Bryant 9’s win three times on final day to capture State crown

By Madison McEntire

JACKSONVILLE — What could be more fun and exciting than winning three games in one day to win a state tournament — how about doing it when the final two games are against your arch rivals from Benton? That is exactly what the Bryant 9-year-old All-Stars accomplished on Wednesday, July 14, at Jacksonville’s Excell Park in the 2010 Cal Ripken state tournament.

Due to delays from last weekend’s rain, Bryant was forced to win three games in one day to claim the title, just one day after they stranded 12 base runners and suffered a tough 4-3 loss to Benton in the winner’s bracket final.

The Bryant team members are Logan Chambers, Logan Grant, Nathan McFarland, Ryan Lessenberry, Cade Dupree, Coby Greiner, Logan Catton, Jake Cowell, Will McEntire, Sawyer Holt, Garett Nguyen, Hunter Mullings, and Chandler Taylor. The team is managed by Michael Catton with help from assistant coaches Phillip Dupree and Madison McEntire.[more]

With essentially the same squad back that won last year’s state tournament as 8-year-olds, Bryant hoped for back-to-back titles. However, there is one major difference between the 8-year-old year and the 9-year-old year: the game is played with live pitching instead of the pitching machine doing all the work. Fortunately, the Bryant 9’s have pitching depth and five hurlers shared the burden of the three games. Dupree and McEntire turned in excellent performances in the first two games to help get the team to the final game where the trio of McFarland, Grant and Chambers had just enough left in the tank to defeat Benton a second time.

Game 3 — Bryant 15, Benton 8

Capitalizing on their momentum from an intense 6-5 win that had ended just minutes earlier, Bryant jumped out ahead early in the winner-take-all game.

Catton walked on four pitches to lead off the game and Chambers was plunked on the foot to put two runners on. After taking a strike, McFarland crushed a line drive triple to the left-center gap and it was 2-0. Dupree stepped in next and dumped a line drive into right-center and just slid into second ahead of the throw, as McFarland scored to put Bryant up 3-0. After a strikeout and a sacrifice bunt by Grant which moved Dupree to third, Benton got out of the inning by getting Mullings to ground back to the pitcher.

McFarland started on the mound for Bryant. The first batter hit a grounder to first that Dupree booted for an error, but the second batter flied out to center. Benton quickly cut the lead to 3-2 when the next hitter doubled into the left-center gap on a ball that Catton dove out for but could not reach and then the cleanup hitter doubled on a liner to center field. However, they left the tying run standing at third when McFarland got a strikeout and a grounder to third.

Bryant shook off Benton’s rally and sent 10 men to the plate in the top of the second. Holt led off with a soft pop back to the right of the mound that was just off the pitcher’s glove for a hit. Lessenberry grounded back to the pitcher who threw to second but the shortstop was off the bag when he caught the throw and both runners were safe. Catton dropped down a sacrifice bunt toward first. The Benton first baseman elected to go for the lead runner at third, but threw the ball away and it rolled down the line and under the fence, allowing Holt and Lessenberry to score and Catton to end up on third. Chambers then hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Catton.

With the bases empty, McFarland restarted the rally when he grounded to short and reached first when the shortstop fired the ball over the first baseman’s head. Dupree walked on four pitches and then Benton changed pitchers.

With Greiner at the dish, both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Greiner laid down a bunt in front of the plate and reached first to load the bases when the catcher chose not to throw and let McFarland score from third. Grant then walked, bringing McFarland home.

With Benton’s infield playing in, Mullings grounded into a force out with Dupree retired at the plate. Holt, batting for the second time in the inning, was in the box when a wild pitch moved all of the runners up with Greiner scoring. Two pitches later, another wild pitch on ball four to Holt allowed Grant to slide home and when the dust had cleared, Bryant had scored the maximum six runs and the lead had swelled to 9-2.

Benton went down quietly in their half, sending just four batters to the plate. After a pop fly that he fielded himself, McFarland walked the second batter on four pitches and was replaced on the mound by Grant who retired the next two hitters on a 6-4 force out and a pop fly to shortstop.

Bryant continued to pour it on in the third. Lessenberry struck out but then Catton walked and Chambers’ double to left-center advanced him to third. McFarland grounded out to the third baseman but Catton scored on the play and Chambers moved up a base. Dupree walked to put runners at the corners and then Greiner knocked them both in when he blooped a double to right field. Grant singled on a ball up the middle to the second baseman with Greiner scoring. Grant was out on the return throw from the catcher to second base to end the inning, but the damage was done and the All-Stars’ lead was 13-2.

Benton trimmed a run off the deficit in their next at-bat, but Bryant turned an excellent double play to end the inning. With runners on second and third, the batter hit a deep sacrifice fly to Catton in center and his one-hop throw was dead on the bag and Dupree’s tag was in time to nail the runner trying to advance from second.

