AAA Sox avenge loss to Benton, set up showdown
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
The Bryant Black Sox AAA American Legion team put itself in position to play for a share of the Zone 4 regular-season championship with a 10-7 win over rival Benton McClendon’s and avenged one of their two league losses this season.
The win on Tuesday, July 17, improved the Sox to 26-5 overall and 6-2 in the Zone with a non-league game against Cabot on Wednesday, July 18, before a final showdown with first place Pine Bluff Simmons set for Friday, July 20.
Bryant set the tone by amassing seven runs in the first inning off of Benton’s ace Matt Sample, who pitched and hit his team to a 6-2 win at Benton on July 6.
This time, Benton rallied to within 8-6 but a big defensive play by Tyler Sawyer off the mound in the top of the sixth helped maintain the lead and the Sox padded the lead with two runs in the bottom of the inning (with Sawyer contributing a clutch two-out RBI double) to secure the victory.
Ryan Wilson, the Bryant starter, battled without his best stuff and earned his eighth victory in as many decisions with relief help from Sawyer and Aaron Davidson.
“We came out ready to play,” observed Sox manager Craig Harrison. “Our game plan was to make (Sample) throw strikes. We were focused at the plate in the first inning and he got a little out of his game, throwing it around then once he settled in, it was mainly fastballs and we had some good cuts on it.”
Sample hit Joey Winiecki with the first pitch of the bottom of the first. Jack Jackson followed with an attempted sacrifice bunt but the bunt was so good, getting between Sample and first baseman Stuart Snell that he beat it out for a single. Davidson then walked on four straight pitches to load the bases. Devin Hurt earned a walk to force in the first run and Tyler Pickett was hit by a pitch to make it 2-0.
Davidson scored when Jordan Knight bounced into a force at third. Wilson singled to make it 4-0, taking second on a late throw to third. Sawyer, who went 3 for 3 in the game, cracked a two-run double and, an out later, scored on a base hit by Winiecki to make it 7-0.
“We relaxed a little bit and we let them back in the game,” Harrison noted. “We had a couple of defensive plays I thought we should’ve made.”
Benton trimmed two runs off the lead in the second and three more in the third to get within 7-5.
“Ryan wasn’t very sharp and I really challenged him,” Harrison added. “I told him, ‘You’ve been here before. We’ve got to have you now. Bow up in a big game. Don’t pitch timid. And he came out in the fourth and it was boom, boom, boom and kind of settled in. But then, he got tired at the end.
The Sox added a run to the lead in the bottom of the third. Wilson walked, advanced on a passed ball, stole third and, after Sawyer reached on catcher’s interference, scored on a well-placed bunt single by Winiecki to bump the margin back to three.
After Wilson worked the 1-2-3 fourth, a single, a double and a squeeze bunt in the fifth got that run back for Benton, making it 8-6. In the sixth, he retired the first batter but gave up a single to lead-off batter Seth Hobbs and Harrison brought in Sawyer. Tyler Keene greeted the new pitcher with a base hit and, after a force at second, Benton had runners at the corners and clean-up hitter Nick Shoptaw at the plate. He ripped Sawyer’s first pitch on a line back at the pitcher and off his leg. Sawyer somehow got to the ball and made a lunging throw to first before collapsing in pain. Davidson snagged the throw on a hop to retire Shoptaw and get out of the inning.
Sawyer escaped serious injury. The ball hit below the outside of his knee and he was able to continue.
In the bottom of the inning, singles by Hurt and Pickett and a walk to Knight loaded the bases with one out. Wilson delivered a sacrifice fly and Sawyer doubled to left to make it 10-6.
Davidson hit Sample to start the seventh and, after a wild pitch, Dustin Johnson singled in pinch-runner Blake Childress but the next two were retired to close out the win.