By Rob Patrick
BENTON — Was it the same post-tournament blahs that seem to occur annually after the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team travels afar to play in an event like the Independence Day Classic at Columbia, Tenn.?[more]
Or was it the fact that there was too much of a layup between the end of the tournament at Friday’s crucial Zone 4 game against Benton McClendon’s TV and Appliance at Bernard Holland Park?
Or might it have been that news that they’d probably be without ace right-hander Ben Wells the rest of the season as he appeared to be nearing a deal with the Chicago Cubs who drafted him in June?
Maybe it was simply the fact that Benton’s Steven Brooks got tough on the mound every time he got into a jam?
Or that some of the Sox are playing despite aches and pains and others at a position they don't usually play?
Or perhaps, it was because they drubbed Benton 9-1 when they met in the league opener back on May 28?
Actually, it was probably a little bit of all the above and more, that went into the Sox’ play in a 7-3 loss to McClendon’s Friday night.
It left manager Darren Hurt scratching his head.
“We came out flat against Pine Bluff after the Mountain Home tournament (losing 6-2 on June 21), but we played right after that (tournament) so I’m thinking a couple of days off are going to help us,” Hurt pondered. “So we come back and practice on Thursday to get ready for tonight.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” he continued. “I have not seen them this year, play that flat. Even in the Pine Bluff game and a couple of others, it’s not been that flat. They were just dead.”
The loss left the Sox 14-11 overall and 3-2 in District play going into a vital doubleheader against Texarkana on Saturday afternoon, starting at 1 p.m. With a sweep of Texarkana and a win over Pine Bluff at home on Tuesday, the Sox could still tie for the regular-season zone title and have a shot at the top seed at the District Tournament which would garner them a first-round bye. With just five teams in the District, that bye has become even more of an advantage. The top two teams at the District Tournament represent the Zone at the State Tournament in Little Rock.
That task became tougher for the Sox with Friday’s loss against Benton (as well as Wells).
Benton finished up their Zone 4 regular-season schedule with the win, improving to 3-5.
The frustrating thing was that the Sox had their top pitcher in wins, Blake Davidson (at 7-1) on the mound and lots of opportunities early. On the way to stranding 11 baseruners in the game, Bryant left the bases loaded three times.
In the first, Hunter Mayall walked and Jordan Taylor sliced a single to left. Brady Butler drew a free pass to load the bases with no one out. But Brooks came back to strike out the next three batters to escape.
Brooks, who pitched the Bauxite Miners to a State baseball championship this spring, struck out nine but walked seven in six innings. The Sox could only touch him for four hits.
Davidson eased through a seven-pitch bottom of the first and the Sox grabbed the lead in the second when, with two down, Caleb Garrett walked and Mayall lashed a drive to left-center. As Garrett scored, Mayall rounded second and headed to third, forcing the Benton cut-off man to catch the ball. But his relay to third was in time to retire Mayall moments after Garrett cross the plate.
After Davidson overcame an error and a one-out single in the bottom of the second, the Sox threatened again (with Benton’s help). Butler reached on a one-out error and, with two down, Chris Joiner drew a walk. Brennan Bullock beat out an infield hit to load the bases but Brooks ended the threat with another strikeout.
“Brooks threw a good game,” Hurt acknowledged. “He really did. But, still, we’ve got to shorten up and put it in play there. We didn’t do it early and maybe that took a little bit out of us. It’s frustrating when you’re leaving the bases loaded and not even putting it in play. But you can’t let that drag on. And then, that one inning, we just blew up.”
First, Benton tied it in the bottom of the third. With one out, Ashton Wilson drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. And he hustled all the way to second when the ball got away from catcher Dylan Cross.
That was just the start of a rugged couple of innings for Cross, who’s been catching while battling a sore thumb.
Moments later, a passed ball allowed Wilson to take third. The Sox then appeared to get a great break when Benton put the squeeze play on and Brooks couldn’t get the bunt down. Wilson, breaking on the pitch, was tagged out by Cross as he tried to retreat.
