Black Sox AAA captures Twin Lakes championship
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MOUNTAIN HOME — In the last dozen years, the Bryant Black Sox AAA American Legion team has won all sorts of tournaments, including the prestigious Tournament of Champions in Alton, Ill., Districts and even a pair of State titles. But every year since winning it in 1994, they’ve competed in the Twin Lakes Classic in Mountain Home and the championship and its impressive six-foot trophy has evaded them.
But 2006 was different. The Sox, who are the defending State champs, brought home the big trophy by sweeping five games including an 11-1 thumping of Memphis Christian Brothers in the championship game on Sunday, June 18.
In pool play, Bryant downed Mountain Home, 6-4, on Thursday, June 15. The next day, the Sox dumped New Baden, Ill., 11-3. Saturday brought rain and the cancellation of a game with Parsons, Kansas but the Black Sox advanced to the championship round on Sunday. Their closest call came in the first round when they needed nine innings to edge DeSoto, Mo., 3-2. They followed that up with a 13-1 romp in the semifinals against Eureka, Mo., to set up the final against the Memphis area team.
Justin Wells, who hit grand slams against Eureka and Christian Brothers on Sunday and picked up saves in the wins over Mountain Home and DeSoto, was named the tournament MVP. Aaron Davidson was named the tourney’s top offensive player while Cory Lambert was chosen as the top pitcher and Devin Hurt was named the top defensive player. Wells, Lambert and Hurt made the all-tournament team.
In addition, by hitting safely in each of the five games, outfielder Joey Winiecki, who had the most stolen bases in the tournament, ran his hitting streak to 17 games in a row.
It was the first year that the tournament was called the Brooks Robinson Twin Lakes Classic and the Hall of Fame third baseman was on hand to throw out the first pitch and visit with players.
“For me and Tic, we finally got over the hump,” said Bryant manager Craig Harrison who has coached the Sox with his brother since 1995. “This tournament is so hard to win because it is a grind, plus it’s early in the year when we are usually still tinkering with lineups.
“I thanked the players, and really I think we expected to win this thing,” he added. “The encouraging thing was the come-from-behind wins, and the togetherness I think that occurred over the four days. Then, in our huddle after all the pictures and trophies, our guys said while this was big, the two games on Wednesday and Thursday meant more than this tournament.”
The Sox, 17-1 overall and 7-0 in league play, were set to return to Zone IV action at Little Rock Blue and Pine Bluff on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
“We have had letdowns after tournaments (in the past), but I don’t think we’ll have it with this team. We may lose, but we will play hard.
“It’s amazing what can happen when you work hard and believe in yourself and your teammates,” Harrison concluded. “These guys have come a long way in four weeks, and the people that might have thought Bryant was down this year now know differently.”
Bryant 11, Memphis Christian Brothers 1
Lefty Alex Kehrees limited the Memphis team to one unearned run and three hits over the first four innings of the five-inning, run-rule win in the finals. Danny Riemenschneider worked around a walk and a single in the fifth to close it out.
Winiecki had three hits, Davidson, Lambert and Ryan Wilson two each with Wells blasting his grand slam to end the game, completing a five-run home fifth.
The Sox took a 3-0 lead in the first with Hurt and Travis Queck providing RBI singles. Riemenschneider, who was hit by a pitch after Winiecki had walked, scored on a balk.
Bryant made it a 5-0 lead in the third on a two-out two-run single by Wilson.
After Memphis managed its run in the top of the fourth, the Sox got it back when Winiecki singled, stole second and scored on a base hit by Davidson.
The fifth began with base hit by Lambert and Wilson. Lambert was thrown out at the plate on Tyler Pickett’s grounder to third but Winiecki singled in a run to make it 7-1. Riemenschneider was hit by a pitch to load the bases then Wells unloaded on a 1-0 delivery.
“I felt confident in Alex,” Harrison commented. “He throws like Cory but is still learning, which is appropriate since he is two years younger. But his changeup was working, and when he fanned two in the first I felt like I had a good rhythm with him.
“Wilson’s two-out hit in the fourth was big, then we put it away in the fifth in grand (slam) style,” he added.
Bryant 13, Eureka, Mo. 1
Lambert held Eureka to one unearned run and four hits in the six-inning win that included Wells’ first grand slam of the day, this time igniting a game-breaking eight-run top of the sixth.
Davidson went 3 for 4 in the game. Winiecki, Wells, Hurt and Pickett each had two hits as the Sox pounded out 14 altogether.
The Sox took a 1-0 lead in the first, loading the bases on walks to Wells and Hurt around a single by Davidson. A walk to Queck forced in the run.
In the third, Davidson singled with two down and Hurt chased him home with a long double to left-center, making it 2-0.
A three-run fourth gave Bryant some breathing room. Wilson walked and Lambert’s sacrifice bunt drew a wild throw that put runners at second and third for Pickett. A wild pitch allowed Wilson to score then Pickett stroked a single to chase home Drew Short, who was running for Lambert. Winiecki sacrificed courtesy runner Justin Gaddy to second and, with two down, Wells chased him home with a single to left.
Eureka took advantage of a pair of Bryant errors with a couple of hits to score its lone run in the fifth but the big sixth inning put the game out of reach.
