Blacksox gear it up for Classic, finish as tourney runner-up
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be posting 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).
MOUNTAIN HOME — Sometimes a road trip can help. It breaks the routine, minimizes distractions — it can even bring folks together, deepen or develop bonds among them.
And it was a road trip that may have been just what the Bryant Blacksox AAA American Legion team needed.
The Sox were settling into a routine of winning a game — sometimes impressively — then losing a game — sometimes, well, unimpressively — before making their annual trek to Mountain Home for the prestigious (and, this year, expanded) Twin Lakes Classic tournament.
And they almost won the darned thing.
Defending high school state champion Bentonville, on their second try of the tournament, upended the Sox 8-3 in the championship game of the tournament on Sunday. It was the third game of the day for the two teams, the sixth in four days.
Bryant had advanced by bouncing Olathe, Kansas, 8-7, on Thursday, June 13; Sikeston, Mo., 6-1, on Friday, June 14; Bentonville, 10-3, on Saturday, June 15; and Bill Speros of Memphis, 5-4, and Benton, 9-5, on Sunday, June 16.
Scotty Yant, who pitched the Sox past Bentonville on Saturday, and B.J. Wood who picked up two saves in relief while playing an errorless tournament at shortstop and going 10-for-24 at the plate, were named to the all-tournament team. First baseman Derek Chambers was named the defensive player of the tournament and manager Craig Harrison was named the coach of the tournament.
The Sox, who entered the tournament after losing back-to-back games for the first time this season, improved to 15-6 with the tourney results.
Bentonville 8, Bryant 3
In the finals, the weary-armed Sox were forced to put young right-hander Daniel Minton under the gun. Minton, a leader in the A team’s rotation, made his first AAA start of the season. It didn’t help that the Sox committed a couple of errors in the first inning. Bentonville had three hits, Minton walked one and hit one as the Sox fell behind 4-0 before Chance King relieved and got out of the inning.
Bryant battled back to within 4-3 as King held Bentonville in check over the next three frames. Wood, who went 3-for-4 in the game, doubled in the third and scored on an error. In the fourth, Cody Graddy, who had two hits in the game, singled to left and scored on a clutch two-out double by Clay Jones to make it 4-2. Jeff Carpenter and Wood singled to open the fifth and Graddy came through with the two-out RBI hit to make it a one-run game.
King, after pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth, gave way to Carpenter in the fifth and, with the help of another Bryant error, Bentonville struck for two more runs. Adam Clark greeted Carpenter with a solo homer as Bentonville regained the momentum.
Two more runs in the sixth sewed up the victory and the championship as the Sox squandered lead-off singles in both the sixth and the seventh.
Bryant 9, Benton 5
The two Saline County rivals met for the third time this season in the semifinals and the Sox won the rubber game with a fast start, scoring seven runs in the first two innings in support of Justin Woods, pitching in his biggest game as a AAA player.
Woods (3-0) went 4 2/3 innings and picked up the win with relief help from Matt Lewis and Wood.
A.J. Nixon snapped out of an extended slump with a 2-for-3 performance at the plate. He drove in three.
Bryant broke out on top in the first, scoring three times. The uprising was fueled by a pair of walks and an error by Benton starter Travis Hood. Kevin Littleton, Nixon and Andrew Norman each singled in a run.
Benton scored a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the inning. Both miscues came after two were out and set up Nathan Nalley’s two-run single.
The Sox countered with a four-run second instigated by Wood’s first hit, a single to left. Matt White reached on an error then Chambers singled in a run. Graddy walked to load the bases for Littleton, who walked to force in a run. Nixon followed with a two-run single to cap things off.
Benton trimmed one off the lead in the second and another in the fourth.
The Sox got one of those back in the top of the fifth when White and Graddy doubled.
With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Benton put two runners aboard and Lewis relieved Woods to get the third out, preserving the 8-4 lead.
In the sixth, Nixon walked and Norman was hit by a pitch. After a double steal, Nixon raced home on Carpenter’s grounder to short to make it 9-4.
The Sox turned an inning-ending doubleplay to get out of a jam in the bottom of the sixth.
In the seventh, Benton scored a run and had runners at second and third when Wood came on to get the last two outs and the save.
Bryant 5, Memphis Bill Speros 4
Wood got the save in this one too, entering with one out and runners at first and third in the bottom of the sixth as Bryant clung to a 5-4 lead. Wood struck out lead-off man John Morgan and got Dylan Bateman to pop to second to get out of the jam. He then waded through the middle of the Speros order 1-2-3 in the seventh.
