Sox earn return to AAA State
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
LITTLE ROCK — After reaching the finals of the American Legion AAA State Tournament last year and losing twice to wind up a bittersweet runner-up, the Bryant Black Sox weren’t whooping it up after they captured the Area IV District Tournament championship on Sunday, July 24. You see, it was only another step, a means to another end, on their quest to get back to the title game and, this time, win it.
The Sox won the District crown with an 8-5 win over Pine Bluff Simmons First National Bank, the only team which had defeated them in league play during the regular season. Pine Bluff had just clinched the league’s second State tourney bid with a 12-2 win over Little Rock Post 1 Red in the losers bracket finals after losing to the Black Sox in the winners bracket finals (for the first State bid) on Saturday, 5-2.
The Sox, who had received a first-round bye by virtue of their regular-season title, out-slugged Texarkana 15-6 in their first game on Friday.
The results leave the Sox 31-6 going into State, which will be held at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. They were set to open State play against the Fayetteville Lindsey & Associates Dodgers on Saturday, July 30, at 4 p.m.
“A lot of years, we have celebrated winning the district and making it to the State,” acknowledged Craig Harrison, who coaches the Bryant team along with younger brother Tic. “It really is a big accomplishment, since only two teams make it out of the entire south Arkansas, including all of Little Rock. But this group wants more and so do Tic and I, and so do our supporters, so we treated it as almost another game, with the real goal next week.
It will be tough but this is a gutsy group and they want to prove themselves,” he added. “I know we are going to give it all we have and that’s all we can ask of ourselves.”
At the District, the Sox (and all the teams) had to endure searing heat, and playing on the artificial turf at UALR’s Curran-Conway/Gary Hogan Field only made it worse.
“I was really glad we closed out the regular season with the No. 1 seed, because the bye meant a lot,” Harrison noted.
Bryant 8, Pine Bluff 5
Thanks to a gutsy performance in relief by right-hander Danny Riemenschneider, who’s been battling tendonitis, and a tension-relieving solo home run in the top of the ninth by Casey Grisham, the Sox held on for a win that prevented them from having to play Pine Bluff in a winner-take-all final on Monday.
Riemenschneider, who has pitched sparingly this summer because of his arm ailment, entered the game in the seventh inning after Simmons had whittled the Sox’ 7-0 lead down to 7-5 and had the tying runs on base with no one out.
His first pitch induced a grounder to Zack Young at third who started a doubleplay. With a runner still at second, Riemenschneider struck out the next batter, Sam Neal, but the pitch got past catcher Aaron Davidson, putting runners at the corners.
Unfazed, Riemenschneider struck out Tyler Threlkeld to end the inning.
Billy Ryan Smith opened the Pine Bluff eighth with a single but then Riemenschneider retired the next six batters to end the game.
Grisham’s shot with two out in the top of the ninth turned the two-run lead into a three-run margin for Riemenschneider to work with.
Pine Bluff’s comeback was fueled by a number of factors. The Bankers, having won their way into the State Tournament that afternoon with a 12-2 win over Little Rock Red in the heat, sat down starters Nick Makris, Sheldon Pratt, Tye Throneberry, Logan Kizer and Zac Varnell to start the game against Bryant. And when the Sox eased to a 7-0 lead against the pitcher, Justin Webb, who had finished the game against Red and soft-tossing reliever Bill Smith, the Bryant players obviously lost a little intensity.
Bryant scored initially in the third inning when Todd Bryan singled and, with the hit and run on, Riemenschneider looped a base hit to center. With one out, Bryan raced home on Zack Young’s bouncer to short.
In the fourth, Smith relieved for Pine Bluff and was greeted with singles by Wells and Richie Wood (who went 4-for-5 in the game). Grisham doubled home a run and, with two outs, Riemenschneider singled in a pair to make it 4-0.
In the fifth, Smith hit Daniel Price with a pitch, Wood singled and Grisham was hit by a pitch to load the bags. Travis Queck hit a grounder and Pine Bluff tried to get a force but all hands were safe as Price scored. Bryan then capped the inning with a two-run double, making it 7-0.
Wells, the Bryant starter, was meanwhile mowing down the Bankers with ease (13 of the first 14) but, after playing every inning of Bryant’s previous two afternoon games at shortstop in the tourney, Wells began to wear down in the heat.
