Bryant rally knocks off Mountain Home
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
FORT SMITH — Shakespeare wrote: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and, as was often the case, he elegantly stated the truth.
But he might well have also written, “When thou dost get the big guy down, ye best put him away.” (Or something to that effect.)
The defending AAA American Legion State champion Bryant Black Sox appeared to be feeling the unease related to their crown when they opened defense of their title at Crowder Field on the campus of the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith on Saturday, July 29. And Mountain Home Locker Room was primed to take advantage.
Taking advantage of an injury to Bryant’s starting pitcher Casey Grisham and a whopping seven Sox errors in the first six innings, Mountain Home built a 10-3 lead and appeared to be on its way to a first-round upset of the top-ranked team. But the seven-run lead wouldn’t be enough. Bryant rallied for a stunning 11-10 victory, scoring six times in the bottom of the eighth to take the lead with closer Justin Wells picking up his ninth save of the season with a scoreless top of the ninth. The Sox improved to 34-4 with a date in the second round against Maumelle, a 20-0 winner over Van Buren in the first round.
“I mean, it looked bleak, I’m telling you,” admitted Bryant manager Craig Harrison. “If it could go wrong, it went wrong. Defensively, we were doing things we haven’t done all year, not making plays. We’re trying to get a run here or there and the (batted) ball hits a guy running from second to third, our line drives are right at them.”
“But they don’t quit,” he added. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know what just happened. All I know is it says Bryant 11, Mountain Home 10 and we’re going to play on Monday.
“It was down just a little bit,” said Wells of the mood in the dugout when the Sox were behind. “But this team has the most heart of any team I’ve ever played on. We were just trying to scratch out a couple here, a couple there so we could stay within distance come the ninth inning but we actually got it done in the eighth so everybody was happy.”
“They kept themselves in it,” Harrison said of his players.
The Sox decided to make Mountain Home pitcher Anthony Gower work in the 100-degree heat. When the two teams played in Mountain Home’s Twin Lakes Classic earlier this season, Harrison noted that the Locker Room coaches had stayed with their starting pitcher as long as they could. It cost them that game too as the Sox rallied for a 6-4 win. This time, Gower wound up throwing 150 pitches.
“We started looking at a lot more pitches, trying to make him work, trying to get him out of there,” acknowledged Sox second baseman Devin Hurt, who had three hits in the game including a key two-run bad-hop single in the tell-tale sixth. “Every time he got behind, (Gower) threw nothing but fastballs. You’ve got to jump on the fastballs when he throws them. And he can’t do anything about it. He can’t throw it by you.”
“We were just trying to get the tying run to the plate,” Harrison commented. “We felt like if we could ever put a little pressure on them . . . we just kept taking, kept taking, keep him working, they’ll leave him in forever. He even threw some first-pitch strikes but we kept saying, we’re waiting. He’s going to get tired eventually.”
The Sox comeback began with Aaron Davidson’s two-run homer in the seventh. Danny Riemenschneider, who also had three hits in the game, had singled to start the inning. An out later, Davidson unloaded on an 0-1 pitch. It was Bryant’s second blast of the game. Wells had put the Sox up in the bottom of the first with a two-run jack after Riemenschneider had doubled.
In the sixth, Ryan Wilson’s one-out double — his second two-bagger of the game — got things started, though he was still at second with two outs. But Joey Winiecki kept the inning going with an RBI double to left that made it 10-6. Winiecki stole third then Riemenschneider, on a 3-2 pitch, stroked an RBI single to center. On Gower’s next delivery, Wells cracked a single to center. At that point, Gower looked to the dugout as if imploring his coaches to take him out but no move was made.
Mountain Home then had a chance to get out of the inning when Davidson hit a chopper to short. But the ball was booted, loading the bases for Hurt. Another chopper towards the hole at short took a big hop, deflected off the shortstop’s glove and into left scoring two and making it 10-9.
Despite a meeting on the mound, Mountain Home continued with Gower as he walked Cory Lambert to load the bases then Travis Queck took a 3-2 pitch off the plate for an RBI walk to tie it.
Finally, Gower came out. But Wilson greeted Travis Ifland, the new hurler with a slow roller to short that he beat out for a hit that put the Sox ahead.
“I thought the shortstop got kind of nervous there, didn’t make a couple of plays he probably should’ve,” Harrison noted. “But our guys battled. We were hitting with two strikes. Danny had a big inning there that kept the inning going and Justin got a first pitch. But that whole inning — the whole game — was just weird, even the last out.”
Indeed, in the top of the ninth, Mountain Home’s Brian Coggins beat out a chopper up the middle for a single to start the inning. (It was just the second hit Wells had allowed in his last five relief appearances.)
Disdaining the sacrifice, Zac Proctor popped out to Hurt at second bringing up Cannon Ewell. On a 1-2 pitch, Wells unleashed a wicked split-finger fastball that ducked into the dirt as Ewell flailed at the air for strike three. Coggins was running on the pitch and Davidson gunned him down at second to end the game.
It was a bit ironic that the game ended on a top-flight defensive play involving a throw. Early in the contest, the Sox were throwing it around to ill effect. Five of the seven errors were on throws.
“It was a lot of nervousness, especially the young guys,” Wells said. “Just not being relaxed, getting out of their comfort zone. Not that it was just the young guys but they’ve never been here before. They aren’t used to this big situation.”
“I think there was a lot of pressure, not the ones of us who’ve been here because we know what it’s like, we know the atmosphere,” Hurt added. “When you come into an atmosphere like this, it’s tough on you. You’ve got to get used to it.”
All but one of the Mountain Home runs was unearned. In the second, three errors contributed to a four-run inning that erased Bryant’s 2-0 lead. With four runs in and runners at the corners, Grisham got Chase Duggins on a one-hopper back to the mound for the second out then Gower rifled one up the middle that deflected off of Grisham’s throwing hand to Wells at short who threw to first to retire the side.
Grisham tried to go in the third but by then the inside of his left thumb had begun to swell.
Drew Short relieved and, on a walk, a bad-hop single and a two-out bloop, Mountain Home added a run.
But Short struck out the last batter of the third beginning a streak in which he retired seven in a row.
Bryant trimmed a run off the lead in the fourth when Hurt doubled and scored on a single to right by Queck.
In the sixth, however, Short issued a walk. A sacrifice bunt was misplayed and Mountain Home’s five-run uprising was under way. The Sox would contribute three more errors along the way.
Tanner Zuber, who relieved Short and got out of the inning after a wild pitch and a throwing error that allowed two runs to score, shut out Mountain Home in the seventh and eighth allowing only an infield hit and a walk as the Sox rallied for the win. He improved to 5-1.