Bryant snapped a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth. Littleton drew a one-out walk, went to third on a single by Clay Jones and scored when Nixon bounced into a force at second. Speros, trying to turn an inning-ending doubleplay on Nixon’s grounder to second, had the relay to first evade the first baseman, so Nixon wound up at second. Norman followed with an RBI single to make it 5-3.
A hit batsman and a pair of singles around a sacrifice bunt against Matt Lewis had Speros within a run in the bottom of the inning before Wood’s appearance on the mound.
Lewis, working in relief of Littleton the starter, picked up his first win. Littleton gave up three runs in four innings of work. They all came in the third when the Memphis team tied the game.
Bryant had taken the 3-0 lead with two in the second and one in the third. In the second, Nixon singled with two down, advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on a single by Norman, who was 2-for-2 in the game. Carpenter was hit by a pitch then a balk moved the runners up. Another passed ball allowed Norman to score.
In the third, Matt White blasted his first home run of the season on the third pitch of the inning.
After Memphis scored its three in the third, Littleton pitched out of a two-out, two-on pickle in the fourth. Lewis relieved and worked a 1-2-3 fifth.
The defensive highlight of the game came courtesy of Graddy, the Bryant catcher, who picked off two Memphis baserunners, both in the first inning, both off of second base.
Bryant 10, Bentonville 3
Yant (3-0) scattered six hits and struck out nine in a route-going performance. Offensively, Jeff Carpenter went 3-for-3 with four runs batted in and Nixon had two hits and two RBIs.
The Sox took the lead with a three-run second. Graddy and Littleton singled to open the inning. With one out, Nixon singled in a run. Norman’s flair to right forced the baserunners to hold and Bentonville right fielder Lance Perrin was able to get a force at second after it fell in. But Carpenter smashed a single into the left field corner that chased both Littleton and Norman home to make it 3-0.
After Bentonville scrapped out a run in the third, Bryant added two in the fourth. Lewis singled but was forced at second on a grounder by Nixon. Nixon stole second and, an out later, scored on a double by Carpenter, who came around to score on a single by Wood.
Bentonville tightened the game with a pair of runs in the fifth. But, after back-to-back one-out doubles, Yant struck out three batters — one reached on a third-strike wild pitch — to get out of the inning with the lead intact.
The Sox then blew it open with a five-run fifth, aided by a pair of Bentonville errors. Nixon doubled in a run and Norman tripled to plate two, following them home when Carpenter singled.
Yant allowed just one baserunner over the last two innings to sew up the win.
Bryant 6, Sikeston 1
Left-hander Cody Dreher (2-1), coming off a fine performance in a tough loss to Benton on June 7, struck out 12 and scattered six hits in his first complete game of the season. Sikeston’s lone run was unearned, scoring on an error by Dreher himself on a two-out bunt in the fourth.
Wood, Littleton, Jones and David Moore each had two hits for the Sox. Wood drove in a pair.
Actually, Sikeston tied the game with its run in the fourth. The Sox had taken a 1-0 lead in the first when Wood led off with a triple and White brought him home with a sacrifice fly.
After Sikeston tied it, the Sox regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth. Chambers doubled and Littleton singled him to third. A base hit by Jones snapped the tie then Moore doubled in a run to make it 3-1.
It stayed that way as Dreher plowed through the Sikeston lineup, allowing just three baserunners over the final three innings.
The Sox put some insurance on the board in the sixth. Carpenter drew a bases-loaded walk to drive one in then Wood cracked a two-run double to set the final score.
Bryant 8, Olathe 7
Wood picked up his first save of the tournament after the Sox nearly lost an 8-1 lead. He came in with no one out and runners at second and third in the sixth and the Bryant lead down to 8-5. He surrendered a sacrifice fly then retired the next two, stranding a runner at third to keep it 8-6.
In the seventh, Wood was under the gun again after a single and a double to start the inning. He retired the next two then issued a walk to load the bases.
A run scored on an unsuccessful fielder’s choice but Wood then ended the game with the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, inducing a bouncer to Chambers at first.
Wood had three of Bryant’s 14 hits in the game including his second homer of the season. White, Graddy and Lewis had two hits each and Carpenter drove in a pair of runs.
Olathe took a 1-0 lead on King, the Bryant starter, in the second. But the Sox scored four times in the bottom of the inning. Carpenter’s two-run single broke the ice. Wood followed with his two-run bomb.
With King working out of jams in the third and fourth, the Sox upped the advantage to 8-1 in the home fourth. Wood, White, Chambers and Graddy opened the inning with consecutive singles, plating two. Littleton grounded into a force at second before Lewis and Yant came through with RBI singles to cap off the uprising.
Olathe got two runs back in the top of the fifth. Carpenter then relieved King in the sixth and surrendered a two-run double by Joel Kellon before Wood came in.