Lopsided Sox loss only notable for Milam’s return

JONESBORO — The silver lining for the dark cloud that was the Bryant Black Sox’ final game at the Ray King Classic at Arkansas State’s Tomlinson Stadium Sunday was the welcome return of right-hander Caleb Milam.

The Sox absorbed a 13-0 loss to the Fayetteville Lindsey & Associates Dodgers in the tourney’s third-place game but Milam made the start on the mound and worked into the third inning.

Sidelined by stress fractures in his back and subsequent complications with a medicinal mix-up, Milam hadn’t taken the mound in a Bryant game since April 20 when the high school team played Little Rock Central.[more]

As the Hornets’ No. 2 starter, he had opened the season 4-0 with a sparkling 1.46 earned run average. Over the subsequent two weeks with the pain increasing, he began to struggle some as did the Hornets. He absorbed a pair of tough losses (allowing just two earned runs) then lasted into the second inning against Central in a 3-1 loss.

Initially, Milam and his parents, Russ and Quenna, had been told that with anti-inflammatory and pain medicine along with therapy, pitching and hitting would not worsen the problem. He was, however, forbidden to lift weights. But a mix-up on the anti-inflammatory medicine (he got an anti-viral instead) delayed his recovery and the pain increased.

He still had a 4-3 record and a 1.98 ERA when he was shelved.

Subsequent corrections in the medicine and a specialist’s diagnosis that revealed a defect in Milam’s back that is not uncommon among athletes, helped with his recovery through an aggressive physical therapy regimen to build up his core with proper stretching.

“There is a great chance he will deal with this for the rest of his life,” said Caleb’s dad, Russ. “However, he can still resume normal activities eventually. It’s just important that he become knowledgeable of proper mechanics and building a very strong core.

“The aggressive therapy has been great of Caleb,” he continued, “and we are seeing many good results. He has to reach a certain level of the program before he is completely released to resume full baseball activity. He’s moving very quickly and we are so grateful for that.”

On Sunday, Milam returned with a strikeout of Fayetteville’s first batter. After a walk and a caught stealing, another free pass and a successful stolen base was followed by an RBI single that gave the Dodgers a 1-0 lead. But he recorded his second strikeout to get out of the inning.

In the second, an error, a passed ball and a one-out double made it 2-0 before he induced a pair of flyballs to get out of the inning. The third, however, started with a hit batsman and, after a pair of wild pitches, a two-run homer that gave Fayetteville a 4-0 edge.

The Sox went on to use three more pitchers, Dylan Cross, Matt Neal and B.J. Ellis. Fayetteville added another run in the third, three in the fourth and five in the fifth.

Offensively, the Sox managed just three hits, a single by Chris Joiner in the second, a bunt hit by Caleb Garrett in the third and a one-out single by Lucas Castleberry in the fifth. Fayetteville turned doubleplays in both the second and third innings to squelch Bryant threats. The Sox just couldn't get the key hit when needed. In the third, an error, a walk and a bunt single had the bases loaded with nobody out.

It was, no doubt, a game that will easily be forgotten by the Sox.

Except, perhaps, for Caleb Milam.

“When you’ve been off for several weeks, it’s impossible to be 100 percent when you start back,” Russ Milam said. “Caleb’s pain has ceased, so he’s become very impatient and wants to get on the field. The doctors have told him that gradually and slowly he can begin to train and get some action in games. The American Legion coaches Darren Hurt and Wayne Taylor have been very understanding and accommodating, allowing Caleb to bat a couple of times in a (Junior team) game and he did well. Of course, it was good to see him on the mound. However, we think it may have been a little premature. He’s mentally ready, but needs to brush up on his mechanics. He hasn’t resumed his pitching training yet and you could see that.

“He is begging to come back though and is spending this summer in extensive training. It’s just very important that, with his back injury, he trains consistently with professional supervision to avoid improper techniques.“We are very proud of the determination, we see in Caleb,” Russ said, “and how hard he’s working. We believe with all our hearts that through the ups and downs at this time in Caleb’s life, there are traits being built in his character that will remain there for the rest of his life and will help him be successful at whatever he sets his mind to.”

Bryant is scheduled to return to action tonight at home against Cabot.

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