Junior Sox surprise Sheridan, advance to District championship game
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting 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).
By Rob Patrick
SHERIDAN — In the winners bracket finals of the Zone 4 Junior American Legion tournament on Sunday, the Sheridan Yellowjackets started eight 17-year-olds against the Bryant Black Sox who started nine 16-year-olds.
You could see the physical difference.
Sheridan emphasizes its Junior team, playing the squad that will most likely start for the high school the next spring. This year’s team features six players that started for the high school in the spring — a team that, with just two seniors, reached the Class 6A State tournament and won a game over Mountain Home before losing to the eventual champion, Benton, just 2-0.
It’s a good team.
But often in baseball, size and strength aren’t the most important things. Rather, it’s about who fields the ball the best, who throws strikes and who takes most advantage of their scoring opportunities.
And, on Sunday, that was the Bryant Black Sox as they rode a nine-run third-inning and the strong right arm of Landon Pickett to a 12-5 victory over Sheridan. The Sox, already bound for the State tournament, advance to the District championship game on Monday at 8 p.m., where they’ll await the winner of the loser’s bracket final between Sheridan and Little Rock Continental Express to be played Monday at 5:30.[more]
Bryant, now 17-8-1, has won eight of its last 10 games (with a tie).
“These guys have never been beaten in District, never been beaten in State so they’re believing,” noted Sox manager Brad Chism.
Of course, none of them, except pitcher Matt Neal who won the tournament opener with a complete game on Friday, have ever played in an American Legion District or State. Still, baseball is baseball and success builds on success.
Pickett was a horse on the mound. He went the distance and, after giving up five runs on six hits over the first three innings, shut out Sheridan on four hits the rest of the way, throwing 135 pitches with no noticeable drop in velocity on his fastball nor snap on his curve which seemed to get better as the game went along.
“Pickett is my guy,” Chism stated. “He’s been our ace since game one. He threw a lot of pitches. He fought from behind in the count a few times and they got some guys on but he’s got that mentality that nobody’s going to beat him and that’s what you’ve got to have for your No. 1 guy.
“I took a chance leaving him for game three,” he added. “I figured we’d be in this situation, playing in the championship game of the winners bracket and I knew this is probably who we’d see. I wanted to throw our ace because I knew they’d do the same thing. It’s worked out for us. We’ve had three starters and three complete games.”
It didn’t look good early. Sheridan’s Tyler Lathan worked a 1-2-3 first then the Yellowjackets’ batters whacked away at some pretty good deliveries from Pickett. A walk by Cameron Holland, a double by Sawyer Dunigan and a two-run single by Cody Clemons put them on the board. Lathan was robbed of a hit on a liner to Lucas Castleberry at short but, after a wild pitch, Clemons scored on a single by Kurt Stamper.
But when Pickett struck out Zach Perkins, a distant relative as it turns out, he seemed to find his stride.
Lathan, using a tough breaking pitch, worked around a two-out single by Evan Jobe in the top of the second.
In the home half, Pickett retired the first two then hit Landon Moore with a pitch. Holland tried to surprise the Sox with a bunt but a diving catch by Brodie Nixon at third retired the side.
The nine-run inning followed.
“I think our kids knew we were in State and came out a little bit satisfied,” Chism said of the slow start. “I told them I don’t want to be in as a third-place team. We’re a championship team and third place in State doesn’t get anything. So we’ve got to start right here.
“We knew you’ve got to score to win a game and it was going to take more than three to beat us, and we responded well with the big nine-run inning there.”
A solid base hit to right-center by Blake Davidson got the uprising started. Nixon drew a walk and Chris Joiner bounced a single through the left side on an 0-2 pitch to load the bases.
Castleberry, who wound up with three hits and four runs batted in, slapped a single to right to knock in the first run. Dylan Pritchett cracked a single up the middle and two scored, tying the game. Castleberry took third and Pritchett wound up at second on a late throw to the plate so both were able to score when Pickett rifled a double inside the third base line, making it 5-3, Bryant.
