By Rob Patrick
CONWAY — A three-game losing streak is no fun but, in Bryant, it’s[more] nothing that causes panic or despair. After all, in the high school team’s run to a State championship in 2010, they suffered through a streak of something like eight losses in nine games. The mindset has developed that, until the last out is made in a season, there’s always time to turn things around, string some wins together and achieve glory.
The players on the 2011 Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team were part of that State title run so, though they may be frustrated, they know that one win can lead to 10.
Their skid was extended to three on Thursday night at the University of Central Arkansas’ Bears Stadium where they met the perennial Legion power, Fort Smith Kerwins and suffered a 7-3 setback. Of course, no one had forgotten the last time a Bryant team took the field at UCA. They were playing for their second straight State high school title only to be thumped by rival Conway.
This time, the Sox ran into another tough pitcher, hard-throwing right-hander Blake Brodie, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith. Hitting in some bad luck, the Sox managed just four hits against him in his seven innings of work in the nine-inning game. They did, however, wait out six walks. In those seven innings, Brodie threw 121 pitches.
“I thought he was coming out in the fourth or fifth,” mentioned Bryant manager Darren Hurt. “We kept plugging along and I thought, well, we’re going to get on him if they keep him in there.”
The slumping Sox finished with seven hits, giving them six runs on 20 hits over the three losses. Interestingly enough, 17 of those 20 have been singles; the other three have been doubles, doubles that drove in five of the six runs — a two-run double by B.J. Ellis in a 4-2 loss to Sheridan; an RBI double by Tyler Nelson in a 6-1 loss to Pine Bluff Simmons; and a two-run double by Landon Pickett on Thursday.
“That’s all they’re talking about, ‘We’re not getting any breaks, we’re hitting it right at ‘em’,” Hurt said of his players. “Well, okay, part of that’s true but we’re going to have to make our own breaks. We’ve got to do something to change this thing up. We’ve got to get our bunts down. We’ve got to start scratching runs across.
“We’re staying positive,” he noted. “I don’t think it’s a lack of effort. Once we get out of it, I think we’ll go on a big run and win some ballgames.”
The Sox are tentatively scheduled to play next Tuesday at Little Rock Continental Express then head to Omaha, Neb., for a tournament that coincides with the College World Series there. Hurt mentioned that he was trying to reschedule Tuesday’s game to make it a little more leisurely trip to Omaha, perhaps with a stop in Kansas City to see a Royals game.
In Kerwins, the team took on another regional squad that included players from Greenwood and Fort Smith but also Sallisaw, Heavener and Muldrow, Okla. Along with Brodie, lead-off man Chance Scamardo is playing in college. He’s at Carl Albert Junior College.
Pickett started on the mound for the Sox and it took him a couple of batters to get on track. In fact, his first two deliveries hit Kerwins’ first two batters, Scamardo and D.J. Turner. But his fourth pitch induced a grounder to short where Jordan Taylor started the first of the Black Sox’ three doubleplays.
Taylor, incidentally, was playing on the field that he has verbally committed to call home after next season.
Brodie pitched around a two-out walk to Taylor in the bottom of the first and his teammates established a 2-0 lead in the top of the second on doubles by Koda Glover and Mike Whilhelm, which sandwiched a sacrifice fly from Seth Mobely and a walk to Colton Spencer. A wild pitch allowed Spencer to score the second run but a sparkling play at third by Tyler Brown prevented a third run from scoring. He charged in and short-hopped a chopper by Scamardo and threw just in time for the third out.
The Sox continued to struggle to get anything going offensively before two were out. In the second, there were two away when Chris Joiner walked and Josh Pultro singled. Both were stranded.
A double by D.J. Turner, a sacrifice by Matt Turner and an errant pickoff throw in the top of the third extended Fort Smith’s lead to 3-0.
But the Sox broke through in the third. It might’ve been a bigger inning but, after a lead-off walk to Ozzie Hurt, Kerwins turned the first of its three twin-killings. It was an unusual one. Brown had squared to bunt but popped the ball up. Brodie went to catch it but wound up dropping (on purpose?). With Hurt holding close to first, the Kerwins’ pitcher was able to throw to second for a force and a relay to first completed the play.
“That was a huge doubleplay,” Darren Hurt noted. “If we bunt the runner over, we’ve got J.T. and Hunter coming up behind.”
As it was, the second of three walks to Taylor followed and Hunter Mayall bounced a single up the middle. Pickett smashed a deep shot to left-center for the double that made it 3-2.
