Junior Sox rally for victory in tournament opener at UCA

CONWAY —Peyton Dillon hadn’t had one of his best games. At the plate, he’d struck out a couple of times with men on base and, on the mound, he’d walked three and committed a throwing error when he came into relieve in the top of the seventh inning in the Bryant Black Sox (16U) Junior American Legion team against the Northwest Arkansas Prospects on Friday.

But he pitched out of that bases-loaded jam and, in the bottom of the inning, he belted a game-winning two-run double as the Sox rallied from a 4-0 deficit to win 5-4 in the Five Tool 16U Showcase Tournament at UCA’s Bears Field.

Noah Davis, who was 3 for 3 with a walk and two runs batted in, had walked to force in a run before Dillon’s blow, which greeted the Prospects’ third pitcher, Walker Immel of Springdale Har-Ber.

Prospects’ left fielder J.D. Crownover of Bentonville West had been playing shallow all game long and Dillon finally burned him, though Sox coach Ozzie Hurt was certain, even if the left fielder had been playing normal depth, he’d never been able to get to the ball.

“We kept talking about it, with Peyton and Noah,” Hurt related. “Noah saw the ball well all day.

“I thought the kid there at the end (Immel) was going to keep throwing Peyton fastballs,” he noted. “And he flips a curveball in and Peyton was out front on it and hit it over him.”

Will Hathcote started on the mound for Bryant and pitched in and out of trouble against the hard-hitting Prospects team, which came into the game off a 17-2 romp. He scattered 10 hits and forced the NWA team to strand six in those four frames. Tyler Bates relieved in the fifth and didn’t allow a hit before giving way to Dillon in the seventh.

“Will, he battled and it’s hard to pitch against a team that doesn’t ever strikeout,” Hurt said. “Everything that we threw, they hit.”

A passed ball contributed to a run in the first inning and an error on a pickoff attempt made a third-inning run unearned. But the Sox turned a nice 1-2-3 doubleplay to help get out of a bases-loaded jam after a run scored in the second.

The Prospects manufactured a run in the fifth.

“Once we minimized our mistakes and didn’t let it get out of hand, they battled,” Hurt said of his team. “Will battled and Bates did a great job. Peyton battled too.”

The Sox were shackled for most of the first four innings by hard-throwing Connor Johnson of Van Buren. He allowed just two hits — both singles to center by Davis — fanned six and walked just one. The lone walk, however, was to Dillon after Davis’ first hit in the fourth as the Sox appeared to be figuring Johnson out.

“We noticed that his fastball was mid-80’s,” said Hurt. “He was throwing well. And the hard part about him was, he was putting it wherever he wanted. Then he’d flip a curveball in. I think our guys were looking fastball but, in the back of their minds, they were thinking ‘He’s going to flip this curveball in, and he’s going to beat me.’ So, we just took the curveball completely out. We just told them, ‘Just hit fastballs, hit it right back at him and stay in the middle.’ And that’s what they did.”

Another hard-thrower, Drew Dudley of Shiloh Christian, relieved in the fifth and the Sox made some noise, cutting the lead to 4-2. Over the final three innings, Bryant had four hits to take advantage of four walks and a hit batsman.

“They were having trouble finding the zone and we knew that,” Hurt explained. “We watched them throw their ‘pens down in the bullpen and we could tell they were kind of wild. We had balls flying on the field. 

“So, we knew, if we stayed patient and just tried to hit fastballs against these guys — because even the second kid that came in (Dudley), he had velo. And it was something that these (15U) junior kids haven’t seen. They haven’t seen velo like that. So, it was an adjustment and they did a great job.”

The fifth began with an infield hit by J.T. Parker. An errant pickoff throw from catcher Casey Shipley of Fayetteville allowed him to go second. Logan White walked on four straight set the stage for Ethan Andrews’ pinch-hit single to left, loading the bases. With one out, Lawson Speer grounded into a force at second as Parker scored Bryant’s first run.

NWA was a strike away from keeping it to that before Davis lashed his third single up the middle to make it 4-2.

Dudley fanned two in a 1-2-3 sixth but, in the seventh, a one-out walk to Andrews started a trend. Blaine Sears walked then Lawson Speer was hit by a pitch to load the sacks. When Davis picked up the RBI walk, Dudley gave way to Immel. He got within a strike of ending the game before Dillon’s game-winning swat.

The Black Sox were set to play again as pool play continued later in the day. 

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