It takes two but Sox earn top seed at 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).
It took longer than they had hoped, but the Bryant Black Sox team nailed down the Area 4 Zone Tournament championship and the league’s top seed at the AAA American Legion State Tournament with a 3-1 win over Pine Bluff Simmons First Bank late Monday, July 24.
The winner-take-all final was forced by Pine Bluff with a 7-5 win earlier in the evening despite the fact that the Bankers were playing without three starters that forced them to use a left-handed third baseman and pitch someone that hadn’t been on the mound all season.
The Sox, 33-4, will begin defense of their State championship on Saturday, July 29, against Mountain Home or Searcy at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. Pine Bluff, 30-9, advances, as well, and will begin play on Sunday, July 30, against Zone 1 champion Fayetteville.
Aaron Davidson, one of six Bryant players chosen by opposing coaches to play in the AAA All-Star game on Friday, July 28, in Fort Smith, went 4-for-5 in the final. Danny Riemenschneider and Justin Wells combined to limit Pine Bluff to just three hits in the victory.
Joining Davidson as an All-Star selection was Devin Hurt, Cory Lambert, Riemenschneider, Wells and Joey Winiecki from Bryant, Matty Johnson, Tye Throneberry, Reese Cross and Sheldon Pratt from Pine Bluff, Brian Clark and Bradley Kissinger from Little Rock Post 1 Red, and Chris Brown and Brandon Welch from Little Rock Post 1 Blue.
In the first game, Pine Bluff beat Bryant for the only time in five games the two teams have played this season. They did it with soft-tossing right-hander Pratt on the mound for the first time this season. And he needed an incredible 171 pitches to beat them, along with a splendid catch in deep right-center by Cross to end the game with the bases loaded.
“Man, it was hard-fought, I’m telling you,” stated Bryant manager Craig Harrison. “The guys were just mentally drained. We were on them about, ‘Compete, compete, compete.’ If we take that kind of effort from that second game to Fort Smith, there’s no doubt in my mind we can get back to where we were the last two years and that’s where we want to be, playing a week from Saturday.”
That’s when the State championship game will be played, Saturday, Aug. 5. It would be the third year in a row the Sox have been there, if they make it.
“The second game was our brand of baseball,” Harrison commented. “I thought Danny did one heck of a job on the mound. He’s got some guts. He’s 150 pounds soaking wet. He went out there and worked. We didn’t hit the baseball very good but their guy (Cross) worked hard too. We scratched away and got a couple of runs. And if we can get to the late innings with the lead — we didn’t want Justin to pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth. He’d been out there for 15 innings already. And Danny was throwing good. He’d set down 13 out of 14, so he was on a roll. But after we got through seven — I went to the mound even (in the seventh) and said, ‘This is going to be it, give it all you’ve got this inning, then we’re going to get you out of there.’ I didn’t want to make a mistake leaving a guy in there too long when I’ve got the best pitcher in our league that hadn’t thrown yet. We gave the ball to Justin and he was Justin and we got the win.”
In his seven innings, Riemenschneider allowed just three hits, walked only two and fanned eight. And two of the batters that had singles were thrown out on the bases. In the third, Riemenschneider picked off Brooks Taylor after his infield hit and, in the seventh, Davidson, the Bryant catcher, threw out Sam Neal when he tried to steal second.
Wells retired all six of the batters he faced including four on strikes.
Pine Bluff’s lone run came in the fourth when Pratt walked, stole second, took third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout.
Bryant had taken the lead with two in the third when Riemenschneider, who had two hits in both games, beat out an infield hit that drew a wild throw to first, allowing him to take second. Cross balked him to third and Davidson sent him home with a single to right.
Davidson took second on Hurt’s bouncer to first then scored on a single to center by Lambert.
The Sox added a valuable insurance run in the top of the seventh when Riemenschneider was hit by a pitch, reached third when Davidson’s bouncer to second was booted and scored on a grounder to short by Hurt.
In the first game, Pine Bluff jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first three innings. Cory DeJarnette tripled in a run in the first, Johnson singled one home in the second and base hits by Trey Austin and Brooks Taylor each accounted for a run in the the third.
The Sox struggled with Pratt’s off-speed pitching though they got runners on the bases in every inning. They just couldn’t connect in the clutch and they looked a little over-anxious.
“Pine Bluff’s a really good team,” stated Harrison. “We had played them three times already including putting a pretty good whipping on them on Saturday. You know, they’ve got a lot of pride and a lot of talent and they weren’t going to come out here and roll over. And that’s good for baseball. You like to see teams compete.
“Pratt hadn’t pitched all year, so we thought we’d run him deep in counts and get him out of the game. He was just laying it in there and mixing it up, wasn’t overpowering, but he competed. He’s a good ballplayer.
“Our guys fought back at the end and showed that we had a little heart,” he noted. “The guy made a real good play in right field or we’re home three hours earlier.”
Pine Bluff made it 6-1 with two more in the fifth as Short, recovering from strep throat, ran out of gas and Tanner Zuber relieved.
Zuber worked three scoreless innings to give his team a chance but the Sox continued to struggle with runners on base. In the eighth, a pair of walks and a single loaded the bases and Riemenschneider was hit by a pitch to force in a run but they stranded three.
In the ninth, Pine Bluff added what proved to be a big run. Dustin Huggins walked but was forced at second on a grounder by Trey Austin. The speedy Austin stole second then third. Zuber got Brooks Taylor to line to second but, with Taylor Simmons at the plate, he unleashed a wild pitch that allowed Austin to score, making it 7-2.
Pratt was working on fumes in the bottom of the ninth and the Sox took advantage. Davidson beat out a single and Lambert stroked a one-out base hit. Travis Queck walked to load the bases and Ryan Wilson bounced into a force at second to plate a run. A walk to Casey Grisham kept the inning going. Joey Winiecki followed with a slow roller on the infield and, on a bang-bang play at first, beat out a hit that sent Lambert home, making it 7-4. Pratt walked Riemenschneider to force in yet another run then faced Wells. The count went to 2-2 before Wells unloaded, sending a drive to right-center that appeared to be destined for the fence and perhaps a game-winner. But Cross sprinted to the ball and reached high to haul it down to the end the game and set up the winner-take-all final.