In the fifth, an infield hit, a hit batsman and an RBI single by Billy Ryan Smith got Pine Bluff on the board. Wells hit Ben Fox and the bases were loaded but he got Brooks Taylor to bounce back to the mound and Wells started an inning-ending 1-2-3 doubleplay to keep it 7-1.
In the sixth, however, a one-out double by Clayton Dill was followed by a pinch-hit single by Throneberry that was booted in the outfield, making it 7-2.
After a visit from Harrison, Wells struck out Cory DeJarnette and the count went full to Neal before he slapped an RBI single to left.
Cory Lambert relieved but struggled with his command. A single, a walk and a hit batsman forced in another run to make it 7-4 before he could get the last out on a hard-hit ball up the middle that Wells flagged down.
“Like on Saturday, I was undecided on the pitching rotation,” Harrison said. “Even though the game was at 6, it was still going to be hot. I decided to throw Justin, let Casey play first, and have Cory rest to throw in relief, similar to Friday and Saturday’s game plan. We took control early, and Wells was throwing it by them which allowed us to grab the 7-0 lead. But he got tired and couldn’t find the off-speed pitch, and Pine Bluff didn’t quit.
“We got a big 1-2-3 doubleplay in the fifth to get out of a jam, and I tried to get one more out of Justin,” he continued.
“I went to the mound with Dejarnette up, and told him it was his last hitter and we would bring Cory in to face the lefty Neal. He got Dejarnette, and I let him continue against Neal, who eventually got the hit to left to make it 7-3. Lambert came in and was a little unsettled, but Wells made a fine play up the middle to keep it 7-4.”
The first three Lambert faced in the seventh reached base and Harrison called on Riemenschneider.
“I was hoping Lambert could finish, or get us to the ninth for James (Leigh, who said he had one inning after finishing Saturday’s game), but Pine Bluff kept the heat on the next inning,” Harrison explained. “Cory has done a fine job this summer — his last start was a 2-1 complete game win over Sylvan Hills — but he’s better as a starter. I didn’t want to use Aaron (Davidson) since he had caught six innings, and Grisham couldn’t go (after 3 2/3 innings on Friday).
“That’s when Remy stepped up. He said he felt good. I had asked him in pregame and he said he had two or three innings, so I wrote him on the dugout card right before the game as a possibility if needed. Plus he looked good over at Stuttgart last Saturday (in the AA District tourney). So we went to him pretty fast in the seventh and he immediately got the double play that turned the game back around. Then he took control the last two innings and looked great doing so — really good velocity and a sharp breaker.”
Bryant 5, Pine Bluff Simmons 2
After Pine Bluff had run-ruled its first two opponents, the Sox tandem of Bryan and Leigh held them down to two runs on just six hits in nine innings.
Bryan battled the heat for six innings, striking out eight and walking four. Pine Bluff managed a run in the second when Drew Tanner singled, DeJarnette and Kizer walked and Fox lifted a sacrifice fly to right.
It was 1-0 until the fifth when Pine Bluff added another run. Kizer and Fox singled but Bryant got a force at third on Billy Ryan Smith’s bunt. With two out, however, Makris walked and a wild pitch allowed a run to score before Bryan struck out Zack Hale to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the Sox were shackled by Taylor, a pitcher they hadn’t seen before. Through five, Taylor had them shut out on just two hits. In the sixth, however, Riemenschneider opened with a single. He was forced at second on a grounder to third by Davidson but with Young at the plate, Harrison put on the hit and run. When Young bounced back to the mound, Davidson was able to advance to second. A wild pitch allowed him to take third and he scored when Price’s grounder to second drew a bad throw to first. Wells then chased home Price with a triple. Though he was tagged out after sliding past the bag at third, the game was tied.
“I was hoping for a cloud or two to hold down the heat, but no luck,” Harrison commented. “I expected to see (Pine Bluff aces (Zack) Hale or (Clayton) Dill but they started a guy that we had no book on. He was keeping us off balance early. Todd was throwing well. I thought he had good velocity and his breaking pitch was sharp. He kept us in the game with his pitching.