A walk to Pickett and singles by Winiecki and Riemenschneider set the table for Wells’ granny. Davidson got things going again with a single, scoring on a triple by Hurt. Queck singled in Hurt and, after moving to second on a wild pitch, scored on a base hit by Lambert. Pickett’s single sent Short to third and Winiecki capped the inning with an RBI single.
“These guys were good,” Harrison said of Eureka. “Probably the best team we played this year, but I think they were a little scared of us, because they knew we had won (State) last year and had played (Eureka rival) Festus so close in the Regionals.
“Lambert was on, and our bats were hot in the last half of the game, and we blew it open. Cory’s change-up was just like the Texarkana game.
“It was good to see Wells hit the ball hard. He had been pressing at the plate, but the slam was a no-doubter. In fact we swung it good 1 to 9.”
Bryant 3, DeSoto, Mo. 2
Shutout over six innings, the Sox rallied for two runs in the seventh then won it in the ninth when Winiecki’s two-out double drove in Lambert who had doubled earlier in the inning.
Wells relieved Riemenschneider in the bottom of the inning and retired the side after a lead-off walk. Riemenschneider got the win with three scoreless innings in relief of starter Tanner Zuber.
“Our guys just won’t quit and after this game I felt we were going to win the whole thing,” Harrison commented. “We had two comeback wins (along with Mountain Home) in three games. That’s pretty good, and it made us feel that we are never out of it.
“Tanner pitched really well, and battled out of some jams that maybe earlier in the year he wouldn’t have,” he added. “Even though they scored in the fourth, he was competing.”
Zuber, who had worked in relief on Thursday against Mountain Home, struck out two with runners at first and third to keep the game scoreless in the second then, with the bases full, induced a doubleplay ball to end the third. The fourth-inning run came on three hits.
It was 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth when Zuber gave up a lead-off single and Riemenschneider relieved. A single and a sacrifice fly produced DeSoto’s second run.
In the seventh, Queck and Wilson led off with singles and Lambert sacrificed them to second and third. An infield hit by Gaddy, who despite making his first AAA start in two weeks had two hits, drove in the first Bryant run.
Winiecki followed with a grounder to third. DeSoto went for what would’ve been a game-ending doubleplay and got the force at second. But when Winiecki beat the relay to first, Wilson scored the tying run.
Davidson was 3-for-3 in the game and, along with Gaddy, Lambert contributed two hits.
New Baden, Ill. 3
Hurt, Queck, Wilson and Lambert each drove in two runs in support of Drew Short who struggled in the first two innings but found his stride in the third and fourth. Short picked up the win with an inning of relief help from Wells.
New Baden took a 2-0 lead in the first, aided by a Bryant error. The Sox countered with three in the bottom of the inning with the help of a pair of New Baden miscues. Queck’s two-out, two-run single gave Bryant a 3-2 lead.
New Baden tied in the second but, again, the Sox responded. Lambert singled, took second on Pickett’s grounder to third and scored on a base hit by Winiecki.
After Short worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the third, Lambert doubled in two runs then scored on a wild pitch to make it 7-3.
The run-rule (eighth run lead after five innings) became a factor after the fourth when singled in two runs and Wilson tripled to drive in two more.
“New Baden had run ruled Parsons, so we knew the pool would come down to this game,” Harrison commented. “They looked pretty good. Short threw the ball well in the first inning, but the error hurt, and their other hits were pretty much seeing-eye. Drew competed all day. He was in and out of jams every inning, but the bats came alive which helped.
“I thought our guys accepted the challenge from a good team, and I was proud of the way we swung the bats — another game with no strikeouts. We also hit with two outs, which is something we have been talking to the team about.”
Bryant 6, Mountain Home 4
The Sox scored four times in the top of the seventh to turn a 4-2 deficit into a 6-4 win with Wells pitching a 1-2-3 home seventh to earn the save. Zuber picked up the win in relief of starter Casey Grisham.
Queck blasted a lead-off homer to spark the seventh-inning rally. Lambert doubled then Wilson beat out a bunt for a hit. Riemenschneider followed with a single to drive in the tying and go-ahead runs. And when the ball got past the left fielder, he was able to race to third. Davidson’s two-out RBI single brought Riemenschneider home with the insurance run.
Riemenschneider had three hits in the game including an inside-the-park homer in the third.
The Sox trailed 1-0 going into the inning. Lambert walked to lead off the inning. With two outs, Riemenschneider drove a 3-2 pitch to the gap in left-center.
“The outfielders threw up their hands (as if the ball had gone under the fence), but I made Danny keep going,” Harrison recalled. “As the umpire ran out to see if the ball had gone under the fence, the center fielder reached down and threw it back in. I don’t know if it was lodged and he pulled it out or what, but it counted as a two run homer.”
Mountain Home, however, regained the lead with two in the bottom of the inning. It stayed 3-2 until the sixth when a one-out homer by Travis Ifland increased the lead.
“Things looked pretty bleak but our guys fought back,” Harrison noted. “These guys may not look good at times, but one thing you can expect every inning is they are going to play hard, and comeback wins like this are a product of that hard work. We will be able to use this game as a reference point the rest of the season.”