Sox’ second win over Pine Bluff secures share of title
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By ROB PATRICK
With just under a month left in the season but only two games left in District play, the Bryant Black Sox AAA American Legion team clinched at least a tie for the Zone 4 regular-season championship with a 9-5 win over Pine Bluff Simmons First Bank at Bryant High School Field on Monday, June 26.
The win improved the Sox to 20-1 on the season, 10-0 in league play including two wins over Pine Bluff, the Bankers’ only losses in District play so far. Little Rock Post 1 Red, whom the Sox were set to play on Tuesday, June 27, also had two losses. A win over Red would seal the league’s regular-season title for Bryant and give the defending State champs a first-round bye in the league’s post-season tournament which will determine its two entries in the 2006 State Tournament in Fort Smith. Bryant will host the District tourney July 20-24.
The Sox found themselves in an unusual position on Monday night: They trailed early. Simmons pushed across a pair of unearned runs in the opening frame. An error kept the inning alive and was followed by three consecutive singles including RBI hits by Logan Kizer and Dustin Huggins before Sox starter Cory Lambert got Taylor Simmons to line to second baseman Devin Hurt to end the inning.
The Sox struck back immediately. Joey Winiecki extended his hitting streak to 20 games with an infield hit to open the bottom of the first, Danny Riemenschneider shot a liner to left for a base hit and Justin Wells walked to load the bases. Though Hurt’s sacrifice fly produced the only run of the inning as Pine Bluff lefty Cory DeJarnette toughened, it was an important tally according to Bryant manager Craig Harrison.
“We told (the players) that if we can get ahead of these guys, we think we can play with their minds,” Harrison related, “because I think they think they can’t beat us because we’ve had their number the last two years. We gave up the two but we battled right back, bases loaded in the first. We didn’t get but one, we had a couple of bad at-bats but then we hit the ball good in the second.”
Indeed, Lambert gave up a two-out single to the Bankers’ speedy lead-off man Matty Johnson but picked him off to end the inning.
In the bottom of the second, Ryan Wilson walked ahead of five Black Sox hits. Casey Grisham crushed a liner to right that sent Wilson to third. An out later, Winiecki drove in the tying run. Riemenschneider followed with another laser to left to give Bryant a 3-2 lead. Wells’ single up the middle plated Winiecki and, with two out, Hurt came through again with a clutch base hit to give his team a 5-2 advantage.
Pine Bluff managed a run in the top of the third on a double by Sheldon Pratt and a clutch two-out RBI single by Kizer but that was it for the Bankers until the seventh.
Bryant tacked on a run in the fifth when Davidson singled, Hurt sacrificed him to second, he took third on a wild pitch and Travis Queck delivered the run with a sacrifice fly.
“We got a man on in the fourth and didn’t bunt and wound up hitting into a doubleplay,” Harrison noted. “So (in the fifth) we got the lead-off man on and I said we’re going to bunt now. We got that, a wild pitch and the sac-fly and that’s the way we play.”
Tanner Zuber relieved Lambert in the top of the sixth and retired the side around a two-out walk then the Sox busted it open in the bottom of the inning with the help of Pine Bluff’s only error of the game. Justin Gaddy led off with a single to right-center, Winiecki walked and Riemenschneider got his third hit to load the bases for Wells who squibbed one in front of the plate. DeJarnette came in to field the ball but when he tried to ease a throw home for a force, the ball sailed past the catcher and two runs scored.
A pitch later, Davidson grounded to second to drive in Riemenschneider.
Wells, the Bryant closer, was ready if the game had stayed 6-3 but with the additional runs, Harrison took the opportunity to get Riemenschneider, who hadn’t pitched in eight days, some work on the mound. Pine Bluff managed a pair of runs on a walk, a bloop single, a solid single to left by Sam Neal and an RBI groundout by Kizer. But Riemenschneider got Huggins to pop up to Grisham at first to end the game.
“Tyler (Pickett) did a good job behind the plate tonight,” Harrison noted. “He had to catch both games (AA and AAA) and he battled. None of our pitchers had their best stuff but they really battled too. Danny didn’t even get a chance to warm up.
After taking on Little Rock Red, the Sox make their annual trip to Alton, Ill., for the multi-state Tournament of Champions, an event they won last year.
“Hopefully we can go ahead and clinch the league ourselves, then go have some fun (in Alton), get some other guys some playing time,” Harrison concluded. “We’ve been playing a pretty set lineup lately. We’ve been playing pretty good and it’s hard to change things when they’re league games and we’re going well.
“The whole team — what can you say. We just hope to keep it going. There’s almost always one point in the season when things kind of come apart and I don’t know when it is. It seems like it happens every year. It’s been that way the last 12 years. But, you know, this is a different group and they seem to stay in it where as other teams might take a night off or whatever. We’ll see what happens.”