“In the sixth and down 2-0, we decided to hit and run with Aaron at first and Young at the plate, even though we were down two with one out,” he explained. “We wanted to put some pressure on Taylor. Price really battled in his at bat — down 0-2 and fouling off a couple and then legged it out with the grounder up the middle. He hurt his leg trying to stretch for the base, and Tic gave me the sign to take it easy with him on the bases. The next pitch, Justin drives the ball into the left center field gap, and I knew I had to try and tie the game with two outs. Fortunately, Makris’ (relay) throw was high and Price made it.
“We felt good at this point, tie game with three innings to go, and James was fresh. We sent Todd back out, but he had already done his job.”
Bryan issued a lead-off walk in the seventh and Leigh came on to relieve. He struck out Fox then got Smith to ground into a doubleplay.
“The two-ball was really big,” Harrison emphasized.
And the Sox took the lead in the bottom of the inning. Lambert walked and Wood bunted him to second. Queck then came through with a clutch RBI double to chase Taylor.
DeJarnette relieved and unleashed a pair of wild pitches as Queck advanced, just beating the tag at the plate on the second one which Fox hustled after.
“Richie executed perfectly and Queck got the big hit,” Harrison noted. “He’s really done well for us this year. I’m so glad he played this summer. His hustle gave us the big insurance run, and then James closed them out.”
Leigh worked around a bad-hop single in the top of the eighth then got a lift from Price, who slugged a solo homer with two out in the bottom of the inning.
Pine Bluff went 1-2-3 in the ninth as the Sox clinched a trip to State.
“Good come from behind win,” Harrison noted. “Our players really showed a lot of heart during the middle and last part of the game.”
Bryant 15, Texarkana 6
In a rematch of the 2004 District finalists and Area representatives to State, Bryant pounded out 19 hits including four each by Davidson and Wells. Davidson drove in four runs including two on an eighth-inning home run — the first of the tourney and only one of five (three by Bryant) during the entire event — that capped off Bryant’s scoring barrage.
Young added three hits while Bryan and Price had two each as all nine Bryant starters hit safely.
Price started for the Sox and struggled through the middle innings, leaving the game with his team up just 8-6 with one out and the potential tying run at the plate in the top of the sixth. Grisham relieved, however, and shut down the Razorbacks on just four hits the rest of the way to pick up the save.
“We said in practice last week we wanted to get ahead early, throw strikes and play defense, and have a fresh closer at the end of the game with a lead,” Harrison related.
“We took control in the first by coming out aggressive with the bats and on the bases. With the lead, we asked Daniel to throw strikes and try to have some quick innings, because it was really unbearable on the field. He got a few pitches up and we kicked it around a little and let them back in it twice at 5-4 and 8-6, but the hitters kept the pressure on, and Casey was outstanding over the last 3 2/3. He’s really throwing the ball well for us in relief right now.”
In 17 2/3 innings this summer, Grisham has a team-high three saves and has allowed just one earned run (an ERA of 0.40).
Bryant scored four runs in the first. With one out, Riemenschneider walked and scored on a long double by Davidson. Young singled but Davidson was thrown out at the plate. A walk to Price and a single by Wells loaded the bases, however, and Lambert was hit by a pitch to make it 2-0 before Wood smacked a 1-2 pitch for a two-run single.
In the third, Price and Wells singled. Price was forced at third on a bunt back to the mound by Lambert. Wood then grounded into a force, drawing a wild relay throw to first in a failed attempt for a doubleplay and Wells scored to make it 5-0.
Texarkana, which stranded six runners in the first three innings, took advantage of a Bryant error and a walk to plate three runs in the fourth. An error and a triple with two down cut the lead to 5-4 in the top of the fifth.
But Bryant countered with a three-run home fifth.
Young doubled, Price singled and Wells knocked in the first run with a base hit. With two down, walks to Queck and Bryan forced in a run and, after a pitching change, Riemenschneider was hit by a pitch to bring in another tally.
In the top of the sixth, three hits and an error had the lead to 8-6 with a runner at first when Grisham came on in relief of Price. After he got out of the inning, Bryant added a run in the bottom of the frame. Young singled, swiped second, went to third on Wells’ fourth hit and scored when Lambert was robbed of a hit by Texarkana pitcher Brett Hughes.
In the seventh, singles by Bryan, Riemenschneider and Davidson produced a run. A balk allowed a second to score, making it 11-6.
Lambert and Queck belted doubles to make it 12-6 in the eighth. Queck scored when Riemenschneider reached on an error and Davidson blasted his homer to set the final score.