COLUMBIA, Tenn. — After 22 games in which the defense has been solid enough to contribute to 20 wins, the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team blew the proverbial gasket in the first game of the Independence Day Classic on Thursday, July 2.
The Murfreesboro Twitty City Tigers, a travel team that was ranked No. 1 in Tennessee and No. 2 in a national poll in 2008, benefitted from a whopping eight Bryant errors to forge an 8-4 win in the pool-play opener for both teams.
Two more tough teams await the Sox on Friday as they conclude pool play against a Tuscaloosa, Ala., team that has won five of the last six Alabama State championships, and a team from Oldham City, Ky., in the suburbs of Louisville.[more]
"With eight errors, we aren't going to win many games, especially against quality teams," acknowledged Sox manager Craig Harrison. "Mufreesboro has a quality team, and they took advantage of our mistakes. In fact, it could have been worse than 8-4.
"It was not the way we wanted to start the tournament, but we still have a chance to to advance if we can win two tomorrow," he added, noting that the top two teams from each pool move on. "We have our work cut out for us. Tuscaloosa and Louisville are both good teams. But we came to this tournament to play very good teams. Hopefully, this experience will prepare us for the stress we will face in the District tournament and, hopefully, in the State if we're fortunate enough to make it."
The Sox play four regular-season games after they return before hosting the District beginning July 17.
On Thursday, they fell behind 4-0 in the top of the first. Murfreesboro loaded the bases with one out on a base hit, a walk and an infield hit. A base hit to right made it 2-0. A third run scored on an errant throw after a pickoff play produced a rundown between first and second. The baserunner at third broke for the plate and drew the wild throw. An errant throw on an infield grounder allowed the fourth run to score. Another error had another runner in scoring position before starter Tyler Sawyer worked out of the inning with a pair of strikeouts.
The Sox fought back with three in the bottom of the inning. Justin Blankenship led off with a single and, after Caleb Garrett walked and Sawyer was robbed of a hit on a one-hop shot to first, Hunter Mayall pulled a double to right to chase in two. Kaleb Jobe singled in Mayall before the next two batters were retired.
In the second, Murfreesboro got a runner on thanks to a third-strike wild pitch and another on by virtue of another error. But Sawyer got out of the first-and-third jam by picking off the runner at third to retire the side.
Catcher B.J. Ellis led off the bottom of the second and was hit by a pitch for the 11th time this year. This time, however, he was unable to continue after taking the pitch off his arm just above the elbow. After a bunt into a force play at second, the Sox were retired stranding a runner.
Sawyer worked around a two-out walk and another error in the third. In the bottom of the inning, Jobe was stranded after belting a two-out double.
The game got away from the Sox in the fourth. A pair of infield hits and the sixth Bryant error loaded the bags with no one out. A fly to right was misplayed and two runs scored. A two-run single followed and the Sox trailed 8-3 with still no outs. Sawyer induced a grounder to short then struck out two more to keep it to that.
Blankenship relieved in the fifth and shut out the Tigers on two hits the rest of the way, though he had to pitch around another error in the sixth and a walk in the seventh.
The Sox didn't make much noise at the plate either. In the fifth, Garrett walked and Mayall singled but both were stranded. In the seventh, Blankenship doubled and scored on a single by Sawyer to set the final score.
Bryant finished with seven hits, two each for Blankenship, Mayall and Jobe and one for Sawyer.