If it was actually foul, it was just barely so.
With the Little League State Tournament championship on the line at Bishop Park Monday night and the Bryant 11-12-year-old All-Stars trailing the White Hall All-Stars 10-8 in the top of the sixth and final inning, the bases were loaded. Clay Crawford had led off the inning with a walk after an 11-pitch battle with White Hall reliever Jace Johnson.
Crawford advanced to second on a passed ball then took third on a wild pitch. With one out, Braxton Speer walked, and Justen Myles was hit by a pitch, loading the bases with one out.
Johnson got a strikeout and it came down to E.J. Keith.
He worked the count to 2-2 then yanked a hot shot down the third-base line and into the leftfield corner. Bryant players were sprinting around the bags and the large crowd of fans was going crazy.
Bryant had definitely tied it and might’ve taken the lead. If it had been a hit.
But the home plate umpire stopped the proceedings, saying the ball was foul.
For it to be his call, it had to be foul before it went over the third-base bag. Otherwise, it was the third-base umpire’s decision.
Bryant manager Michael Catton appealed but to no avail.
When play resumed, Keith took ball three. And, with a full count, he couldn’t connect on a fastball toward the outside of the plate and White Hall celebrated a State championship and a trip to Regionals in Waco, Texas.
The Bryant team, managed by Catton with assistance from Paul Speer and Jeff Jackson, includes JT Allen, Garrison Blacklaw, Reid Catton, Crawford, Avery Heidelberg, Luis Hernandez, Gavin Hill, Landon Jackson, Keith, Myles, Speer, Aiden Stout and Hudson Thomason.
Bryant had forced the “if” game, the winner-take-all final by pounding White Hall 16-6 early on Monday night. But, after a 5-3 loss to White Hall earlier in the tournament, Bryant had to win twice on Monday to take the title.
The Bryant Stars led only briefly in the finale. White Hall broke out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, sparked by a two-out error — Bryant had three in the game; White Hall won despite seven errors.
With Jackson Henderson on base, Christian Carnall walked and, after a passed ball moved both into scoring position, Canon Cope blooped a single to center to drive them home.
Bryant took the lead in the top of the second. Keith and Jackson walked. And, when Thomason got a sacrifice bunt down, White Hall botched it and Bryant had the bases loaded.
Hernandez, in running for Keith, scored on a wild pitch then Reid Catton got a squeeze bunt down that made it 2-2.
Crawford’s grounder was misplayed then Blacklaw scorched a liner to right-center for a two-run triple that gave Bryant a 4-2 lead.
In the home second, however, White Hall got all four runs back. Jimari Douglas singled with one out and Avery Moore reached on an error to bring the top of White Hall’s line-up around.
The top four in that lineup scored eight of their 10 runs in the game and drove in seven, combining on eight hits.
Noah Smith doubled to tie the game. Johnson tripled to put White Hall back ahead, and Henderson made it 6-4 with a sacrifice fly.
Singles by Carnall, Cope and Drew Reece loaded the bases but Crawford relieved Speer, the Bryant starter, and induced a groundout to second to end the uprising.
Smith, the White Hall starter, retired Bryant in order in the top of the third. In the home half, White Hall tacked on three runs. Johnson doubled in a run, Henderson singled to make it 8-4 and, after a Carnall hit, Henderson scored on a wild pitch.
Bryant battled right back. Gavin Hill reached on a miscue and Thomason, re-entering to run for him, advanced to second on a passed ball and third when Smith missed his catcher’s throw back to the mound.
Crawford drew a one-out walk then Blacklaw came through again with a shot to right that drove in Thomason. Crawford came home too when the ball got past the outfielder. Blacklaw wound up at third.
With Johnson in to relieve Smith, Myles cracked a gapper to left-center that he legged out for a triple. With White Hall throwing the ball around, he made a bid to circle the bases but got caught between third and home and was eventually tagged out at the plate.
But Bryant had whittled the lead to 9-7.
And Crawford stopped White Hall in the bottom of the fourth, pitching around a walk and a single. Thomason threw out the lead runner at third when he tried to advance on a ball in the dirt. Crawford then struck out Hayden Cutter to end the inning.
Allen started the fifth with a triple. He scored when Keith’s grounder to second was kicked. But, on a comebacker to the mound, Johnson started a doubleplay.
Hill walked, and Catton made a bid for a hit only to be robbed by Douglas at second.
A single by Smith, a pair of wild pitches and a one-out knock by Henderson made it 10-8 in the bottom of the fifth, setting up Bryant’s excruciatingly close call in the top of the sixth.
Bryant 16, White Hall 6
Bryant never trailed in this one. After being denied in the first inning, they scored in every other one including an eight-run fifth that made it a run-rule win.
Catton had three hits, Speer and Myles two each. White Hall was charged with 11 errors.
In the top of the second, Allen got things started when he made it to first on a third-strike wild pitch. Myles sacrificed him to second and reached when the ball was misplayed. Keith drilled an RBI single to right. Jackson came on to run for Keith and stole second. Thomason squeezed in Jackson and, on a throwing error, added to the traffic on the bases.
He was forced at second on Catton’s grounder to short and, with two out, Blacklaw and Speer drew walks only to be stranded.
Myles pitched around a hit batsman in the bottom of the second and, in turn, Bryant got two more. Jackson beat out an infield hit, Hernandez walked, Hill was plunked by a pitch and Catton doubled to make it 5-0.
A two-run triple by Johnson and an RBI single by Henderson got White Hall on the board in the bottom of the third.
Bryant got those three runs back in the top of the fourth. Speer walked, Stout singled, Jackson was drilled by a pitch and Myles singled in a run. A wild throw allowed Jackson to score then Myles came home on Keith’s grounder to short.
Heidelberg, on in relief of Myles, set down White Hall in the bottom of the fourth despite a lead-off double by Cope. He fanned two.
The game-busting top of the fifth began with a single by Blacklaw and an RBI double from Speer. Stout, bunting to move Speer, had the ball misplayed. Speer scored to make it 10-3.
Myles singled, and Keith reached on an error to load the bases for Hill, who singled in a run. When the throw from the outfield to home plate got away, Myles scored as well.
With two down, Crawford singled to drive in two and, after Blacklaw reached on an error, Speer doubled. Both runners scored as the ball was misplayed in left.
White Hall made a bid to keep the game going in the bottom of the fifth. Henderson tripled in a pair of runs and Cope singled him in but Heidelberg got Reece on a comebacker to preserve the 10-run lead.