Black Sox gain a chance to defend defend crown
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).
The Bryant Black Sox earned the right to defend their AAA American Legion State championship by qualifying for the 2006 State tourney with a 13-3 win over Pine Bluff Simmons Bank on Saturday, July 22.
The Sox, who went undefeated in Zone 4 play during the regular-season, had a first-round bye at the league’s post-season tournament, held at Bryant High School Field. On Friday, they defeated Little Rock Blue, 14-4, to advance to the winner’s bracket final against Pine Bluff.
At 32-3 going into Monday’s championship game(s), Bryant will return to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith for State. Two years ago, the Sox made the State finals at UAFS only to lose twice to Fort Smith Kerwins in the championship round to be denied. Last summer in Jonesboro, the Sox beat Kerwins to win it all.
“Step two down, step three to go,” stated Sox manager Craig Harrison. “We didn’t know what to expect this year. We thought we’d have a good team but you want to get to State because that shows you’ve accomplished at least something, especially with the record we’ve got this year, If we would’ve not made it then it would’ve been a disappointment and an under-achievement. But now that pressure is off. Now we can go try to defend our championship. We want to go to Fort Smith and take back what was ours two years ago. That’s our goal.”
The Sox trailed Simmons 3-2 going into the bottom of the fourth when they scored three times without a hit to take the lead for good. With lefty Cory Lambert finding his groove after that, shutting out Pine Bluff over the final three innings, Bryant added two runs in the sixth then made it a run-rule victory with six in the bottom of the seventh of the scheduled nine-inning game.
Defense was a big factor. Pine Bluff suffered five errors to Bryant’s one but, more than that, the Sox made some spectacular plays including a pair by center fielder Joey Winiecki and three or four big-time stretches at first on close plays by 6-4 first sacker Casey Grisham. Shortstop Justin Wells and third baseman Danny Riemenschneider turned in gems as well.
Winiecki also led the offense with three hits, three runs and a pair of runs batted in. Riemenschneider had two hits and two RBI’s and Lambert helped his own cause by driving in three.
Winiecki set the tone in the bottom of the first by not only beating out a bunt for a hit but drawing a wild throw from third baseman Sheldon Pratt that allowed the speedster to sprint all the way to third. Riemenschneider followed with an RBI single and, after moving to second on Wells’ groundout, scored on a sharp single to center by Aaron Davidson to make it 2-0.
“We wanted to get ahead because we feel that we’ve had these guy’s number the last couple of years and, if we could get ahead and put some pressure on them, that we would have an advantage,” Harrison stated. “We wanted to take advantage of the third baseman because he hadn’t played (there) all year and his arm’s not as good. And when Joey gets on, he’s a force. That started us off good.”
Lambert pitched around a pair of singles in the second and Pine Bluff starter Logan Kizer got out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning.
In the third, Simmons’ speedy center fielder Matty Johnson slapped a single to right. Pratt sacrificed him to second and Tye Throneberry doubled him home. With the tying run at second, Cory DeJarnette ripped a shot to left-center that looked like it was headed for the fence only to have Winiecki, after a dead sprint, make a headlong dive to make an eye-popping snag. Throneberry, so sure the ball was going to get through, had taken off for third and wound up being doubled up to end the inning.
“That was probably the best play that I’ve ever seen,” Harrison declared. “I mean that’s a professional play. And it was big because they had scored a run and they had another guy on and we ended up getting the doubleplay.”
Still, Pine Bluff was able to claim the lead with a two-run fourth that could’ve been worse but for another splendid play by Winiecki. Kizer opened the inning with a double. With one out, Dustin Huggins reached on an error as Kizer held at second. Tyler Threlkeld then launched a drive to right-center. Again, Winiecki sprinted to the ball, slid down and, nearly on his back, reached up and snagged it for the out. Kizer tagged on the ball and went to third and, after Huggins stole second, Taylor Simmons bounced a single up the middle, giving Pine Bluff a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the inning, however, the game turned. With one out, Ryan Wilson reached on an error, though he was forced on a grounder by Winiecki for the second out. Winiecki’s speed prevented Pine Bluff from turning an inning-ending doubleplay and it turned out to be huge.
