AAA Sox finish one short again
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MOUNTAIN HOME — For the second year in a row, the Bryant Blacksox AAA American Legion team made it to the finals of the Twin Lakes Classic only to be denied the championship and the eight-foot tall trophy that goes with it.
Excelsior Springs, Mo. (located northeast of Kansas City), a team the Sox defeated 7-2 in pool play, got the last laugh with a 9-1 win in the title game on Sunday. It was both team’s third game of the day and sixth in four days.
Bryant defeated Searcy Crain Automotive 9-5 in the semifinals to reach the title game, after knocking off Sylvan Hills in the first round of the championship phase of the event, 4-1. In pool play, the Sox not only knocked off Excelsior Springs but the Kansas City, Kansas, Grays, 3-1. They suffered a 9-8 loss to Batesville despite leading 7-1 early in the game. Despite the loss, the Sox got into the championship round thanks to the win over the Kansas City team — in which Travis Wood threw a one-hitter and struck out 17 — and Excelsior Springs’ comeback win over Batesville, 6-5 in eight innings.
“It was another good tournament for us,” said Bryant manager Craig Harrison, whose teams have excelled in tourney’s in recent years. “The players really played their guts out. We played well except for an inning or two against Batesville and the last two against Excelsior. Our players were disappointed. They really wanted to win it.”
Derek Chambers, B.J. Wood and Travis Wood each made the all-tournament team. Travis Wood was named the most outstanding pitcher.
“Jeff Carpenter should have been the most outstanding defensive player — he was making plays all over the place,” Harrison noted.
In addition, Bryant’s David Moore won the home run derby.
The results left the Blacksox, who have been ranked No. 1 in Arkansas by the baseball website extrainnings.net, 19-6 for the season. They were scheduled to return to District IV league action on Tuesday, June 24, at home against the Little Rock Diamonds, one of the two teams that has handed the Sox a league loss this season.
Excelsior Springs, Mo. 9, Bryant 1
The Blacksox took an early lead with a run in the first but wound up stranding eight runners in the five inning game.
Harrison tried to piece together some pitching, starting right-hander Todd Bryan who had been used only in relief so far this season. And Bryan gave him two good innings, striking out the side in the second. But, in the third, Excelsior Springs managed four runs on three hits including a pair of doubles to take a 4-1 lead before Daniel Price relieved and got out of the inning.
“The third inning was the difference in the game,” Harrison mentioned, noting that the Sox had put their first two on base in the top of the inning but couldn’t push them around.
“We lost all of the momentum,” Harrison said. “Their pitcher only allowed one other hit.”
Excelsior Springs scored twice in the fourth thanks, in part, to a Bryant error. Another error contributed as two more scored in the top of the fifth before Justin Woods relieved. Woods, limited to just a few innings this season after recovering from a shoulder injury, was victimized for the game-clinching runs on a drive to center that got through to the fence.
Bryant’s first-inning run was scored by B.J. Wood who led off with a single, took second on a wild pitch and, after Chambers singled him to third, scored on a sacrifice fly by Carpenter.
Bryant 9, Searcy 5
The Sox scored eight runs in the first three innings then held on for the win. B.J. Wood went 3-for-5 with a double and three runs batted in. Bryan, Andrew Norman and A.J. Nixon each had two hits in support of Daniel Minton and Daniel Price.
“We watched the Searcy-Newport game and I was concerned because Searcy had only used their ace for three innings on Thursday,” Harrison said, referring to Justin Moore who pitches at Seminole Junior College. “So we were somewhat rooting, internally, for Newport. And they had control of the game until the seventh inning. After leading 5-1, they gave up two unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh to lose.
“Searcy was going nuts with the win and I knew they wanted to play us because we had some mouthing going back and forth when we played them in Bryant,” Harrison noted. “But their coach decided to save Moore for the finals so that, if we won, he’d be ready for a District game on Tuesday.”
A five-run second got the Sox off on the right foot. Nixon got things going with a screamer to the wall in left that rebounded so hard he only got a single. Clay Jones walked and Norman singled to load the bases. A bouncer to third by Bryan drew a bad throw and Nixon scored the first run.
