MAUMELLE — In a seesaw battle, the Bryant Black Sox Junior American Legion team held off a late rally by the Little Rock Diamondbacks to earn an 8-7 victory on Monday that clinched a bid to the Junior Legion State Tournament.
Bryant advanced to the championship round of the Area I tournament, which will be a rematch with the Diamondbacks after they came back to defeat Fort Smith in the losers’ bracket final, 13-7.
Fort Smith had advanced by eliminating Conway, 16-4.
Bryant and Little Rock will play at 6 p.m. If Bryant wins, the tourney’s over and the Sox will be the top seed from Area I at State. Little Rock must beat them twice to win the Area title.
The Sox spotted the Diamondbacks a 3-0 lead in the top of the first but came from behind with a run in the second and three in the third. That 4-3 lead held until the top of the sixth when Little Rock regained the upper hand with a pair of runs.
But Bryant erupted for four in the home sixth. Little Rock rallied once more, however, and scored twice in the top of the seventh. With the tying run at third, Tyler Bates, on in relief of Will Hathcote, ended the game with a strikeout.
The Sox finished with 11 hits including three by Dakota Clay. Lawson Speer, Ryan Riggs and Blaine Sears each had two. Both of Riggs’ were doubles. Noah Davis drove in a pair.
The first four Diamondbacks of the game singled, resulting in a 2-0 lead. With one out, a grounder to Clay at second allowed the third run to score.
Bryant broke through in the bottom of the second when, with two down, Clay beat out an infield hit, Blaine Sears singled sharply to left and Speer yanked a base hit into left for the RBI.
Hathcote, in the process of retiring seven in a row, kept it 3-1 into the bottom of the third. With one out, Riggs drilled his first double. With Ethan Andrews in to run, Aaron Morgan flew out to left allowing Andrews to tag and take third. Hathcote singled him in.
After Josh Turner walked, Clay cracked an RBI double to tie the game. Sears’ bunt single plated Turner. When Clay tried to sneak home as well, he was thrown out to end the uprising.
Hathcote’s streak ended when he issued a walk to start the fourth. But, after a strikeout, the runner was thrown out trying to steal by Riggs, the Sox’ catcher. A foul pop to J.T. Parker ended the inning.
After setting down five in a row, Hathcote hit a batter to lead off the top of the sixth. A bloop single, a groundout and a double produced the two runs that had the Diamondbacks up 5-4.
The Black Sox’ answering rally began with Clay’s lined single to right. Sears sacrificed him to second then Speer singled to put runners at the corners. A passed ball allowed Clay to score the tying run. Speer advanced to second then stole third as Parker drew a walk.
That brought up Davis, whose single to left was misplayed. Both Speer and Parker scored to make it 7-5. Davis wound up at second and, moments later, raced home on Riggs’ second double.
With an 8-5 lead, Hathcote issued a lead-off walk on a 3-2 pitch in the top of the seventh. Bates relieved and unleashed a wild pitch. But he struck out the next two. A balk, however, sent the runner to third and he scored on a single.
After a stolen base, an infield hit plated the second run. Another balk put the tying run in scoring position. The runner stole third before Bates’ final strikeout.