Zion Collins had two hits which is more than he gave up in three innings of relief as the Bryant Black Sox Junior American Legion team opened the 2017 season with a 7-3 win over the Acme Brick Black Cats on Monday night at Bryant High School Field.
Brayden Lester worked three innings of shutout ball as the Sox’ starter before Acme’s three-run fourth cut the Bryant lead to 4-3. Collins relieved in the fifth and retired the first seven batters he faced before issuing a one-out walk in the top of the seventh. Acme’s Braxton Bailey grounded into a force play then was thrown out trying to steal second by Bryant catcher Ryan Lessenberry to end the game.
Along with Collins, Peyton Dillon had two hit. Lester drove in two runs and, as a team, the Sox stole six bases.
Lester got in a jam in the opening inning. A walk to Brock Brownlee with one out was followed by a two-base throwing error on John Fowler’s grounder. With the infield in, the Cats’ clean-up hitter Ethan Cevela tapped back one back to Lester, who caught Brownlee wandering off third. He was caught in a rundown and tagged out by catcher Jacob Coppock.
Though Fowler advanced to third, he was stranded when Justin McKim flew out to Hayden Brimhall in right.
In the home half, McKim, a lefty, struggled with his control. He issued a one-out walk to Coppock then hit Lester. With Logan Catton on to run for Coppock and Konnor Clontz running for Lester, Dillon was plunked to load the bases. A wild pitch allowed Catton to score and when Acme catcher Dawson Jennings’ throw to the plate got past McKim covering, Clontz sprinted home as well to make it 2-0.
McKim settled down, momentarily, to strike out the next two but, after Lester just needed six pitches to get through the top of the second, Brimhall was struck by a 3-2 delivery with two out in the bottom of the inning to get things going for the Sox again. Collins walked then Coppock was drilled with a 2-2 pitch to load the bases.
Fowler came on to relieve McKim and was greeted by Lester’s two-run single to left, Bryant’s first hit of the game, making it 4-0.
Lester pitched around a two-out double by Brownlee in the third and Fowler kept it 4-0 despite lead-off walks to Cade Dupree and Jarod Yarborough in the bottom of the inning. Dupree and Yarborough worked a double steal but were stranded.
The Cats’ fourth started with singles by Cevela and McKim. Jennings followed with a drive to right center that Yarborough tracked down but just couldn’t quite haul in. One run scored on the play then another came in when Hayes Connor grounded out to Collins at short. Grayson Huneycutt’s single made it 4-3.
Will Hixon sacrificed Huneycutt to second but the inning ended when Lester got Bailey to roll out to River Holland at second.
Bryant got one run back in the bottom of the fourth. Collins singled and stole second but got caught in a rundown trying to swipe third. With two down, however, Lester worked a walk. Clontz swiped second then took third on a wild pitch. Dillon beat out an infield hit and Clontz scored to make it 5-3.
Collins needed just nine pitches to retire the side in the top of the fifth. But he also needed a circus catch by Dupree in deep center for the third out.
After Bailey pitched through a scoreless fifth for Acme, Bryant got to him for a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. Collins was the instigator with an infield hit and a stolen base. With one out, Clontz singled to right-center to bring him around.
He too stole second but stayed there when Dillon’s grounder into the hole at short resulted in an infield hit. Moments later, however, Bailey tried to pick off Clontz. An errant throw allowed him to go to third and Dillon followed up to second.
On an 0-2 count, Dupree grounded to short, picking up the RBI and setting the final score.
The Sox will be back in action on Wednesday at 6 p.m., at home against a team based at Harmony Grove.