The lead stretched to 15-3 in Bryant’s next at-bat. Mullings walked to open the inning and advanced to second on a wild pitch as Holt fanned. Cowell, batting for Lessenberry, walked with Mullings moving to third on a wild pitch during the at-bat. Lessenberry re-entered to run for Cowell. Catton bunted toward first and for the second time the Benton catcher held the ball rather than allow a runner from third to cross the plate. Chambers was up next and grounded an 0-2 pitch in the hole to left for a single that scored two runners and moved Catton to second.

Bryant was just one run away from winning by a run-rule after four innings but could not bring the runner from second home. McFarland just missed squaring up on a fat pitch but popped up and was out when the umpire called an infield fly and then Dupree grounded back to the mound for the final out.

Benton’s bats finally came to life in the bottom of the fourth. The first batter reached on an error by Dupree and was followed by a fly ball single to left and a single on a liner off McFarland’s glove at first to score a run.

Bryant got the first out on a force at third by Dupree but then the leadoff hitter singled to right to load the bases. Greiner fielded a grounder and got a force at second for out number two with a run scoring from third, but then back-to-back line-drive doubles to left-center plated three runs to make the score 15-8.

A walk put runners at first and second. The next batter popped up to second and Greiner drifted in to make the catch, only to be run over by the runner coming from first. Originally, no call was made and the bases were loaded, but, after conferring, the umpires ruled interference and the inning was over. The Benton coach disagreed with the call and was ejected for arguing.

Apparently the Bryant players were tired from running the bases or maybe felt that a seven-run lead was enough. After scoring 15 runs in the first four innings, they went 1-2-3 on three ground balls to send the game into the bottom of the fifth.

Chambers came in to take over for Grant with Benton needing one run to force the game to the sixth. He started the inning with consecutive strikeouts, but then walked the number nine hitter on a full count pitch. Benton’s leadoff batter stepped in the box and hit the second pitch for a lazy fly ball to McEntire, who had entered for Mullings. He made the catch and sent the Bryant team and its fans into a frenzy.

After a long night of baseball, perhaps the players began to realize what they had accomplished. Jeff McFarland reported that when he put Nathan to bed sometime after midnight that Nathan quietly whispered, “We run-ruled Benton” as he closed his eyes and settled in for a well-deserved rest.

Game 2 — Bryant 6, Benton 5

After a late rally secured a 6-0 win over Hamburg in the finals of the losers bracket, Bryant took on Benton needing to beat them twice to win the state title. McEntire was given his first All-Star start in hopes that a fresh arm and a pitcher that they had not seen would silence Benton’s big bats.

The first inning started off rough as a slow roller to shortstop and error by Greiner put two on base with no one out. Back-to-back walks brought in a run before McEntire got a strikeout, a 4-6 force out that scored a run, and another strikeout to limit the damage to two runs.

Bryant wasted a one-out single by Chambers in their first at-bat.

In the second inning, Benton went in order on a grounder to the mound, a pop to second and a strikeout.

Bryant knotted the score at 2-2 when Grant walked with one out and moved to second when Mullings was hit on the elbow by a pitch. A wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position and Holt slapped a grounder into left field that scored Grant and advanced Mullings to third base. With Lessenberry at the plate, Holt swiped second and the catcher’s throw sailed into centerfield allowing Mullings to score from third. Lessenberry fanned and Catton lined to first to end the inning but the game was tied.

Benton threatened in the top of the second but did not score. The leadoff batter singled to second, but the next two batters were retired on a fly ball to Holt in left and a pop to Grant at third. A ground-ball single to left put two runners on but Chambers ended the inning with a diving stab of a line drive.

The home plate umpire was enthusiastic through the game and congratulated players who made good plays. In this case, he sought out Chambers in front of the dugout, bumped knuckles with him, and said, ”Awesome, dude.”

Chambers, McFarland, and McEntire, Bryant’s 2-3-4 hitters, were due up, but they went quietly on a grounder back to the pitcher and a couple of grounders to the shortstop and the game went to the fourth inning still tied 2-2.

Benton jumped ahead 4-2 with a couple more unearned runs in their at-bat. The first batter doubled to right and the next batter reached when McFarland dropped Chambers’ low throw for an error. McEntire got a force out from Greiner to Chambers with the runner on second moving to third, the top of the order was up and the leadoff batter lined a double to left to plate two runs. The next batter was hit by a pitch but another 4-6 force and a strikeout ended the inning.

Greiner led off by grounding out to the pitcher, Grant walked, and Mullings hit a grounder to third, which forced Grant out at second for the second out. Mullings took second on a wild pitch and Holt walked to put two on. Dupree was called on to hit for Lessenberry and delivered a huge, two-strike line drive single back up the middle to score Mullings and put Holt on second base.

Lessenberry re-entered to run for Dupree. Catton stepped to the plate and dumped a fly ball single to center. Holt hustled home to tie the game and Lessenberry got to third, with Catton moving to second on the throw to the plate. Chambers ripped the first pitch he saw for a triple to center field and Bryant lead 6-4. He was left stranded on third when McFarland flied to left to end the inning.

