By Rob Patrick
There are plenty of 15-year-old pitchers who would be plenty tight starting their team’s opening game in a 19-and-under[more] State Tournament. And if things didn’t got that well at the start, it would be pretty easy to get intimidated and overwhelmed.
But not the Jason Hastings.
The young lefty got the nod to start the Bryant Everett Black Sox’ first outing in the AA American Legion State Tournament on Saturday night and scattered six hits, allowed two runs, one unearned and went the distance in his team’s 7-2 win over the Stuttgart Riceland Foods Ricemen.
It helped, perhaps, that Hastings was in familiar surroundings at Bryant High School Field. But then the game started with a walk to Stuttgart’s Chase Richards and, a pitch later, a shot to right-center for a double by Jon Curtis that wound up producing a run when the relay skipped past Bryant third baseman Wes Akers. With Curtis at second, Dontrell Brown then singled to get him to third.
But Hastings got clean-up hitter Taylor Daniels to ground to third as Akers checked Curtis to hold him. And, with runners at second and third, the lefty got Jacob Clawson to smack a one-hopper to Akers who caught Curtis wandering off third.
The Sox not only retired Curtis on a nicely executive rundown but when Brown trying to get to third, doubled back when Curtis tried to get back to the bag, was doubled up by Akers to end the inning.
Akers and Trevor Ezell each had two hits in the game for Bryant. Akers, in fact, came through in the clutch with a two-run single to snap a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Ezell, who was on base all four times he came to the plate, scored three runs including the second of the two that Akers knocked in in the fifth.
After Stuttgart had taken the lead initially, Bryant produced a pair of runs using some aggressive base-running in the bottom of the first. Ezell drew a walk to start the inning and, when he appeared to be picked off by Ricemen pitcher Hunter Harris, who worked the rundown until he was able to dive past a tag at second. And, as the Ricemen were scrambling to execute the rundown, Ezell noticed that they’d left third base uncovered. He popped up from his slide at second and took off for third, reaching the bag without a play.
He would score moments later on a wild pitch, tying the game.
But the Sox weren’t done. A one-out double by Akers got the offense revved up again. Cody Gogus was struck by a pitch then Harrison Dale slapped a single to right to load the bags. That brought up Chase Tucker who popped up a 1-1 pitch. The umpires called the infield fly rule (batter out, runners advance at their own risk) as Stuttgart second baseman Andrew Hoskyn back-peddled into shallow center to make the catch.
To the surprise of Hoskyn and his teammates, Akers had tagged at third and came streaking home, beating the delayed throw for the go-ahead run. Tucker had a rare sacrifice fly to second.
Hastings worked a 1-2-3 second and Harris settled down as well. The Stuttgart right-hander blanked the Sox over the next three innings, putting together a stretch in which he retired 11 of 12 batters with Ezell’s two-out single in the second the lone base-runner.
And the Ricemen tied it in the third after Hastings had retired the first two in the inning. He struck out Curtis as well but it came on a pitch in the dirt that catcher Trey Breeding couldn’t corral in time to make a play to first. Curtis thus reached to extend the inning and singles by Brown and Daniels brought around Curtis with the tying tally.
A walk to Clawson loaded the bases and, with momentum and the lead on the line, the Bryant lefty battled with his counterpart, Harris, who fouled off three two-strike pitches. The duel concluded in Hastings’ favor, however, as Harris waved at a fastball to end the threat.
After that, the Ricemen managed just two hits over the final four innings. In the fourth, Hoskyn singled with one out and Jay McGee drew the last walk Hastings surrendered. A pitch later, however, a slow grounder was hit towards Ezell at short by Richards. With a quick turn by Korey Thompson at second, the Sox turned a doubleplay to bring the threat to an end.
A string commenced in which Hastings retired seven in a row while, at the plate, the Sox regained the lead and expanded it.
Bryant’s game-turning fifth started with a walk to Breeding. C.J. Phillips came on to run for him and Ezell singled. Hastings got a bunt down to try to sacrifice but when Harris tried to get the out at third, Phillips beat the throw and the bases were loaded.
That brought up Akers who mashed the next pitch for a two-run single to snap the tie. An out later, Akers was forced at second on a grounder by Dale but Tucker was hit by a pitch and when Thompson’s grounder to third was misplayed, Hastings scored to make it 5-2.
Phillips started a two-run sixth when he was plunked by Harris. When Ezell walked, Harris gave way to teammate Gere Elam. After uncorking a wild pitch to push runners to second and third, Elam surrendered a single by Hastings that chased both home, setting the final score.
To their credit, the Ricemen made some noise in the top of the seventh. Hoskyn singled to start the inning. McGee flew out to Austin Caldwell in deep right then Richards grounded to third for a force that sent Hoskyn to the dugout.
A slow roller to short by Curtis got by Ezell on a tough play, putting two aboard. But Hastings closed it out when Brown skied to Caldwell for the final out.
Bryant advances to the winners bracket semifinals against an impressive Newport Kell Motors team tonight at 7. Newport bounced Quitman 19-0 on Friday then knocked off Heber Springs, 7-1, on Saturday.
Stuttgart, which downed Harrison, 10-6, on the opening day, will take on Rose Bud in an elimination game at Bishop Park at 7 p.m.
BRYANT EVERETT BLACK SOX 7, STUTTGART RICELAND FOODS RICEMEN 2
AA American Legion
Ricemen ab r h bb Black Sox ab r h bi
Richards, cf-lf 3 1 0 0 Ezell, ss 2 3 2 0
Curtis, ss 4 1 1 0 Hastings, p 4 1 1 2
Brown, 1b 4 0 2 0 Akers, 3b 4 1 2 2
Daniels, rf-3b 3 0 1 1 Gogus, 1b 3 0 0 0
Clawson, c 2 0 0 0 Dale, lf 3 0 1 0
Harris, p-cf 3 0 0 0 Tucker, cf 1 0 0 1
Elam, 3b-p 3 0 0 0 Thompson, 2b 3 0 0 0
Hoskyn, 2b 3 0 2 0 Dupree, rf 2 0 0 0
McGee, lf-rf 2 0 0 0 Caldwell, rf 1 0 0 0
Breeding, c 1 0 0 0
Phillips, pr-c 0 2 0 0
Totals 27 2 6 1 Totals 24 7 6 5
Stuttgard 101 000 0 — 2
BRYANT 200 032 x — 7
E—Dupree, Elam, Ezell. DP—Bryant 2. LOB—Stuttgart 7, Bryant 6. 2B—Akers, Curtis. SF—Tucker.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Harris (L) 5 7 7 5 3 3
Elam 1 0 0 1 0 0
Hastings (W) 7 2 1 6 3 6
Harris faced two batters in the sixth.
HBP—Gogus, Tucker, Phillips (by Harris). WP—Hastings, Harris, Elam.