Butler, Garrett, defense highlight Sox’ win at Benton
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
BENTON — Entering this American Legion season, neither Brady Butler nor Caleb Garrett had[more] played baseball since the end of last summer’s Legion campaign.
They missed it.
Butler, after a year in college, and Garrett, after playing soccer instead of baseball his senior year at Bryant High School, returned the diamond this summer for the Bryant Black Sox Senior Legion team, with a little different perspective. They’re enjoying the game, relishing their playing time and, much to the benefit of the Sox, they’re producing.
Now, Butler had returned in hopes of honing his hitting and his outfield skills well enough to get a shot at playing some college ball somewhere. As the season has developed, it may be his pitching that earns him that shot.
On Wednesday, the right-hander improved to 4-0 on the season and, when he allowed a pair of earned runs to Benton McClendon’s, it actually increased his sparkling earned run average to 0.98 from 0.65 coming in. He allowed just four hits in Bryant’s 6-3 win.
“I almost want to call Brady the savior of the season,” stated Darren Hurt, manager of the Sox who are a little strapped for pitching depth. “Without him, I don’t know where we are right now. I mean he gives us great start after great start. At the first of the year, we were limiting him to three or four innings because he was just getting back. Now he’s just a bulldog. He’s up there giving us complete games now. I think this is back-to-back complete games in his starts.”
And Garrett was a big part of the victory, going 3 for 4 with three runs batted in on a pair of clutch hits. In limited opportunities at the plate, Garrett has now improved his batting average to a cool .643 (9 of 14) with as many RBIs as hits.
The Sox were clinging to a 4-3 lead late in the game. In the sixth, they’d loaded the bases with no one out and couldn’t score against Benton’s hard-throwing Coy Fitzhugh. They were in danger of doing the same thing in the seventh. Fitzhugh had walked four in the inning and, though one had been doubled off when a drive to right-center held up for Benton’s Gene Duncan to track down, the bases were juiced again with two out and Garrett coming to the plate.
Fitzhugh’s 115th pitch of the game was ball one to Garrett and Benton manager Brandon Wake brought in lefty Jacob Eaken. Garrett battled to a 3-1 count then sliced a drive down the right-field line for a two-run double that gave Bryant and Butler a much-needed cushion.
“That was a huge hit,” Hurt emphasized. “After the base-running mistakes we’d had — again — and then leaving the bases loaded the inning before and, with two outs, it was just a huge hit.
“I tell you what, he’s just so scrappy,” the manager said of Garrett. “He just finds a way to make things happen.”
Butler then finished in style, striking out Ryne Besancon and Corky Welch then getting Briar Samples on a tap between the mound and first that the Sox pitcher fielded easily and, with a toss to first, ended the game.
It was game two of a seven-games-in-seven-days blitz to end the regular season for the Sox. They improved to 12-5 overall but, more importantly, to 7-1 in Zone 4 games with three more to play. They’re vying to earn the top seed for the league’s post-season tournament, which will determine two representatives for the Senior Legion State tourney.
Bryant will host the Zone tournament at Bryant High School Field starting July 15.
Another factor that added to the value of the victory was the unavailability of key 17-year-olds Jordan Taylor, Josh Pultro, Tyler Nelson and Dylan Cross who are all at the Xtra Innings Classic showcase at Arkansas State University.
If such a thing had occurred last season, Hurt would’ve struggled to field a team but, this season, there’s not only better numbers, it’s talented depth.
“We do have depth,” he acknowledged. “I just wish we had a little more in the pitching staff. But we do have a lot of options in the field. And, with some guys gone today, some guys stepped up. When you can miss four of your better players and still field the lineup we did, you’ve got some pretty good depth.”
Along with Garrett, Landon Pickett continued to scorch the ball, going 3-for-3 with a double and walk.
The Sox also got stellar defense for the most part, particularly in the clutch. After coming up with three doubleplays on Tuesday in their 11-4 win over Little Rock Continental Express, they produced three more — all to end innings — against Benton.
Bryant built a 4-0 lead through three innings with three of those runs scoring on wild pitches from Fitzhugh that catcher Matt Frelin just couldn’t knock down. Two others may have scored but for Frelin’s hustle to get back to the ball and return it to Fitzhugh covering for outs.
In the first, Tyler Brown drew a one-out walk for the Sox and Pickett shot a one-hopper past Besancon at second for a single that sent Brown to third. He scored on the first wild pitch before Fitzhugh worked out of the inning.
In the second, Evan Jobe reached on a chopper that shortstop Tanner Bates couldn’t come up with on a do-or-die charge and a short-hop. Hayden Lessenberry walked bringing up Garrett. On the first pitch, Garrett squared around to bunt and took a strike. Hurt noticed that all of Benton’s infielders were moving on the play, trying to run the “wheel” play and get the lead runner at third on a bunt. Hurt visited with Garrett before the next pitch. And when Fitzhugh’s delivery came, Garrett squared but then pulled the bat back and slapped a liner past Welch who was charging from first. The RBI single gave Bryant a 2-0 lead.