Pickett wound up with three hits and three runs batted in to help himself.
Lathan finally got the first out of the inning by fanning Caleb Milam then he got Jobe to tap back to the mound. He thought he had a play on Pickett who had made a move off the bag at second. A throw there, however, wasn’t in time as Pickett scrambled back in as Jobe reached first.
Tyler Brown, fresh from a 3-for-3 game on Saturday, sliced the first of his two hits to right and, when the ball bounced past Stamper in right, Pickett scored and Brown took his place at second with Jobe pulling in at third.
And when Davidson’s bouncer to third was booted, the sacks were loaded.
Lathan got Nixon on a called third strike — the only plate appearance in which Nixon didn’t reach base — but Joiner drew a four-pitch walked to force in a run and Castleberry looped a two-run single to right to cap off the inning.
But there was no panic in the veteran Sheridan team. In the bottom of the third, they came back with two runs and might’ve had more but for a sparkling catch in center by Joiner to rob Dunigan of a hit. Clemons followed with a long double to left-center and Lathan singled him home. A wild pitch allowed Lathan to reach second. He took third when Stamper grounded out to Castleberry who ranged to his left to make the play and retire the batter. Perkins doubled to bring Lathan home but, after a long battle, Pickett struck out Brandon Rieve to escape further damage.
And Sheridan scored no more.
Dunigan took over on the mound for the Yellowjackets and pitched around a single by Pickett in the fourth. In the fifth, however, the Sox added on. Nixon was hit by a pitch and Joiner singled. Castleberry drove Nixon home with a double down the right-field line then Pritchett got Joiner home with a sacrifice fly. Pickett’s infield hit in the hole at short drove in Castleberry with the 12th run of the game.
Meanwhile, the Bryant right-hander worked around a one-out bunt single by Moore in the fourth. In the fifth, a one-out walk to Lathan and a two-out single by Perkins failed to develop into anything when Rieve lined out to Joiner in center.
Pickett pitched around a hit batsman in the sixth then retired the first two in the seventh including Lathan on strikes. Singles by Stamper and Perkins extended the game before Rieve lifted a foul pop that drifted down the third base line with Pritchett, the catcher, in hot pursuit. Nearly all the way to third, Pritchett made a lunging catch to end the game in eye-popping fashion.
BRYANT 12, SHERIDAN 5
Junior American Legion Zone 4 Tournament
Black Sox ab r h bi Yellowjackets ab r h bi
Joiner, cf 4 2 2 1 Moore, cf 2 0 1 0
Castleberry, ss 5 2 3 4 Holland, 3b 3 1 0 0
Pritchett, c 4 1 1 3 Dunigan, ss-p 4 1 1 0
Pickett, p 5 1 3 3 Clemons, c 4 2 2 2
Milam, 1b 5 0 0 0 Lathan, p-rf 3 1 1 1
Jobe, lf 4 1 1 0 Stamper, rf-lf 4 0 2 1
Brown, 2b 4 1 2 1 Perkins, 2b 4 0 3 1
Davidson, rf 4 2 2 0 Rieve, 1b 4 0 0 0
Nixon, 3b 1 2 0 0 Ware, lf-ss 3 0 0 0
Totals 36 12 14 12 Totals 31 5 10 5
BRYANT 009 030 0 — 12
Sheridan 302 000 0 — 5
E—Stamper, Holland. LOB—Bryant 8, Sheridan 9. 2B—Dunigan, Pickett, Clemons, Perkins, Castleberry. SB—Moore. SF—Pritchett.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Pickett (W) 7 5 5 10 2 3
Lathan (L) 3 9 6 8 2 4
Dunigan 4 3 3 6 0 1
HBP—Nixon 2 (by Dunigan), Moore 2 (by Pickett). WP—Pickett 3, Dunigan.