Brodie, however, preserved the lead with a strikeout and Kerwins tacked on another tally in the fourth. Glover walked and, after he was forced at second, Colton Spencer and Whilhelm singled to chase him home. A base hit by Scamardo loaded the bases but the Sox turned another doubleplay to keep it 4-2.
Brodie worked around a lead-off walk to Joiner in the fourth and, in the fifth, Kerwins increased the advantage again. Matt Turner walked and, an out later, Nich Walker singled him to third. And when the late throw went through to third, Walker made it to second, setting the table for Glover who singled both runners in.
Brady Butler relieved for Bryant and induced a doubleplay ball to end the inning.
Trailing 6-2, the Sox made a bid to rally in the bottom of the fifth when, with one out, Taylor walked again and Mayall’s fly to shallow left was dropped. Pickett worked the count to 2-1 then smacked a hot liner that D.J. Turner, the Kerwins shortstop, snapped out of the air with a dive to his right. A throw to second completed an inning-ending doubleplay that took some starch out of the Sox.
“My goodness, that ball gets through and that’s one run minimum and I’m not so sure that he didn’t hit it so hard that it doesn’t go all the way to the wall and we score two, plus we’re still alive in the inning,” Hurt noted. “But it ends up doubling us up and we’re out of the inning.”
Brodie closed his time on the mound by retiring seven of the last eight batters he faced. In turn, Brady got some help from catcher Hayden Lessenberry and second baseman Ozzie Hurt. In the top of the sixth, Whilhelm walked but was thrown out trying to steal second by Lessenberry. Scamardo walked and the same thing happened to him as Hurt did a nice job of getting the tag on Scamardo when he slid past the base.
Meanwhile, Kerwins added a run in the top of the seventh. Matt Turner walked, took second on a tap back to the mound — one of three times clean-up hitter Jon Benson did that — and scored on a single by Walker.
Butler settled in after that and retired the last seven batters he faced. And, at the plate, he made a bid to tighten the game. In the home eighth against reliever Bailey Nash, Mayall and Pickett had singled. Butler blasted a 2-2 pitch to deep left-center that Scamardo caught just in front of the 370-foot sign. It went as a sacrifice fly as Mayall tagged and scored but it was almost a lot more.
“He just missed that ball,” Hurt acknowledged. “If it gets out or against the wall — but he just got under it, just a hair.”
Nash forced the Sox to strand Caleb Garrett, running for Pickett, at second. In the ninth, Dawson Floyd relieved and again the Sox made a bid to rally. With one out, Ozzie Hurt singled and Brown walked. But Nash got Taylor to bounce to short and the resulting doubleplay ended the game.
FORT SMITH KERWINS 7, BRYANT 2
Senior American Legion
Kerwins ab r h bi Black Sox ab r h bi
Scamardo, lf 3 0 1 0 Nelson, 2b 1 0 0 0
D.Turner, ss 4 1 1 0 Hurt, 2b 2 0 1 0
M.Turner, 3b 2 2 0 0 Taylor, ss 2 1 0 0
Benson, 1b 5 0 0 0 Mayall, 1b-lf 4 2 2 0
Walker, dh 4 1 2 1 Pickett, p-1b 4 0 2 2
Glover, rf 3 1 2 2 Garrett, pr-cf 0 0 0 0
Mobley, c 3 1 0 1 Castleberry, rf 2 0 0 0
Spencer, 2b 3 1 1 0 Butler, p 1 0 0 1
Whilhelm, cf 3 0 2 1 Joiner, lf-cf 2 0 0 0
Brodie, p 0 0 0 0 Pultro, cf-rf 3 0 1 0
Nash, p 0 0 0 0 Ellis, c 2 0 0 0
Floyd, p 0 0 0 0 Lessenberry, c 2 0 0 0
Totals 30 7 9 5 Totals 30 3 7 3
FS Kerwins 021 120 100 — 7
BRYANT 002 000 010 — 3
E—Scamardo, Pickett 2. DP—Fort Smith 3, Bryant 3. LOB—Fort Smith 6, Bryant 9. 2B—Glover, Whilhelm, D.Turner, Pickett. S—M.Turner, Pultro. SF—Butler.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Fort Smith Kerwins
Brodie (W) 7 2 2 4 6 4
Nash 1 1 1 2 0 0
Floyd 1 0 0 1 1 0
Pickett (L) 4.1 6 5 8 3 1
Butler 4.2 1 1 1 3 1
HBP—Scamardo, D.Turner (by Pickett). WP—Pickett 2.