Photos by Rick Nation
By Rob Patrick
After a 23-0 start to the season, when the Everett Black Sox of Bryant suffered their first loss to the Little Rock Post 1 Cobras on July 14, the Sox came back the very next day in the Zone 4 Tournament to club the Cobras, 11-3, on the way to winning the District championship.
After adding the Junior American Legion State title with an unbeaten run through the tournament, the Sox played host to the Southwest Regional Tournament and continued their unbeaten run to the championship round where they suffered their second loss of the season, 7-2, to the Texarkana, Texas, Tigers on Tuesday night.
That forced the “if” game, a winner-take-all final, a rematch with the Tigers for all the marbles.
And the Sox responded the same way they had to their first loss, pounding out a 15-3 romp to win the championship in five innings.
They concluded their season with a sparkling 38-2 record.
“No words come to mind,” said first-year manager Tyler Brown. “When you win 30 games in a season, that’s a heck of a year. All the credit goes to these young guys; every bit of it. They battled all year, competed all year. We got into some tough spots and they never quit. Even in that first game we lost, we never quit.”
Brown got his first “Gatorade bath” after that game and said, “It feels good. It’s been a heck of a run.”
Right-hander Harrison Dale won the final, surrendering just four hits, hitting a pair of batters and striking out 11 in just five innings. All three Tigers runs were unearned and came in the third inning after Bryant had taken a 6-0 lead.
“He was saying something to me about the third inning, he was having pain,” Brown revealed. “He strained a lat or something in his back. All that is — it hasn’t nothing to do with your arm, you just have to keep it stretched out and moving around in between innings.
“I went out there, though, to see what was wrong and he had tears in his eyes,” Brown continued. “He’s a competitor, the best competitor on this team. He said he wanted the ball. He said he wanted to finish it. I was ready to pull him. I’m not going to hurt a 17-year-old kid, put his career in jeopardy. But he wanted the ball so I gave him that inning and he came in the dugout and said he wanted to finish it so I gave it to him.”
Indeed, after the visit, which came after a two-run single, Dale struck out the side then fanned the first two of the fourth after the Sox had blown open the game with a six-run uprising.
With his team up 15-3 going into the bottom of the fifth, Dale wound up fanning four batters on the way to closing it out. One of the strikeout victims, Destin Steitler reached on when the third strike was in the dirt and got past catcher Bailey Bowers. A one-out single and a two-out hit batsman loaded the bases before Dale struck out Curt Wells to end the game.
“There’s a lot I can say about that kid,” Brown said of Dale. “He’s like a brother to me. He’s the leader of this team. He’s the vocal leader of this team. He gave me everything he had.”
Offensively, Bowers, who came in with just one hit in his last 15 at bats, broke out with a 3-for-3 day at the plate. He drove in five runs. Dalton Holt added three hits and Jordan Gentry went 2 for 3 with three RBIs.
“This is a deep team,” Brown asserted. “Everybody can play. It doesn’t matter who we throw out there. Everybody can play. And we play together as a group, as a team.
“Jordan Gentry had a heck of a day,” he acknowledged. “He had a heck of a game last night (in a run-rule win over Jacksonville).
“And Bowers broke out,” he added. “It was his best game of the year. He’s been real solid behind the dish all year. Hitting-wise, he’s struggled a little bit but he’s a competitor. He went into the game with a good attitude and he knew, ‘I need to do what I can behind that dish and at the dish, when I get there, to help this team win.’ And that’s what he did.”
In the first game, Jake McDonald shackled the Sox on four hits, allowing a run in the second and another in the seventh. The Texarkana right-hander got out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth unscathed and only allowed one run when the Sox filled the sacks again in the seventh.
The Tigers used eight walks with five hits to get their seven runs, scoring three in the first, three in the fifth and an insurance run in the sixth.
“We didn’t have the same energy level as we had, the same intensity in warm-ups,” Brown commented. “In my pre-game speech (before the first game on Tuesday) when we met down the line like we always do, I told them, ‘If you don’t have any energy or any intensity, we’re about to get beat. And it will not be close.’ And that’s what happened.
“We didn’t turn on the intensity until about the fifth inning,” he recalled. “We started getting some base-runners and we scratched a couple of runs but, in the end, it wasn’t good enough.
“The second game, I told them, ‘Hey, this is our last game together as a group. Some of y’all might not be on the same team together after this. You’ve got to take this opportunity, on our home field and in front of our own fans, to go win a Regional championship.’ I told them, ‘You don’t get that opportunity very much, you know?’ Because we were very fortunate to host the Regionals and we got to win this in front of our fans and on our field.’
“The intensity from before the first pitch on was great that second game,” Brown stated. “We came out and got the ‘W’.”
Bryant 15, Texarkana, Texas 3
The Sox struck for five runs on seven hits in the first inning. In fact, their first two outs came on the base-paths as they aggressively attacked the game.
Drew Tipton beat out an infield hit to start the game and, after moving up on a wild pitch, he tried to score on Holt’s shot to center for a single. Thinking the speedy Tipton would try to score on the play, Holt rounded first and headed to second as the Texarkana cut-off man caught the ball. He got Holt in a rundown and, after a slight hesitation, Tipton, who had stopped at third, broke for the plate. Tigers second baseman Lavert Paxton pulled up and fired home in time for the first out.
