By Rob Patrick
HOT SPRINGS — With one out in the top of the seventh inning, Devin Dupree of the Everett Black Sox[more] of Bryant waited out a walk from Hot Springs Lakeside reliever Tanner Hecke. With two out, Jason Hastings slapped a bloop to right that fell neatly in a small area just beyond Lakeside’s second baseman and right fielder.
The inning was beginning to have the feel of a Black Sox comeback. They’d turned the lineup over and found away to get the heart of the order up to the plate. Trailing 5-2, hot-hitting Wesley Akers came to the plate as the potential tying run and, on a 1-2 delivery, he ripped a long drive to right that seemed destined to drive home two runs and get Akers, the potential tying run into scoring position for clean-up slugger Cody Gogus.
But Lakeside centerfielder Austin Softly streaked into the gap and, at the base of the fence, made a diving catch to rob Akers and the Sox. Lakeside held on for the win to advance to the championship of the first Ryan White Memorial Tournament. They’ll play Texarkana this evening at 7:30 for the title. Bryant will take on Cabot in the third-place game at 5 p.m.
The loss snapped the Black Sox’ five-game winning streak. They’re now 16-4 on the season.
And they’re scheduled to get another shot at Lakeside at home on June 28 with a return trip to the Rams’ field on July 2.
Chances are, too, that both teams will be involved in the AA American Legion State Tournament in Bryant starting Friday, July 13.
It says something about the Bryant baseball program that these Black Sox — all 17-and-under (basically a Junior Division team by age) — are competing at the AA level, by choice. The AA Division includes mostly 19-and-under teams that draw from smaller school districts than the 19-and-under teams in the Senior Division. Likewise, Bryant’s team of 15- and 16-year-olds — an A Division team by age — is competing in the Junior Division.
The success of baseball in Bryant makes for high expectations.
So, the Sox expected to beat Lakeside Saturday night. But they struggled with Lakeside starter Bo Ritter, who held them to two runs on four hits over the first six innings.
Meanwhile, Akers, climbing up on the bump for the first time in a game since he worked an inning against Oklahoma City on June 10, struggled a bit to find his groove. He worked into the fourth and walked just one but he hit four batters and Lakeside took advantage with six hits to build the 5-2 lead.
Hastings relieved with two in, two on and two out in the bottom of the fourth. He issued a walk to load the bases but then retired seven in a row through the sixth, fanning four.
The Sox got a run in the top of the first when Trevor Ezell singled, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout by Hastings and scored on a single to left by Akers.
Lakeside answered in the bottom of the inning. Marcus Fisher singled. He tried to steal second and, though the throw from catcher Trey Breeding was on time and on target, second baseman Korey Thompson tried to catch and tag just a little too quickly and the ball squirted out of his glove.
Softly singled Fisher to third then stole second before Hayden Lindsey drew a walk to fill the sacks. Akers kept battling, however, and got clean-up hitter Chase Willingham to pop to Ezell at short. Hecke then hit a grounder to Ezell who flipped to Thompson in time for an out but the relay to first was just shy of completing the doubleplay that would’ve kept the Rams off the scoreboard. The Sox got a break though when Softly broke slowly from second, apparently forgetting there was only one out when the play started. Gogus, playing first, whipped a throw to Harrison Dale at third to nab Softly for the third out but not in time to prevent Fisher from scoring the tying run.
Bryant added a run without a hit in the second. Chase Tucker was hit by a pitch with one out. He was on the move and made it to second when Thompson grounder to short. He took third on an errant pickoff throw by Ritter, who proceeded to walk Breeding.
When the count got to two strikes on Austin Caldwell, Breeding left early from first and drew a throw from Ritter as Tucker broke toward the plate. Apparently forgetting how many outs there were, Fisher, the shortstop, caught the ball and didn’t even try to tag Breeding. He came off that play and fired home. But Tucker scored easily and Breeding was safe as well.
Akers worked around a hit batsman in the bottom of the inning but Ritter retired the Sox in order in the top of the third thanks in large part to first baseman Tanner Crumpton who robbed Ezell of a hit by snagging his line drive.
Fisher, Softly and Lindsey started the bottom of the third with consecutive singles and the Rams pushed two runs home. The tying tally came in when the Sox turned a doubleplay. But, on the way to retiring Hecke to end the inning, a wild pitch allowed Softly to score the go-ahead tally.
Gogus started the top of the fourth with a single and Dale followed with a lined shot that Fisher speared at short. Ritter retired the next two to send it to the bottom of the fourth.
Ryan Crumpton singled with one out then Jonathan Barmore was hit by a 1-0 delivery. It was 3-1 when Ritter was nicked by another delivery, loading the bases. Akers recouped to get Fisher to fly to left then was a strike away from getting through the inning unscathed when he plunked Softly, forcing in a run.
Hastings relieved and issued a walk to Lindsey to force in the second run of the inning but then he struck out Willingham to end the inning.
The Sox made a bid to answer in the top of the fifth. With one out, Dupree bounced a single up the middle and Ezell drew a walk. They moved up on Hastings’ tap to first bringing up Akers who worked the count to 3-2 before hitting a hard grounder to Fisher at short, ending the inning.
Ritter walked Gogus to start the sixth but retired the next three as he finished six innings with 115 pitches for the night, handing the pitching duties to Hecke in the seventh.
"I would much rather us win a State championship than this championship here," said Black Sox coach Jimmy Parker. "I want us to get better. I saw some areas where we did get better but I saw some areas where we just kind of settled for the result, if you know what I mean.
"We've got a good team," he emphasized. "They've just got to understand that things are going to go wrong in a baseball game and they can't panic. They have to work through things and they have to understand that's baseball. And baseball's a game that will drive you crazy if you let it. They just need to work on the mental part and they'll be fine."
HOT SPRINGS LAKESIDE RAMS 5, BRYANT EVERETT BLACK SOX 2
AA American Legion
Black Sox ab r h bi Rams ab r h bi
Ezell, ss 3 1 1 0 Fisher, ss 4 2 2 0
Hastings, lf-p 4 0 1 0 Softly, cf 2 1 2 1
Akers, p-3b 4 0 1 1 Lindsey, 2b 1 0 1 1
Gogus, 1b 2 0 1 0 Willingham, c 3 0 0 0
Dale, 3b-lf 3 0 0 0 Hecke, lf-p 3 0 0 1
Tucker, cf 2 1 0 0 T.Crumpton, 1b 2 0 0 0
Thompson, 2b 3 0 0 0 R.Crumpton, rf 3 1 1 0
Breeding, c 2 0 0 0 Barmore, 3b 2 1 0 0
Caldwell, rf 1 0 0 0 Ritter, p-lf 2 0 0 0
Dupree, rf 1 0 1 0
Totals 25 2 5 1 Totals 22 5 6 3
BRYANT 110 000 0 — 2
Lakeside 102 200 x — 5
E—Thompson, Ritter. DP—Bryant 2. LOB—Bryant 8, Lakeside 5. SB—Ezell, Softly, Tucker, Breeding.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Akers (L) 3.2 5 5 6 1 2
Hastings 2.1 0 0 0 1 4
Ritter (W) 6 2 2 4 3 5
Hecke (S) 1 0 0 1 1 2
HBP—Tucker (by Ritter), T.Crumpton, Barmore, Ritter, Softly (by Akers).