By Rob Patrick
SHERIDAN — The Bryant Black Sox rallied from a 6-1 deficit to get even with Jonesboro Fat City Monday night in the[more] semifinals of the Junior American Legion State Tournament. But they couldn’t get the lead. And when Jonesboro eked out a run in the bottom of the sixth, the Sox went down in order in the seventh as their season came to an end with a 7-6 loss.
“We got off to a slow start,” acknowledged Sox manager Jimmy Parker. “But we came back. The guys left everything they had out there. I mean, they played so hard tonight. Everybody. And we were short-handed. All of them came up and they did everything they could. They battled to the last out.
“Sometimes you come up short,” he added. “There’s a lot of reasons for it but at the end of the day, you either win or lose. But this doesn’t define the year that they had. They stuck together and played hard for us.”
Most of the year, the Sox fielded, basically, an A Legion team (16-and-under) including a handful of 15-year-olds. With all the 15’s except shortstop Trevor Ezell playing in the Babe Ruth State Tournament in Crossett, the Sox added 16-year-old Hayden Lessenberry and their only 17, Ozzie Hurt for the State Tournament. With just nine players, they were relegated to the losers bracket with a controversial first-round forfeit but, with 10 players, they battled back to the semifinals and got another shot at Jonesboro, the team they were playing on the first day.
The Black Sox finished the season 19-5-1.
Monday’s game went to the sixth inning tied 6-6. After the Sox went down in order in the top of the inning, a bunt single by Cullan Weaver started Jonesboro’s decisive rally. Kadin Hydrick walked and, after Jarred Fuqua sacrificed them to second and third, an intentional walk was issued to Tyler Eudy to set up a force at any base. Unfortunately for the Sox, Justin Fuqua lifted a sacrifice fly to right to give Fat City the lead.
Bryant got on the board first when Hurt reached on a one-out error in the opening frame, and scored on a two-out single by Cody Gogus.But Jonesboro struck for two in the bottom of the inning. Weaver drew a walk and advanced on a passed ball then a wild pitch.
Sox starter Tyler Green struck out Hydrick but walks to Jarred Fuqua and Eudy loaded the bases. Justin Fuqua delivered a run with a sacrifice fly then the second run scored on an error.
Lessenberry and Blain Jackson each singled in the second but the Sox were unable to tie the game.
Jonesboro added a run in the bottom of the inning. Lucas Johnston reached on an error then Alex Camp was hit by a pitch. But Green fanned Kyle Norris and got Weaver to bounce into a force that retired Camp at second. A base hit by Hydrick drove in the run before Green struck out Jarred Fuqua to end the inning.
Ethan Moore, the Jonesboro pitcher, worked around a two-out single by Gogus in the third and his teammates got him three more runs in the bottom of the inning. Again, an error hurt the Sox allowing Eudy to reach this time. Green retired the next two batters but just couldn’t get that third out. Johnston, Camp and Norris cracked consecutive singles to make it 6-1.
Bryant answered, however, with a four-run fourth to get back into the game. Walks to Lessenberry and Daniel Richards opened the door. Ezell beat out a bunt for a hit to load the bases then Jackson walked to force in a run and Green belted a two-run double to make it 6-4. Hurt singled in a run then Wilson got a bunt down that was misplayed to load the bases with still no one out.
Moore, however, came back to get Gogus and Tryce Schalchlin to pop up on the infield. And when Lessenberry flew out to center, all three runners had been stranded and Jonesboro still held the lead.
Green found his strike in the fourth, though. He retired the side in order then worked around an error in the fifth after the Sox had rallied to tie.
That tying run in the top of the fifth was scored by Ezell, who walked with one out and raced home on a double by Jackson, who got to third with the lead run but no further as Moore induced groundouts by Green and Hurt to keep it tied.
Jackson, however, was the last Bryant base-runner.
Jonesboro, still unbeaten in the tournament, advanced to the championship round where it will have two chances to capture the State title against the survivor of Monday’s other semifinal between Texarkana and Wynne, both teams that Jonesboro has beaten previously in the tourney.