Title game turned into farce
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 — Pine Bluff coach Pat Anderson didn’t want his team to have to play the finals of the Zone 4 AAA American Legion Tournament Tuesday night and, for all intents, they didn’t.
After a four-hour game in which Anderson’s Simmons First Bank squad outlasted Little Rock Oxford Printing, 19-12, to clinch the second State Tournament bid from Zone 4, the championship tilt was set, a re-match between the league’s top two teams.
But Simmons had to turn right around after the Oxford game and, after a brief break, play top-ranked Bryant which clinched its State bid the night before with an intensive 11-10 win over the Pine Bluff team. And to win the tournament title, the Bankers needed to win on Tuesday and come back on Wednesday and win again.
Anderson, obviously, didn’t think it was worth the effort. When the game with Bryant commenced, Pine Bluff deployed in a mix-and-match lineup that didn’t include top hitters Paul Witt, Matt Forestiere, John Hadley and Keke Ento. Other regulars mostly played at unfamiliar position and Anderson sent first-time pitcher Jason Miner to the mound followed by first-time hurlers Lee Smart and Jason Edwards. The opening lineup also included the novelty of having a left-handed shortstop, the team’s top pitcher Matt Klamm.
Bryant eased to an 18-5 win in seven innings for a championship that somehow felt tainted. It was ugly and torture for the fans that had come expecting a competitive game only to sit until nearly midnight watching what turned out to be little more than a practice game. Actually, it was less than a practice game because by the end, the umpires were even trying to get it over with, calling balls strikes and safe runners out. Even at that, Pine Bluff pitchers issued 10 walks to go with Bryant’s 18 hits.
More than one observer called it a travesty and an insult to the integrity of the game. Pine Bluff even held a mock celebration upon receiving their second-place trophy. And it was a good thing the Black Sox got to enjoy a real celebration on Monday night because the events on Tuesday sapped all the excitement out of their championship night.
Of course, it’s hard to complain when you’re handed a championship plaque.
“It was probably the toughest game I ever had to coach,” commented Bryant manager Craig Harrison afterwards, “because I didn’t know what to do. Part of me said, ‘Score 40,’ and part of me said, ‘Don’t (anger) them, because I might have to play them (at the State tournament in Springdale)’ and I didn’t want to give them any added incentive.
“That’s not the way we play,” Harrison continued, “that’s why we scored 14 in the first two innings. After that it was just, try to just keep from doing something dumb and getting people hurt in a game that didn’t mean anything. I pulled my best hitters because they were putting pitchers on the mound that you didn’t know where they were going to throw the ball. And I didn’t need another Matt Brown.”
Brown, the Black Sox shortstop and top RBI man, suffered a broken jaw in a game earlier this season.
“It’s kind of anti-climactic tonight,” Harrison added. “(Monday) night was very satisfying for us. We pulled one out, we battled all night, we kept adding, kept at it and it was an inning by inning game and we got fortunate that they made a base-running error at the end and they had their best hitter at the plate. (Beau Hamblin) made a good pitch, we got the outs.
“(Monday) night was fun,” he declared. “You could say, in a span of 24 hours, you’ve had the best and worst of what this game offers.”
Anderson and Harrison talked before the game and throughout the contest when Anderson was coaching third base in front of the Bryant dugout.
“He wanted to know if I wanted to play Russellville,” Harrison recalled of their pre-game talk, referring to the highly-regarded No. 2 seed from Zone 3 which was slated to play the winner from Zone 4. “And I said yes. He said he wanted to be second, so he was going to tank the game. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to go out and score some runs and we’ll see what happens.’”
Pine Bluff High School and Russellville High School played in the finals of the Class AAAAA State Tournament in May with Russellville eking out a 1-0 victory for the State title. One might’ve thought they would’ve liked a re-match. But, it will be Bryant that will take on Russellville in the Legion State tourney at 4 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Tyson Complex in Springdale. Pine Bluff will play the champion from Zone 1, Fayetteville Lindsey and Associates, at 10 a.m., on Saturday.
Complete brackets for the AAA State Tournament were due to be released on Thursday, Aug. 2. Other first-round match-ups figured to pit host Springdale against Zone 2 champion Jonesboro at 7 p.m. and Zone 3 champion Sylvan Hills against Batesville at 1 p.m.
Some of the Black Sox were able to use Tuesday’s Zone 4 final to pad their stats. Matt White had four hits in five at-bats, Beau Hamblin completed a splendid tournament with a 3-for-6 game. In all, 11 different Sox batters hit safely.
Hamblin, by the way, finished the tournament 9 for19 (.474) with a team-high nine runs batted in. He singled in the first two runs of Tuesday’s game as the Sox scored four times in the first. Matt Brown and Cody Graddy added sacrifice flies.
Graddy, also, capped off a spectacular tourney at the plate. His 1-for-2 in the game made him 7 for 12 (.583) with three homers and six runs batted in.
Bryant scored 10 times in the second. Michael McClellan singled in two runs, Jordan Davis singled in another and Brown drove in two more with a base hit. Matt Lewis contributed an RBI single, Dustin Morris launched the first of two sacrifice flies he contributed in the game and White and Hamblin drove in runs with a double and single, respectively.
Davis was 7 for 15 in the tournament, Chris Sory was 7 for 14, White 7 for 16 and Morris was 6 for 16 as the Sox racked up 54 runs and 57 hits in four games while allowing 18 runs and 32 hits.
About the only one that didn’t have it completely easy Tuesday night was Bryant pitcher Kevin Littleton who had to concentrate through the debacle and throw strikes. Even though Pine Bluff didn’t have its best nine on the field, there were still good hitters in the lineup even if they were playing out of position defensively. In the second, the Bankers put together four hits to score twice. But Littleton didn’t allow another hit after that until giving way to Chance King in the sixth.
The Sox scored three more runs in the third (White had a two-run single) and once again in the fourth (David Moore picked up the RBI) to make it 18-2.
Pine Bluff scored three runs on four hits in the sixth and refused to send a runner from third on a wild pitch. Anderson didn’t want to extend the game beyond the seven innings that was required for the 10-run mercy rule to take effect.
Cody Dreher pitched the seventh and gave up a one-out single. The Sox, however, ended the game with a doubleplay on which the fact that the Pine Bluff runner beat the throw to first was disregarded.
Somehow, that seemed an appropriate end.