In what may have been his final baseball game, Noah “Pooh Bear” Easterling came on in relief in the sixth inning on Monday for the Bryant Black Sox AA American Legion team. He promptly struck out the first five batters he faced then retired Malvern National Bank’s Jordan Hart for the first time all night with a game-ending fly to Noah Record in left.
The Sox earned a 10-5 win in their final tune-up for the AA State Tournament, which begins on Friday at Sheridan. Bryant opens at 2:30 p.m., against a Hot Springs Village team they swept a doubleheader against recently.
Easterling has been with the Legion program for three or four years, mostly pitching but he played a role on the mound and at the plate in the sweep at Hot Springs Village, recently.
Never a front-line player, the right-hander has persevered admirably despite not playing as much but he certainly took advantage of his chance on Monday setting down all three batters in the sixth then fanning the top two in Malvern’s line-up to start the seventh. The count went to 3-2 on Hart, who ripped a pair of lone foul flies before lofting the game-ending pop to left.
The Sox had built the 10-5 lead by then, snapping a 4-4 tie with a run in the third then getting four in the fourth to take control of the game. An insurance run in the fifth didn’t hurt.
The offensive spark for the Sox came from Cade Dupree who wound up catching for the first time in a while. (He threw out three would-be base-stealers along the way.) He went 3 for 4, scored twice and drove in two. Jeffrey Hastings, who started the game on the mound, went 2 for 3 with a walk, three runs and an RBI.
Myers Buck, Kaleb Kling and Kyle Kling each had hits in the game as the Sox took advantage of nine walks, two hit batsmen and four errors by Malvern. Bryant stole nine bases in the game including three by Buck and two each by Hastings and Kaleb Kling.
Drew Brown picked up the win in relief for the Sox. As the third pitcher of the night, Brown fanned two, walked one and allowed a run on one hit over two frames.
Hastings worked around an error and a third-strike wild pitch that had two aboard in the first inning for Malvern. But Buck grabbed a line drive off the bat of Austin Wright and caught the trail runner, Hart roaming too far off second and doubled him up.
The Sox got a pair of runs off Malvern starter Trace Collie in the home first. Hastings walked and advanced to second on a passed ball. He hustled to third on Buck’s groundout. After a walk to Diego Vargas, Brown was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Dupree who came through with a single to right that was misplayed. That allowed Vargas to score behind Hastings.
Malvern picked up its first run in the second. After Kaleb Kling robbed Jace Turner of extra bases on a drive to center, Bryce Freer earned a walk. He stole second then went to third when Drew Golden was robbed of a hit up the middle by Buck.
Hastings came within a strike of getting out of the inning but Colby Bergan blooped a single to center to get the run home.
Parker Freer followed up with a single and Malvern had the top of the order up with Collie stepping to the plate. He hit a drive toward the right-field corner that looked like it had extra bases written all over it. But Shawn Tingley sprinted over and hauled it down to end the inning.
Walks to Tingley and Record started another uprising for Bryant in the home second. It looked like Hastings was hit by a pitch moments later but the umpire ruled that he went around on a swing and a strike was called. Hastings came back to the plate and promptly belted an RBI double to left.
Record tried to score on a wild pitch that bounced right back to the Malvern catcher, Bergan, who tossed to Collie for the tag. With two down, however, Buck and Vargas walked and Hastings scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-1.
Kaleb Kling relieved for Bryant in the third and ran into some trouble. Malvern scored three times but it might’ve been worse without Dupree. Whit Jones led off with a single and Hart was plunked. Jones tried to steal third but Dupree unleashed a perfect throw to Kyle Kling for the out.
Hart followed up, getting to second. Wright then flew to Tingley. Hart stole third but the Sox were a strike away from escaping with no damage before Turner drew a free pass. An infield hit by Bryce Freer drove in a run then two scored when Golden ripped a double to left-center.
With Bergan at the plate, Golden tried to steal third only to have Dupree gun him down to end the inning.
The tie was snapped by the Sox in the third. Dupree ripped a double and scored on Kaleb Kling’s single after Golden had taken over on the bump.
Brown, with the help of a nice play at third by Kyle Kling, held the Bankers in the top of the fourth. He walked Parker Freer but Vargas made a nice play on a grounder by Collie to get a force at second. Collie tried to steal second only to be thrown out by Dupree to, again, end the inning.
Bryant’s game-breaking uprising in the home fourth began with Hastings’ second hit. He stole second then Buck walked. They worked a double steal and when the throw from new catcher Parker Freer sailed, Hastings scored.
Vargas drew a free pass then Brown hit a grounder to second that was booted. Brown soon drew a pick-off throw and got caught in a rundown. As Buck scampered home, Brown appeared to make it to second when Collie, the shortstop, dropped the ball after making a tag. But, not seeing the ball on the ground, Brown started toward the dugout and Collie recovered to tag him out.
Dupree then delivered again, dumping a single inside the left-field line to make it 8-4. A trio of wild pitches followed allowing him to score.
A hit batsman, a stolen base and a wild pitch that Dupree couldn’t find allowed Hart to score Malvern’s final run in t he top of the fifth. Turner singled on a check swing with two down but was stranded when Brown fanned Bryce Freer.
Easterling did the rest for Bryant on the mound. Meanwhile, the Sox tacked on a run when Record was struck by a pitch, took second on a wild delivery, reached third on an infield hit by Buck and scored on Vargas’ groundout to third.