June 26 in Bryant athletic history: 2002

AAA Sox rally past No. 1 Pine Bluff

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).

PINE BLUFF — A.J. Nixon and Clay Jones were not having a great night. Between them, they had struck out five times against Pine Bluff Simmons First starter Erik Forestiere. Nixon had managed to contribute to a four-run fifth inning that got the Bryant Blacksox AAA American Legion team back into a game in which they had fallen behind 6-1 in the first two innings. He had driven in Bryant’s fifth run with a grounder to second.

Moments later, however, Nixon, representing the tying run, had been picked off for the second out of the inning, then Jones had fanned to end it.

But baseball regularly offers chances for redemption.

With left-hander Cody Dreher holding the top-ranked Pine Bluff team hitless through three innings of relief, the second-ranked Sox again mounted a rally in the top of the seventh. Matt White, who was on base four times in the game, had tripled and homered, walked and Cody Graddy smacked his fourth single of the game to lead off the inning. Both runners moved up when Kevin Littleton tapped to first then White scampered home when Derek Chambers grounded out to first, tying the game at 6.

With two down, Nixon and Jones were to follow. This time, they came through. Nixon put the Sox ahead with a single to left then Jones smacked a dramatic two-run homer. Suddenly, Bryant led 9-6.

Jones has a flair for the dramatic. Like the rest of his Blacksox teammates, he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs — heck, they play in a home ballpark that’s one of the most expansive in the state. But when Jones hits one, it’s been big.

In Bryant’s very first game of the season, he jacked a grand slam to snap a 3-3 tie as part of a seven-run seventh inning rally that turned a 3-0 deficit into a 7-3 win. In high school during the spring, Jones hit one home run, a crucial two-run bomb in the seventh inning of a win at El Dorado.

Even after the Sox’ rally, nothing was decided. Dreher issued a walk with one out then a two-out error extended the game in the bottom of the seventh. He then hit Cory McCoy to load the bases. Bryant manager Craig Harrison called on Chance King with the winning run at the plate. It took King five pitches to strike out Keke Ento to end the game in dramatic fashion.

(And guess who turned up as the No. 1 team in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Top 10 on the next Saturday? Paint it Black.)

Sox’ ace Scotty Yant was victimized by the Bankers in the first couple of innings. With bleeders and dinks and, maybe two hard-hit balls, Pine Bluff scored four times in the bottom of the first and twice more in the second.

Bryant led 1-0 after White tripled and Graddy singled in the top of the opening inning. In the bottom of the frame, the first six Pine Bluff batters reached base, the first five on singles — on a bunt. It was 2-1 before Yant issued a bases-loaded walk to Derek Drewitt. After he fanned Nick Aldridge, another run scored on a grounder to short by Jason Edwards.

In the second, Forestiere struck out the side. McCoy singled and, with one out, Hudson Smart and Matt Morgan walked for the Bankers in the bottom of the inning. McCoy scored on a wild pitch and Smart came home on a double by Forestiere. But that’s where Yant put a stop to it. He retired the next two and Pine Bluff stranded runners at second and third. And, in the third, Yant bulldogged through a hit batsman and a single with two down.

But through three innings, the Bryant right-hander had eclipsed the 100-pitch mark and Dreher relieved in the fourth. The lefty allowed just two base-runners over the next three innings as the Sox rallied.

The fifth-inning uprising began with a single by B.J. Wood and White’s third home run of the season, tops on the team. Graddy smacked his third hit of the game then advanced to second when Littleton’s grounder was misplayed. Chambers singled him in then Littleton scored when Nixon’s grounder forced out Chambers at second.

Dreher worked around a two-out walk in the sixth and earned the victory when the Sox rallied and King came through with the final strikeout.

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