But the Sox didn’t let that take the air out of the inning. Evan Lee came through with a single up the middle to get things rolling again. Holt scored on the play.
Lee stole second and Blake Patterson singled him to third. Hunter Oglesby was hit by a pitch to load the bases and the Texarkana manager changed pitchers, hoping to stem the tide. Kemon Freeman took over for starter Kyrian Williams but the Sox kept hitting. Connor Tatum beat out an infield hit, driving in Lee. Tipton tried to sneak home as well but was thrown out.
Gentry continued the onslaught with an RBI single to center. He stole second and Bowers whacked a 1-1 pitch into left for a two-run single, capping off the inning.
Dale worked around a two-out single in the first and a one-out double in the second to keep it 5-0.
In the top of the third, Tatum walked and took second on a wild pitch. Gentry grounded out with Tatum picking up third. He would score on another wild pitch to make it 6-0.
Texarkana’s third began with Freeman getting hit by a pitch. Paxton got a bunt down but reached when the throw to first was wide. Holt came off the bag to make the catch but when he tried to tag Paxton, the ball got away and Freeman reached third.
Eron Sonson followed with a roller that Dale fielded. When he looked Freeman back to third, he noticed the base-runner had broken from the bag. Dale started a run down but an error along the way allowed Freeman to score. Sonson, who took second on the play, raced home behind Paxton when Alex Kugler sliced a single to center.
That’s when Brown came out to visit with Dale and the hurler went on his strikeout spree.
And Bryant responded to the lead being cut to 6-3 with a big fourth against Taylor Kidd, the third Tigers pitcher. It started with a break. Holt hit a high fly that appeared to be right in Paxton’s sites near second. But McDonald, the shortstop, roamed over to call the ball. Paxton gave way and McDonald dropped it.
Lee drew a walk then Patterson sacrificed runners to second and third. Oglesby was plunked again to fill the sacks for Tatum, who hit a chopper that Kidd bounced off the mound to get to with a reach. He tried to throw home for the force out but Holt slid in ahead of the throw to make it 7-3.
Gentry followed that up with a shot to center for a two-run single. After Gentry stole second, Tatum scored on a wild pitch as Bowers walked. On a 2-0 pitch, Warner got a bunt down. Kidd fielded it and checked on Gentry then threw to first as Bowers headed to second. As soon as the throw went to first, Gentry broke for the plate and slid in ahead of the relay home by Tigers’ first baseman Braydon Ward.
With two down and the lead up to 11-3, Tipton was hit by a pitch and Holt yanked an RBI single to left.
In the fifth, the Sox just wanted to make sure they got one so they’d be in position for the run-rule win. But it looked like it might not get done after Nick Rose, the fourth Texarkana pitcher, retired the first two batters. But a walk to Oglesby kept the inning alive.
And when he stole second, drawing a wild throw that allowed him to go to third, the Sox were in position to get that done. Tatum drew a walk then so did Gentry, loading the sacks for Bowers. On a 1-0 pitch, Bowers plugged the gap in right center. With two out, everyone was running and all three scored, making it 15-3.
Texarkana, Texas 7, Bryant 2
The tone was set for this one in the first when Tipton opened the game with a shot to right-center for a double and when Holt hit a laser to Paxton at second, Tipton couldn’t get back to second in time, resulting in a doubleplay.
In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers used one hit to take advantage of an error and four walks to push out to a 3-0 lead.
The Sox answered with a run in the second when Patterson singled and took second when the ball was kicked around in left. A wild pitch got him to third then, with one out, Tatum picked up the RBI with a grounder to second.
Paxton misplayed the ball and Dale sacrificed Tatum to second but McDonald got off the hook.
“McDonald was good,” Brown said. “Credit to him. He kept us off balance. He had a good fastball and he was mixing it with a curveball he was throwing pretty well.
“We didn’t have a very good approach going in,” he explained. “He threw a lot of strikes and we had a couple of base-running errors early. If we could’ve scratched in that first inning — I think that was the difference in the game, our base-running early on and our approach at the plate.”
McDonald stopped the Sox without a hit over the next three-plus innings.
Lee, who started for the Sox on the mound, found his groove after the rough opening inning. He retired eight in a row, gave up a pair of walks then struck out three straight. He finished with six punch-outs.
But he ran into more trouble again the fifth. A couple of one-out walks and a single by Wells set the table for McDonald’s three-run double, which made it 6-1.
Holt was hit by a pitch with one out in the top of the sixth. Lee cracked a drive off the base of the right-field fence for a double then Patterson walked to load the bases. But McDonald wriggled off the hook with the score unchanged.
Bowers had come in to end the fifth with a strikeout. In the sixth, Oglesby took over on the mound and Texarkana added an unearned run on an error followed by a two-out RBI double from Kugler.
Bryant didn’t go quietly. Trey Breeding and Gentry earned walks with one out. After Tipton grounded into a force at second, Holt singled in Breeding. A balk put runners at second and third but McDonald got Lee to ground to first to end the game.