pitch later, with Roark breaking from first, Stubber hit a grounder to where shortstop Ozzie Hurt would normally have been. But he had broken towards the bag when Roark took off.
Nelson got Maguire to bounce to Gogus at first to end the inning.
Texarkana put two on in the third but Nelson, on a comebacker, caught the lead runner, Rucker, breaking from third. The Sox ran him down for the first out. A pair of strikeouts forced the Razorbacks to strand two.
Meanwhile, the Sox were being shutout without a hit until Wilson opened the fourth with a shot to right-center for a single. He stole second but was stranded as Willige set down the next three.
In the fifth, Gogus singled and Caldwell bunted. In shades of things to come, Duncan tried to get a force at second only to make an errant throw that had both runners safely aboard. With the next batter Korey Thompson squaring around and showing bunt, Duncan charged hard. Thompson pulled back from a ball and Gogus noticed that third base was uncovered as Rucker, the shortstop, failed to follow over as Duncan charged.
In what may have been Gogus’ first steal of the season, he beat Rucker there. And when Thompson walked the Sox had the bases loaded with nobody out. But Willige worked out of the jam to keep it 2-0.
Chase Tucker singled with one out in the sixth and Daniel hit a laser to left. With Tucker on the move on the 3-2 pitch, he had rounded second as Hayden Phillips made a diving back-handed catch to rob Daniel. With Tucker scrambling to retrace his steps, Texarkana relayed the ball to first for an inning-ending doubleplay.
With Nelson continuing the keep the Razorbacks’ bats quiet, the Sox were gifted an opportunity in the seventh. Gogus hit a high pop between home and the mound that Murphy called for but didn’t handle. Caldwell followed with a grounder to third that resulted in another throwing error at second.
But Willige finished up well. He got Thompson to fly to center, Ezell to tap back to the mound for a force at third and, after a wild pitch got Caldwell to third, Ozzie Hurt flew out to center to end the inning with Texarkana clinging to the 2-0 lead.
It would disappear in the eighth.