Black Sox make 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
SHERIDAN — Since reaching the AAA American Legion State Tournament last in 1996, the Bryant Black Sox have been achingly close to qualifying every summer. In fact, the Sox have been third in the district the last three season in succession. That means the current 18-year-olds have shared in the disappointment.
But this year, there will be no third place for the Bryant team and no heartaches from another narrow miss. This year, the State Tournament will include the Bryant Black Sox after they extracted an 11-10 win over Pine Bluff Simmons First Bank in the winners bracket finals of the Zone 4 tourney Monday night at Oliver Williams Field.
The game was the third between the two teams which came into the tournament ranked Nos. 1 (Bryant) and 2 in the state and Nos. 1 (Pine Bluff) and 2 in the Zone. They had split the previous meetings.
The rubber game was not pretty. In fact, about the only thing that resembled championship quality was the intensity of the competition and the grit of players. The two teams combined for 10 errors in the field and each had its share offensively, as well.
In fact, it was fitting that it ended on a mistake.
The Sox were clinging to its 11-10 lead after Pine Bluff’s Keke Ento had singled in a run with one out in the bottom of the ninth. The hit moved Paul Witt, who had beat out an infield hit prior to Ento’s, moved to second with the potential tying run.
Bryant closer Beau Hamblin then got tough Matt Forestiere to pop up to shortstop Matt Brown in shallow left field. Witt, a three-year star for Pine Bluff who will attend Baylor University on a baseball scholarship this fall, apparently thought he saw an open third base ahead of him as Bryant’s third baseman Dustin Morris faded into the outfield with Brown. Hamblin was on his way to cover third, however.
Witt had tagged up at second and started to make a break for third. Before he got halfway, however, he saw Hamblin was there and he started back to second. But it was too late. Brown threw to second baseman Chris Sory who had the ball waiting on Witt, who proceeded to get into a rundown. Hamblin eventually tagged him out to end the game and start the Black Sox’ celebration.
The Bankers had come back from an 8-3 deficit to tie the game at 8 and at 9 but they could never manage a lead.
The 9-9 deadlock was snapped in the top of the eighth by the Sox when Hamblin drilled a long fly to right-center that Pine Bluff’s Cory McCoy got to, but dropped. Hamblin rounded second and headed for third and, when the relay to third was wild, he scrambled home.
Jordan Davis followed with a shot down the right-field line for a double that finally knocked out Pine Bluff starter Matthew Milliken, who was charged with all 11 Bryant runs.
Pine Bluff ace lefty Matt Klamm relieved as Kevin Littleton came to the plate. Littleton kept the pressure on the Bankers by placing a sacrifice bunt down the first base line and getting a hit when Ento, the second baseman, failed to cover first.
Matt Brown followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 11-9.
Scott Yant, who relieved starter Matt Lewis in the fifth, struck out the first two in the bottom of the inning, then walked Lee Smart who had homered earlier in the game. After a wild pitch allowed pinch-runner Clint Jackson to take second, Jason Miner hit a sharp one-hopper to Sory at second. Sory knocked it down and threw Miner out at first to end the inning.
The Sox were retired in order by Klamm in the top of the ninth. When Yant narrowly missed on a couple of pitches to McCoy and issued a walk to lead off the bottom of the inning, manager Craig Harrison went to Hamblin, the team leader in saves with five.
John Hadley greeted Hamblin with a long drive to left-center. But Matt White sprinted over and hauled it in for the first out. Witt followed with his infield hit.
Bryant scored in six of the nine innings. White, Hamblin, Davis and Cody Graddy had two hits each. Hamblin drove in three and Graddy launched his third home run in as many games in the tournament.
Hamblin singled in the game’s first run in the opening inning. Lewis worked around a pair of scratch hits in the home half then Graddy belted his two-run shot in the top of the second to make it 3-0.
Pine Bluff tied it in the bottom of the inning. Smart homered, Hadley singled in a run and Witt scored when, trying to steal second, the throw from Graddy, the Bryant catcher, hit Witt’s helmet and ricocheted into no-man’s land in right-center.
Bryant kept the pressure on the Bankers with another run in the third. Hamblin walked, swiped second, got third on a balk by Milliken and scored on a single by Davis.
When the Sox scored four in the fourth, they appeared to have command of the game. Graddy singled to lead off the inning, then swiped second. Sory sacrificed and when Morris’ grounder to third was booted by Forestiere, in came Graddy.
A single by White and walk to McClellan loaded the bases for Hamblin who knocked one off the fence in left-center for a two-run double. McClellan scored to make it 8-3 when Forestiere, usually the Pine Bluff catcher, committed the first of his three errors in the game.
But Forestiere made amends in the fifth with a three-run double with two down that capped a five-run rally that tied the game at 8.
Bryant regained the edge with a run in the sixth. White beat out an infield hit and took second on a bad throw from Forestiere. After McClellan walked, White tagged and took third on Hamblin’s long fly to right then scored when Davis hit a slow roller to first.
A Bryant error helped Pine Bluff tie it again. Keith Dixon was hit by a pitch and took second on a wild pitch. He then scored when Smart’s sharp grounder got under Brown’s glove at short.
Smart tried to move up to second on a short wild pitch but Graddy hustled after the loose ball and threw him out. Miner drew a walk but Yant got George Howard to pop a one-hopper back to the mound to start a 1-6-3 doubleplay that ended the inning.
Milliken worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh but Yant retired Hadley, Witt and Forestiere around a two-out walk to Ento to set up the decisive rally in the top of the eighth.
Bryant improved to 38-12 with the victory, setting a new standard for wins in a season during Harrison’s seven-year tenure. No doubt, the Sox plan to add a few more before they’re done.