B.J. Wood followed with a two-run single. An error on a grounder by Dustin Easterly loaded the bags again and a groundout by Chambers and a botched bouncer off Carpenter’s bat made it 5-0.
Carpenter made a sparkling play on a liner to his left to help Minton retire the side in the home second.
In the third, Jones singled and came up lame. Dustin Tinkler pinch-ran and scored on Norman’s double into the left-field corner. Bryan traded places with Norman to make it 7-0 then B.J. Wood cracked a third-consecutive two-bagger to cap the inning.
Searcy got a run in the bottom of the inning but Bryan gunned down a runner at the plate to keep it 8-1.
A two-run homer in the third whittled into the lead but, after missing scoring opportunities in the fourth and fifth, the Sox got one back in the sixth. Moore walked and courtesy runner Andrew Moseley took third on a single by Nixon. Tinkler delivered a sacrifice fly.
Searcy rallied in the sixth, scoring twice, thanks in part to a botched rundown. It was 9-5 and Searcy had runners at first and second and no one out. Minton retired the next two then issued a walk to load the bases.
Price, whom Harrison was trying to save for the finals, came on in relief and got out of the jam with a clutch strikeout on three pitches then closed out the win with a 1-2-3 seventh.
Bryant 4, Sylvan Hills 1
Sunday morning, B.J. Wood started the day with a dominating pitching performance against a very tough Sylvan Hills Bruins team. After Brent Mason led off the game for Sylvan Hills with a solo homer, Wood went seven innings and allowed just two more hits. He fanned seven. He retired eight in a row after Mason’s blast. After hitting Mason with a pitch in the top of the fourth, he set down six more before surrendering a two-out single to Chad Taylor in the fifth. The only other Bruins’ hit was a two-out double by Justin Franco in the sixth.
“The complete game took 88 pitches,” Harrison noted. Wood walked no one.
Chambers led the offense with two hits including a homer. He drove in all four Bryant runs.
“Sylvan Hills clinched their pool before Saturday’s game, so I was concerned since they didn’t have to throw anybody Saturday,” Harrison said. “Plus, they probably have the best talent in the state and I didn’t know who to throw. I talked to B.J. after the Saturday game and he wanted to start. He focused Saturday night, went to be early . . . we got to the ballpark early, played some pepper and were pretty loose, so I started feeling better about our chances. After the first batter, B. was in control.”
The Sox tied it in the bottom of the first. With one out, Easterly doubled to left-center. Moseley, the courtesy runner, scored on a single to center by Chambers. Walks to Carpenter and Moore loaded the bases but Mason wriggled off the hook and retired 12 of 13 with seven strikeouts going into the fifth.
With one out in the fifth, B.J. Wood singled and Easterly walked. A wild pitch allowed the runners to move up and leaving first base open for the Bruins to pitch around Chambers. They decided not to, however, and the Bryant first baseman drilled a 2-1 delivery over the boards in right for the 4-1 lead.
Bryant 3, Kansas City, Kan. 1
Facing a team that Harrison said, “We had watched . . . knock the cover off the ball in their game with Batesville,” Travis Wood came up with a gem. To go with his 17 strikeouts, Wood walked three and allowed a lone hit, a solo homer in the top of the fourth by Daniel Rezin.
“He pitched lights out,” Harrison said. “He fanned the side in the top of the first and was impressive in doing so, mixing heat on the corner with a nasty deuce. When he throws strikes, he’s tough.”
And he out-dueled a collegiate pitcher from Central Missouri, Brian Woods.
“He was good,” Harrison commented, “maybe the best we’ve seen this year.”
Though they managed just three hits off Woods, the Sox made the best of them. They took the lead in the bottom of the third when Jones walked, took second on Easterly’s sacrifice bunt, third on a wild pitch then scored on B.J. Wood’s sacrifice fly.
Rezin’s shot in the fourth was the only ball that got out of the infield against Travis Wood who went on to strike out four in the inning including one that reached base on a third-strike wild pitch.
