Sox oust Hot Springs
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
BENTON — Craig Harrison wasn’t sure how his Bryant Bowen-Hefley Black Sox team would respond on Sunday. His players had been through two sweltering mid-afternoon ballgames in the Area 5 District Tournament, winning the first then spending far more time in the sun that they’d have wished as Pine Bluff put together two long seven-run rallies in a demoralizing 16-2 loss for the Sox.
So, Sunday’s late afternoon contest for survival against an improved Hot Springs Boys Club team was no sure thing. Besides that, just six days before, Bryant had visited Hot Springs looking to snap a three-game skid and wound up absorbing a fourth straight loss.
But the Sox did their manager proud, jumping on Hot Springs early and never letting the Clubbers off the mat on the way to a 12-4 victory. The win left Bryant in the final four of the tournament though, coming out of the loser’s bracket, the Sox faced the daunting task of winning two games on Monday to earn a berth in the championship round and, more importantly, a bid to the AAA State Tournament.
“Our game play was to throw strikes, limit the defensive errors and get ahead early,” Harrison related after the game. “And we did all three of those.”
The Sox got a huge game from J.J. Yant who went 4-for-6 with a pair of home runs and seven runs batted in. Brandon Fitts, Kris Kuykendall and Josh Caldwell each contributed two hits as the Sox piled up 13 in all.
Caldwell and Joey Brown handled the strike-throwing task. Caldwell started and, in one of his best stretches of pitching this season, limited Hot Springs to one run on four hits over the first five innings. He ran into some trouble in the sixth and s v Brown came on to get out of the inning. He finished up with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn a save.
As for the errors, the Sox committed just one — an eighth-inning boot on a grounder to short that didn’t amount to anything — one of their best defensive efforts of recent weeks.
As for the early lead, it didn’t take long for Bryant to get on the board. Fitts was hit by a pitch to start the game. Though he was forced out at second on a grounder by Billy Landers, Yant came through with his first homer of the game, a two-run shot to left-center to make it 2-0.
With two down, Kuykendall singled, took second on a passed ball and scored a third run when Anthony Rose drilled a base hit to center.
In the second, the Sox upped the margin to 5-0. With one out, Dustin Morris smacked a low liner to center that Hot Springs’ Wentz Akard couldn’t hang onto. Fitts followed with a double into the gap in left-center. An out later, Yant singled both home.
Bryant made it 8-0 in the fourth when, after Fitts singled and Landers walked, Yant unloaded with a long drive to center for his second homer.
Hot Springs managed its first run in the bottom of the inning when Mitch McCoy walked, Patrick McKeller doubled and Clay Combs drove in the run with a groundout. McKeller reached third on the play then Hot Springs tried to surprise Bryant with a two-out squeeze play. But Caldwell calmly fielded Brock Ferguson’s bunt and threw him out to end the inning.
In the sixth, the Sox tacked on three more runs. Yant started things this time with a looping single to center. Logan Critz reached on an error then Kuykendall tapped back to the mound for a force at third. With two down, Caldwell came through with an RBI double.
A walk to Michael McClellan followed, setting up an two-run single by Dustin Morris that made it 11-1.
Hot Springs avoided a possible run-rule loss with a three-run rally of its own in the bottom of the inning. McCoy walked then McKeller beat out an infield hit with one down. Combs’ double plated a run then pinch-hitter Justin Hawthorne slapped a single through the right side to bring in two.
Brown relieved at that point and issued a walk before retiring the side.
In the seventh, Landers walked, swiped second, took third on a groundout by Critz then scored Bryant’s 12th run on a wild pitch.
Brown, in turn, didn’t allow a hit by Hot Springs until the bottom of the ninth when, with a man on, singles by McCoy and Matt Richardson loaded the bases with two down. But Brown picked McCoy off at second to end the game with McKeller standing at the plate.