But Brooks walked on a 3-2 pitch. He advanced on a pitch in the dirt that got away form Cross, then took third when the Bryant catcher couldn’t flag down a high outside delivery to Gene Dunkin.
Davidson again worked the count to 3-2 but, this time, Dunkin lined a single to left to drive in the tying run.
In the fourth, Mayall doubled with two down and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Again, however, Brooks got out of the jam with a strikeout.
The bottom of the fourth was the “blow up” frame for the Sox.
Austin Pfeiffer, on another full count, pulled a two-hopper past third that just barely stayed fair over the bag for a double. Lee Richardson followed with a drive that banged off the center-field wall for another two-bagger which put Benton ahead 2-1.
After Richardson moved to third on a passed ball, Josh Creel hit a blooper to right that Butler, usually a first baseman, got a late break on the ball in the twilight, coming in from deep right. The ball fell in for an RBI single.
Davidson picked up the team with a strikeout then Drew McCurry sacrificed Creel to second.
Another 3-2 pitch when Benton’s way when Wilson drew a walk. A wild pitch moved runners to second and third as Brooks reached base on a walk, filling the bags for Dunkin, who hit another bloop to right. Butler charged in and tried to make a sliding catch but just couldn’t quite get to it.
With two out, all three runners were on the move on contact and they all scored as Dunkin got to second. He stole third and scored when Chase Southworth’s hot grounder down the line, bounced off the third-base bag to make it 7-1.
After Mayall’s fourth-inning double, Brooks retired six Bryant batters in a row before issuing a four-pitch walk to Cross with two out in the top of the sixth. A walk to Garrett and another to Mayall loaded the bases once again.
And once again he kept the Sox from scoring, this time with a slow roller to Richardson at first.
Caleb Milam came in to relieve the hard-luck Davidson and got the final out of the fourth. He worked around a lead-off walk in the fifth then benefited from the infield defense for a line-drive doubleplay. Dunkin shot one to Taylor at short as Brooks was on the move. Taylor’s throw to first easily beat Dunkin back and the Sox got one more shot at a comeback.
Dunkin came on to relieve in the top of the seventh after Brooks had thrown 117 pitches. Dunkin got off to a rugged start when he walked Butler then surrendered a double to Tyler Brown. Chris Joiner’s tap to first got Butler home and, with two down, Lucas Castleberry blooped a single to left to get a second tally in.
But Dunkin ended it with a strikeout, making it the third time Bryant left the bases full.
BENTON McCLENDON'S TV & APPLIANCE 7, BRYANT BLACK SOX 3
Senior American Legion
Black Sox ab r h bi McClendon's ab r h bi
Mayall, dh 2 0 2 1 Wilson, cf-rf 2 1 0 0
Taylor, ss 4 0 1 0 Brooks, p-cf 2 2 1 0
Butler, rf-1b 2 1 0 0 Dunkin, rf-p 4 1 2 4
Pickett, 1b 3 0 0 0 Southworth, 3b 3 0 1 1
Brown, 3b 1 1 1 0 Pfeiffer, ss 3 1 1 0
Joiner, 2b-rf 3 0 0 1 Richardson, 1b 2 1 2 1
Bullock, lf 4 0 1 0 Creel, c 2 1 1 1
Castleberry, 3b-2b 4 0 1 1 Holicer, lf 3 0 0 0
Cross, c 3 0 0 0 McCurry, 2b 2 0 0 0
Garrett, cf 1 1 0 0
Davidson, p 0 0 0 0
Milam, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 27 3 6 3 Totals 23 7 8 7
BRYANT 010 000 2 — 3
Benton 001 600 x — 7
E—Cross, McCurry. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Bryant 11, Benton 5. 2B—Mayall 2, Dunkin, Pfeiffer, Richardson, Brown. S—McCurry, Creel.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Davidson (L) 3.2 7 6 7 4 1
Milam 2.1 0 0 1 1 4
Brooks (W) 6 1 1 4 7 9
Dunkin 1 2 2 2 1 1
WP—Brooks, Davidson 3. PB—Cross 3.