The Sox had a runner cut down at the plate in the bottom of the fifth and stranded runners at first and second. But Travis Wood worked around an error in the top of the sixth as his total number of pitches reached 114.
“I wanted to pull him,” Harrison said. “We decided that if we scored in the bottom of the sixth, he could pitch the seventh, but if we didn’t we were going to B.J.”
Chambers walked and advanced on a wild pickoff throw. Carpenter then doubled to left to snap the tie. A pair of wild pitches brought him home with insurance.
Travis Wood returned for the top of the seventh. “He was pumped,” Harrison said, “and fanned the side on 12 pitches to end it.”
Batesville 9, Bryant 8
“We got ahead, lost focus and didn’t put them away,” Harrison said. “Their pitcher (Aaron Cornett) was undefeated in high school at Concord and struck out 17 in the Class A championship game at Baum Stadium. He was pretty good but we should have knocked him out in the fourth. He was coming off an arm problem but threw 183 pitches. He got new life when they battled back.
“Batesville’s not as bad as their record (6-11),” Harrison added. “This is the first time they had all of their players together. They hit it pretty good, too.”
Bryant had 8 hits, three by Nixon and two by Chambers who drove in three.
Bryant took the lead with a run in the first on an RBI single by Carpenter. In the second, Chambers singled in two to make it 3-0.
Batesville got a run off starter Daniel Price in the bottom of the second but the righty got out of a first-and-third jam to keep it to one.
The Sox countered with a four-run third. They loaded the bases. Nixon singled but was forced at second on a grounder to short by Jones. Moore singled and Norman walked. With two down, B.J. Wood walked to force in a run and Carpenter singled in two. Chambers capped the inning with an RBI double to make it 7-1.
But Batesville scored five in response, with five consecutive hits off Price and Minton, who came on in relief with the score 7-3.
Minton pitched around an error, a hit and walk to preserve the lead in the bottom of the fourth. In the top of the fifth, walks to Bryan, B.J. Wood and Chambers loaded the bases with one out. A run scored when Travis Wood grounded into a force out, making it 8-6.
Batesville trimmed a run off the margin in the sixth and threatened to get more before Minton retired the side. In the seventh, however, a single, a stolen base and a two-out hit up the middle tied it. A balk sent the potential lead run to second but Bryan came on to get the last out on strikes.
Nixon singled in the top of the eighth and swiped second. Jones followed with a tailing liner down the left-field stripe. “It split the chalk line in half,” Harrison declared. “But the home plate umpire ruled it foul.”
Bryan worked around a double and a walk in the eighth. In the ninth, however, the Sox failed to take advantage of a pair of walks, bunting into a doubleplay and getting a runner thrown out trying to steal. And Batesville won it in the home half on a single, a stolen base and a base hit.
Bryant 7, Excelsior Springs, Mo., 2
Scott Yant struck out 10, walked just two and scattered six hits as the Sox topped the eventual champs. Travis Wood and Dustin Easterly each had two hits for Bryant which still had to rally to win. A four-run sixth put the game away.
“Great ballgame, intense for every pitch,” Harrison said. “Scotty battled the whole game, especially after their first two hitters hit peas — one we caught and the other a single.”
The Sox gained a 1-0 lead in the second when Travis Wood singled, swiped second, took third on a passed ball and scored on Carpenter’s sacrifice fly.
That held until the top of the fourth when Excelsior’s Eric Ohlman led off with a long home run to right to tie it. A single, a steal, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly game Excelsior a 2-1 lead.
That didn’t last long, though. In the bottom of the fourth, Chambers singled and scored on a double by Travis Wood.
After Yant retired Excelsior in order in the top of the fifth, the Sox regained the lead. Easterly singled off the first baseman’s glove and advanced on a late, errant throw. Tinkler, running for the catcher, took third on a passed ball and, after B.J. Wood walked, Chambers drove in the run with a groundout.
The sixth began with walks to Carpenter, Nixon and, with one out, Norman. A run scored when Easterly bounced into a force at second and just beat the relay to first. B.J. Wood’s double plated two then Bryan knocked him home with a single to left to make it 7-2.