Winiecki stole second then, on a delayed steal, swiped third as well. A wild pitch allowed him to score the tying run. Riemenschneider reached base on another error and he, too, stole second. Wells walked and Davidson was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Devin Hurt and Lambert then waited out RBI walks as Bryant took the lead back for good.
“(Pine Bluff) is a good-hitting team. We made a couple of mistakes on some pitches and they took the lead,” Harrison said. “But we took advantage of their pitcher when he couldn’t find the strike zone. You know, we can stand there with the best of them. But we wanted him to know we were taking because when you lose the zone it’s hard to get it back.”
Brooks Taylor relieved for Simmons and got out of the inning then worked a 1-2-3 fifth but he, too, ran into trouble in the sixth and seventh.
“Taylor’s a good pitcher but they were using him as a closer and once he threw his fastball and his curveball and we saw it once, we took advantage of him,” Harrison commented. Lambert, after giving up an infield hit to Johnson in the fourth, retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced, giving up only a two-out single to Threlkeld in the sixth.
Bryant’s two-run sixth including a double by Wells who moved to third on a grounder to the right side by Davidson, a walk to Hurt and a wild pitch for a run. Hurt then scored from second on a single by Lambert to make it 7-3.
In the seventh, Grisham walked and when Wilson got down a sacrifice bunt, a wild throw put runners at second and third for Winiecki who doubled to chase both home. He swiped third and scored on Riemenschneider’s lined single to center. With one out, Davidson reached on an error and Hurt singled to load the bases. Lambert waited out another RBI walk then Travis Queck brought an end to the game with a two-run single down the right field line.
Bryant 14, LR Blue 4
It was a similar script in the Sox’ win over Blue. The game was tied 4-4 before Bryant erupted for six runs in the sixth and made it a run-rule win with four more in the bottom of the seventh.
Lambert came up big offensively with three hits and five ribbies. Winiecki, Riemenscheider and Wells had two hits each.
Grisham started for the Sox and worked into the sixth, scattering six hits but issuing an uncharacteristic five walks that Blue took advantage of. Tanner Zuber relieved with two out in the sixth and picked up the win with the help of his catcher, Davidson, who ended the sixth by throwing out a would-be base-stealer and erased an error to start the seventh by snuffing out another theft to end the seventh.
The Sox grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first with Winiecki instigating things with a bunt single that drew a wild throw to first. Riemenschneider drove him home with a single to left. Wells singled then, with two down, Lambert drove in his first run with a base hit to center. Queck walked to load the bases and Wells scored when Wilson’s grounder to third was booted.
Blue used a pair of singles to take advantage of a pair of walks and an error to score twice in the third. Cody Hill drove in the run with a two-out single and the second came in on a wild relay to the plate.
Bryant added a run in the fourth when Winiecki walked, stole second, took third on Riemenschneider’s sacrifice and scored on a sacrifice fly by Wells.
A walk, a single and an RBI double by Taylor Brown trimmed a run off the lead in the top of the fifth then, in the sixth, the Little Rock team tied it on an infield hit, a groundout and a two-out single to center by Jamal Jefferson. Zuber relieved and had a 2-1 count on the next batter when Davidson threw out Jefferson trying to steal.
Bryant then broke the game open in the bottom of the sixth and, again, Winiecki set the stage, beating out an infield hit, stealing second and third and scoring on Riemenschneider’s double to deep left. Wells beat out a bunt single then Davidson sacrificed runners to second and third. After Hurt was intentionally walked to load the bases and set up a force at every base, Lambert burned the strategy with a two-run single to right. An errant relay to the plate allowed Hurt to take third and Lambert second. Queck singled in a run then stole second drawing a bad throw that allowed Lambert to score. David Guarno capped the inning with a bloop double to right that chased Queck home, giving Bryant a 10-4 lead.
In the seventh, Wells walked and Davidson doubled. Lambert drove home both with a two-bagger. Queck was hit by a pitch then Wilson bounced to short but an errant throw to second allowed Lambert to score and Queck to reach third. After Guarno was hit by a pitch to load the bases, a wild pitch allowed Queck to score to end the game.