Sox impress with opening romp over Fort Smith
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 — There were those that noticed that the Bryant Blacksox and Fort Smith Kerwins were set to meet in the first round of the AAA American Legion State Tournament and speculated, with all due respect to the other six teams involved, that the championship would be determined that night. After all, Kerwins came in with an impressive 35-6 record that included a 20-game win streak along the way. Bryant, at 33-8, was the only team with nearly as good a record. The two teams boasted stellar left-handed starters. Kerwins’ Wade Pressley came in 9-0 on the season, 17-0 over the last two. Bryant’s Travis Wood came in 6-0 after being named the State high school Player of the Year this spring and garnering all sorts of national attention.
Maybe it was all that talk; maybe it was the fact that, at batting practice, assistant coach Tic Harrison prepared the Sox batters for Pressley by moving closer to the plate and pitching as hard as he could; maybe it was the Bryant High School baseball banquet that night before that included a highlight video of the Hornets’ run to the State finals; or maybe it was all those things — but the Sox were pumped.
“Make that record 35-7,” asserted Bryant third baseman Jeff Carpenter with emphasis on the “seven,” after the Sox stunned Kerwins 15-6, snapping Pressley’s win streak and sending the Fort Smith team to the losers bracket.
“I had them thinking they were facing the second coming of Nolan Ryan,” Harrison mentioned. “We really talked up Pressley and when they came out here and saw that he wasn’t throwing as hard as they expected, they really got fired up.”
Pressley worked into the seventh inning allowing six runs on nine hits. Kerwins ended up using five pitchers and the Sox wound up with 18 hits including four by Dustin Easterly and three each by Dustin Tinkler and Justin Wells.
Travis Wood, working on short rest, held Kerwins’ big bats to four hits in six innings. He allowed two runs, one earned, walked four and struck out nine. Daniel Minton, Wells and Zack Young closed out the game.
A seven-run seventh blew the game open but, before that, the game was pretty tight with the Sox gaining the upper hand with some clutch two-out hitting. In fact, Kerwins took the early lead with an unearned run in the second. In the top of the third, Pressley retired the first two then hit Carpenter with a pitch. Wells singled to right then Wood helped his own cause with a three-run homer.
“There were two turning points in the game,” stated Bryant manager Craig Harrison. “After they took the lead in the second and they got two quick outs in the third to get that going, with Travis hitting the home run — we don’t hit that many home runs. That was just out 11th of the year. That gave us some confidence.”
The other turning point came in the sixth after Kerwins had trimmed a run off the lead in the fifth. Fort Smith stranded the tying run at third when, with one out, Tinkler robbed Josh Holloway of a bloop hit in shallow center then Scott Peeler made a slick play at first on a grounder by Brock Schulte to end the inning.
In the sixth, Wells singled and Travis Wood walked. Peeler got a sacrifice bunt down but Richie Wood was retired on a pop to left after a long battle, fouling off four 3-2 pitches. The count went to 2-2 on Cory Lambert who then came through with a ground single up the middle to drive home both runs, making it 5-2.
“We knew Travis was done (pitching) for the night,” Craig Harrison said. “That gave us a little cushion so I let him go out for one more inning.”
Wood struck out the side around a pair of walks and a hit batsman which loaded the bases for Kerwins.
“He’s pitched a lot for us over the last 10 days,” Craig Harrison mentioned. Wood pitched eight innings in Bryant’s District opener on Friday, July 23, then six innings of relief in the State tournament-clinching win over Little Rock Blue on Tuesday, July 27. “We asked him to give us five innings and he gave us six. He was on fumes at the end but we got a break when their eight-hole hitter swung at a bad pitch (with a 2-2 count). That helped us out. We got a little lift then and we came in an scored some runs.”
A single by Easterly and a double by Tinkler chased Pressley off the mound in the seventh. Easterly tried to score on a wild pitch but the ball ricocheted back to the catcher quickly enough that he was able to toss it to relief pitcher Cody Grist for the putout.
But Carpenter followed with a tap to shortstop Jacob Roberts who, initially looked home where Tinkler was headed, to no avail. By the time he looked to first, Carpenter was there.
Wells then started the hit parade with a single to center that scored Carpenter. When the ball was bobbled in the outfield, Wells wound up at second. He scored from there on a base hit by Travis Wood. Peeler walked and, an out later, so did Lambert to load the bases. Korey Hunter followed up with a clutch two-run single. After a wild pitch put runners at second and third, Easterly slapped a single to right to bring in two more, making it 12-2.
“Gosh, we hit the baseball,” Craig Harrison noted. “We changed our approach on (Pressley) and started letting the ball get on us and trying to hit the ball up the middle instead of trying to pull everything, out in front on everything. They did a good job of that in the middle innings.”
The Sox had a chance to end it as a 10-after-7 run-rule win but Minton struggled with his control and walked a pair. After he struck out Schulte, he got within a strike of retiring Clay Glover but his 2-2 delivery was parked, a three-run shot that kept Kerwins alive.
After a walk and a single, Wells relieved and got out of the inning. He would strike out the side in the eighth.
In the ninth, Bryant got those three runs back when Young walked, Hunter and Easterly singled and Tinkler smacked his second double.
Kerwins added a meaningless run in the bottom of the inning.