McEntire walked the first batter of the fifth on a 3-2 pitch and was relieved by Chambers, with Grant shifting to shortstop, Greiner to third, Catton to second, Holt to center, and Cowell entering the game in left field. Chambers got the first out on a pop fly to Catton but the next batter hit a single to right that took a funny hop, with Mullings making a good play to hold the runners at first and second.

Chambers whiffed the number eight hitter for the second out and appeared to be out of the inning when the next batter lifted a fly to right. Mullings drifted to his right but it went off his glove for an error and the runner scored from second to cut the lead to 6-5. The next batter hit another pop to Catton at second for the third out, which sent the game into the final inning with Bryant clinging to a one-run lead.

Cowell opened with a walk and Taylor ran for him. Greiner’s come-backer forced Taylor at second but then Grant dropped down a bunt single to put two runners on. Mullings fanned and Holt hit a soft line to short as the game moved to the bottom of the sixth.

Chambers started by getting a pop out to Grant. The next batter ripped a line drive to right, but Bryant caught a huge break as the ball rolled under the fence for an automatic double which kept the tying run off third base. The next batter struck out and Bryant was within one out of forcing a deciding game.

Chambers quickly got ahead of the next batter 0-2 but surrendered a walk when the next four pitches were all called balls despite a couple of them being right at the hitter’s knees. The next hitter also fell behind 0-2 but then rapped a grounder to Grant who didn’t risk a throw. He streaked to the second base bag to get a force out to end the game.

Game 1 — Bryant 6, Hamburg 0

The All-Stars opened the first of the three games with a tougher-than-expected contest with Hamburg. Dupree made his second All-Star start and allowed four hits in his four innings of work and was relieved by Grant who surrendered just a walk on two innings.

Manager Catton shook up the lineup a bit, putting Holt in left field and Mullings in right field and each came up with a big hit in the final inning.

Bryant wasted a one-out single by Greiner in the first and Hamburg failed to take advantage of a two-out double in their turn at bat.

In the second, Bryant put two on when Grant singled to left and, one batter later, Holt singled to left to move him to third. Hamburg got out of the inning when Lessenberry grounded hard to the second baseman. Dupree took care of all three outs in the bottom of the second with two grounders to the mound and a strikeout and the game was scoreless as it moved to the third inning.

Bryant scratched out a run in the third. Catton walked but was forced at second by Greiner’s grounder to third. Greiner moved up with Chambers at the plate and then scored on his ground-ball single to right. Chambers took second on the throw but was left there when McFarland popped out on a fly to shallow left and Dupree hit a long fly to the right fielder.

Dupree faced just four batters to get through the bottom of the frame, getting two of them on strikeouts.

Bryant looked for breathing room in the top of the fourth when the first three batters reached to load the bases. Grant walked on four pitches against a new Hamburg pitcher, who was then removed. Mullings greeted their third pitcher with a bunt and reached first on a throwing error by the pitcher, with Grant scooting to third. Holt walked to load the bases. However, the All-Stars squandered the opportunity as Lessenberry hit a soft pop to the pitcher, Catton popped to the pitcher with the infield fly rule being called, and Greiner grounded back to the pitcher, who went to the plate to force Grant.

Hamburg’s first batter in the fourth reached on a single and stole second base before Dupree picked up the first out with a swinging strikeout. The next batter grounded back to Dupree as the runner came running halfway down the line toward home. Dupree ran directly at him, making him commit toward home and then flipped to Lessenberry who applied the tag for the second out. The daring base running proved costly for Hamburg as the next two batters singled and walked before Dupree got out of the inning with a fly to Catton in center.

Bryant got some breathing room in the top of the fifth. With none out, McFarland drilled a hard single to left. The left fielder dove for the ground ball and it got by him, rolling all the way to the fence. As the centerfielder ran down the ball, McFarland circled the bases and slid into the catcher as the ball arrived at the plate. After a couple seconds, the umpire found the ball on the ground at the plate and McFarland was ruled safe. Dupree and Grant grounded out but Bryant had a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the fifth, Grant took over for Dupree and needed just six pitches to get a fly to center, a pop to second, and a grounder to third.

In foreshadowing of things to come, Bryant pounded the ball in the top of the sixth to break the game open. Mullings led off and quickly fell behind 0-2. He fouled off two good pitches and then took three balls before scorching a triple over the leftfielder’s head. Holt too battled to foul off two pitches with two strikes on him before lining a single to left to score Mullings.

After twice bunting foul, Lessenberry executed a two-strike sacrifice bunt that moved Holt all the way to third base. Catton was out on a sacrifice bunt with Holt scoring on the throw. Greiner singled to center and scored when Chambers tripled to center. A ground ball single to center by McFarland brought Chambers home. Dupree then reached on an error by the pitcher but Grant fanned to end the inning.

Grant closed the door quickly in the sixth. The first batter lined out to Greiner. The next batter walked on a full-count pitch but Grant got the next batter to ground back to the box and Bryant turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the game and set up their showdown with Benton.

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