The Bryant Black Sox’ bid to repeat as Junior American Legion State champions took a huge step forward on Thursday night with an 8-3 win over the only other previously unbeaten team in the tournament, which started with 16 teams.
Sheridan Peoples Bank had outscored their previous three opponents, 40-7. But, on Thursday, they were shackled by Bryant right-hander Logan White, who allowed just three hits through six innings.
The tournament will resume on Sunday in Sheridan. Bryant will play Jacksonville after Sheridan takes on North Central Arkansas. The winners of the two games will play later in the evening. The Black Sox are guaranteed a spot in the championship round. If the Sox defeat Jacksonville, the winner of the other game would have to beat them twice to take the title. If the Sox happen to lose to Jacksonville, they would advance to Monday’s title game with Jacksonville and Sheridan meeting Sunday night for survival.
Thursday’s game was even at 2-2 until the bottom of the fifth when the pitch count started to mount for Sheridan lefty Fischer Thompson, who had pitched just as well as White.
With one out, White lined a single to right-center — the Sox’ fourth hit of the game. He advanced to second on one of Thompson’s four wild pitches. Ryan Riggs followed with an infield hit. A passed ball allowed White to score the tie-breaking run.
With two out, Colby Morrow belted Thompson’s 104th pitch into left-center for an RBI double to make it 4-2.
Though the pitch limit is 105, Thompson was allowed to finish the next batter, Will Hathcote. He wound up walking him on four pitches as he came out after 108 deliveries.
Thompson finished with nine strikeouts and three walks.
“We actually expected to see someone else,” said Sox manager Ozzie Hurt, regarding Thompson. “But that kid was kind of the same way. Anytime a left-hander can throw his off-speed for a strike anytime he wants, it makes it tough. And that’s exactly what he did.
“But I told (the players), the umpire’s giving it off just a little bit on both sides,” he said, regarding the strike zone. “So, we had to just find ways, whenever we got to two strikes, to battle as long as we could and just find a way to get his pitch count up. Because we knew, if we could get him out, we would go. And that’s what it took. They did a good job of it.”
Eli Casey relieved and ended the fifth inning with a strikeout.
In the top of the sixth, hoping to answer Bryant’s rally, all Sheridan could muster was a two-out walk to Casey. White, who fanned eight in his six innings, struck out Levi Flora to end the frame and, as it turned out, his night on the mound.
White finished with 93 pitches.
Casey hit Jaxon Ham with a pitch to start the bottom of the sixth. He would wind up hitting four Bryant batters in a four-run inning.
After Ham was plunked on a 3-0 pitch, Jordan Knox lined an 0-2 delivery to right field for a single. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third before Lawson Speer was struck by a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases.
White was robbed of a hit by Sheridan second baseman Evan Ward, but Ham scored.
With one out, Riggs cracked an RBI single to left to make it 6-2. Speer stopped at third but when the throw came home, Riggs hustled into second. With two away, Casey got down 3-0 to Morrow and Sheridan put him on to load the bases.
Drew Hatman got down 0-2 in the count, but Casey hit him to force in Speer. Moments later, on another 0-2 pitch to Hayden Thompson, he drilled him to force in a fourth tally, making it 8-2.
Hatman took over on the mound in the top of the seventh and gave up a lead-off single to Caleb Patrick. With one out, Konner Canterbury doubled then Ward singled in Patrick.
With Canterbury on third, Hatman struck out Brandon Alridge as Ward was trying to steal second. It was ruled that Alridge got in the way of Riggs, the Bryant catcher, and the game ended with that unusual doubleplay.
Bryant grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first inning. A one-out walk to White. A passed ball and a wild pitch followed, getting him to third for Riggs, who singled to center, the first of his three hits in the game.
Riggs stole second then, with two out, Morrow came through with an RBI single to right.
Sheridan’s first hit, a single by Ashton Branson to start the second, was erased when the Sox turned a doubleplay, started by Cade Parker at third.
In the third inning, White started to have command issues. He had fanned the first two batters, but walked Canterbury and Ward.
Hurt visited the mound the first of two times.
“The first time, I told (White), ‘You just walked the one- and two-hole to get to their best hitter,’” he related. “Then he hits a single and the next kid hits a single and they score.”
The first kid was Aldridge. He drove in Canterbury. The second kid was Thompson, who drove in Ward.
A wild pitch put those two in scoring position but White escaped further damage by striking out Branson.
White pitched around a hit batsman in the fourth then set down the side in order in the fifth. With two out in the sixth, after Branson had lined out to left, Casey worked a walk and Hurt made a second trip to the mound.
“It was just making sure he was okay,” he said. “Logan (who was out with an off-field injury) hadn’t pitched in a month, at least. So, we were kind of scared seeing his pitch count get higher and higher and higher. So, that was really just checking on him, making sure he felt okay.”
He felt well enough to strike out Flora to set up the Sox’ game-breaking outburst in the home sixth.