Though Lessenberry, who reached third on the hit, was thrown out trying to score on a pitch to the backstop that ricocheted right back to the hustling Frelin, Garrett, who had stolen second and taken third on the play at the plate, made it home on another wild delivery, making it 3-0.
Brown beat out an infield hit into the hole at short to start the third. Pickett pulled a single into left then Chris Joiner sacrificed them to second and third. Yet another wild pitch allowed Brown to score the Sox’ fourth run.
Meawhile, Butler was facing the minimum through three frames, throwing just 29 pitches. The only base-runner was Jacob Keeney, who led off the second with a single to right. An out later, however, Welch bounced back to Butler who wheeled and fired to shortstop Lucas Castleberry at second to start an inning-ending doubleplay.
Fitzhugh worked around an error and a walk in the fourth then his team got on the board in the home half. Butler issued just two walks in the game but both eventually came home. His first was to Bates to start the fourth. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on a sharp single to center by Duncan. Garrett charged the ball and fired home to keep Bates from scoring but Duncan alertly scooted into second with no one out.
Chase Southworth, who had two of Benton’s four hits, hit a drive that came down just inside the left-field line for a two-run double. Keeney sacrificed Southworth to third and it looked like Benton might get another run closer when Besancon cracked a liner up the middle. But Castleberry, back on the field after getting his throwing hand spiked and cut early in Tuesday’s game, made a lunging stab, righted himself and fired to third to double off Southworth and end the inning.
After Fitzhugh pitched around a lead-off double to Pickett in the fifth, Benton trimmed the lead to 4-3. Samples drew a one-out walk, took second on a wild pitch then stole third. He was going to hold on an infield grounder but when it was misplayed, he came on in.
With Ryan Bewley at first, Butler struck out Frelin and Lessenberry gunned down Bewley trying to steal second, resulting in another inning-ending doubleplay.
The fifth was frustrating for the Sox on offense. Jobe walked, Lessenberry beat out an infield hit on a chopper up the middle then Garrett got a perfect bunt down for a single to load the bases. But Fitzhugh fanned the next two batters and got out of it on a force out at second.
Butler, with some defensive help from second baseman Ozzie Hurt, squelched any momentum McClendon’s gained from that. With one out, Duncan shot a liner to the right side that Hurt dove and caught at ground-level. That proved crucial when Southworth followed with his second hit, a sharp single to center. But Hurt, who had an assist on the first out of the inning as well, fielded Keeney’s tap to the right side and threw to Pickett at first to end the inning.
Walks to Pickett and Joiner had Bryant in position to score in the top of the seventh. Castleberry followed with a drive to right-center that looked like it might fall in. Pickett certainly thought so and took off for third, no double intent on scoring an insurance run. But Duncan ran it down and fired to second for a doubleplay.
The inning continued, however, when Jobe worked a walk then pinch-hitter B.J. Ellis took four pitches for a free pass to fill the bags again as Fitzhugh ran out of gas.
That set the stage for Garrett’s game-breaking double.
Bryant returns to action tonight against Little Rock Post 1 Blue at Central High School’s field. Game time is 7 p.m. The Sox will host a new league rival on Friday. They’ll play a doubleheader against Hope.
BRYANT 6, BENTON McCLENDON’S TV & APPLIANCE 3
Senior American Legion
Black Sox ab r h bi McClendon’s ab r h bi
Mayall, dh 3 0 0 0 Bates, ss 2 1 0 0
Brown, 3b 3 2 1 0 Duncan, cf 3 1 1 0
Pickett, 1b 3 0 3 0 Southworth, 3b 3 0 2 2
Joiner, lf 2 1 0 0 Keeney, rf 2 0 1 0
Castleberry, ss 3 0 0 0 Besancon, 2b 3 0 0 0
Jobe, rf 2 2 1 0 Welch, 1b 3 0 0 0
Lessenberry, c 2 0 1 0 Samples, lf 2 1 0 0
Ellis, ph-c 0 0 0 0 Bewley, dh 2 0 0 0
Garrett, cf 4 1 3 3 Frelin, c 2 0 0 0
Hurt, 2b 3 0 0 0 Fitzhugh, p 0 0 0 0
Butler, p 0 0 0 0 Eaken, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 26 6 9 3 Totals 22 3 4 2
BRYANT 121 000 2 — 6
Benton 000 210 0 — 3
E—Bates, Castleberry. DP—Bryant 3, Benton 2. LOB—Bryant 7, Benton 1. 2B—Southworth, Pickett, Garrett. SB—Garrett 2, Jobe, Joiner. S—Keeney, Joiner.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Butler (W) 7 3 2 4 2 6
Fitzhugh (L) 6.2 6 6 8 9 5
Eaken 0.1 0 0 1 0 0
WP—Fitzhugh 3, Butler 2. PB—Frelin.