By Rob Patrick
PINE BLUFF — Sometimes even a victory can take[more] its toll on a team.
Last Wednesday, June 9, the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team traveled to Texarkana to tackle the defending State champions in a Zone 4 doubleheader. And they probably played their best baseball of the season so far in sweeping the Razorbacks, gaining the upper hand in the league standings.
But since then the Sox have struggled. They surged late to break open a close game against Zone rival Little Rock Continental Express the following night but, on Monday, the were limited to three hits in a 4-2 loss to Sheridan, when they managed two of those hits and both runs in the final at-bat. They improved on that Tuesday, banging out 10 hits against Pine Bluff Simmons Bank. But they only dented the plate once as the Bankers won the early-season first-place showdown, 6-1.
Pine Bluff, which has yet to play Texarkana, improved to 7-1 overall and 5-0 against Zone 4 foes while the Sox dropped to 6-3 overall and 4-1 versus the league.
“I think I put so much emphasis on those two games and told them if we win these two, we’re in the driver’s seat for that one seed (to the District Tournament),” commented Sox manager Darren Hurt. “The one seed is huge. We keep preaching that. We’ve got to take care of these conference games. But, I think maybe that we were thinking that the sweep of Texarkana gave us the one seed. We haven’t been ourselves, not as much intensity. I don’t think there’s a lack of effort. I just think we kind of settled in and thought we had it.”
All of the runs came on the only extra-base hits of the game. Nine of Bryant’s hits were singles. The Sox’ last hit was an RBI double by Tyler Nelson with two out in the top of the seventh.
Pine Bluff’s runs came on a three-run homer by Dylan James in the fifth, a solo homer by Hunter Colson in the sixth and a two-run double by Justin Dardenne in the sixth.
“I thought we’d give them a little bit better game than that,” Hurt said. “They had two big swings, hit two long balls and then they only had one big hit other than that. Heck, on the three-run homer, Jordan (Taylor) throws it up in his dad-gum eyes and he goes up and tomahawks it out of there. So, I felt Jordan hit his spot. He still felt good but maybe I should’ve brought (Dylan Cross) in sooner.”
Taylor was splendid through four innings, holding Simmons without a hit while striking out six. In the fifth, Nick Hefly broke up the no-hit bid with a double to left-center. Taylor struck out Chris McVay but walked Antwaine Jackson to bring up James. On a 1-2 count, James tied into a pitch that, indeed, appeared to be out of the strike zone up, and shot it over the Taylor Field wall in left.
Dardenne and Josh Guy each singled after that but Taylor got out of the inning with no further damage.
But, in the sixth, Colson hit the first pitch for his homer to make it 4-0.
Cross relieved and retired the first two he faced before hitting Jackson then James. Dardenne followed with a shot into the gap in left-center for a two-run double.At the plate, the Sox just couldn’t break through against Guy despite hits in all but one inning.
“In the first inning, his off-speed stuff was just wearing us out,” Hurt noted. “He was throwing his slider. But once we started laying off the slider and sitting on his fastball, I really thought we were going to knock him off the mound. But, we’d get a hit here and hit there, get a couple men on then bam-bam, we’re out of it.”
In fact, it seemed like the Sox were always getting their hits with two out in an inning. In the first, there were two down when Taylor and Landon Pickett each singled. Lucas Castleberry made a bid for a hit but, Colson, the Bankers’ shortstop (who plays at Southern Arkansas University) made a nice play for a force at second to end the inning.
In the second, Josh Pultro and Brady Butler had singles with one out but when Pultro tried to take third on a pitch in the dirt that got away from McVay, the Pine Bluff catcher, the receiver pounced on the ball and fired to third in time to nab him. With Butler at second, Guy ended the inning with one of his eight strikeouts.
The third inning was one of only two in which the Sox got their lead-off man on. Tyler Nelson beat out an infield hit. He was forced at second on a grounder by Tyler Brown. Taylor came to the plate and worked the count to 3-2. With Brown on the move, Taylor swung and missed and McVay threw out Brown to end the inning.
With one out in the fourth, Castleberry drew the lone walk that Guy allowed. Chris Joiner singled and Pultro followed with a sharp grounder to Colson’s left that the shortstop turned into another doubleplay.
“The doubleplays were a killer,” Hurt acknowledged. “We’ve got to hit better with men in scoring position.”
Guy’s only 1-2-3 inning was the fifth, setting up his team’s breakthrough in the bottom of the frame. In the sixth, he pitched around a two-out single by Pickett.
As they have in each of the three most recent games, the Sox made some noise in the last inning. This time, Joiner and Pultro singled to open the inning. But Butler’s shot to center held up for Scott Scifres to haul in for the first out and, after B.J. Ellis fanned, the Sox were down to their last out.
Nelson came through with a drive to left-center for an RBI double but Guy ended it by getting Brown on a comebacker.
The Sox return to action on Thursday when they meet perennial State power Fort Smith Kerwins in a doubleheader at UCA in Conway.
PINE BLUFF SIMMONS 6, BRYANT 1
Senior American Legion
Black Sox ab r h bi Bankers ab r h bi
Nelson, ss-2b 4 0 2 1 James, 3b 2 2 1 3
Brown, 3b 4 0 0 0 Dardenne, lf 4 0 2 2
Taylor, p-ss 3 0 1 0 Scifres, cf 3 0 0 0
Pickett, 1b 3 0 2 0 Guy, p 2 0 1 0
Castleberry, 2b 2 0 0 0 Jacobs, 1b 3 0 0 0
Cross, p 0 0 0 0 Colson, ss 3 1 1 1
Neal, p 0 0 0 0 Hefly, rf 3 1 1 0
Joiner, lf 3 1 2 0 McVay, c 3 0 0 0
Pultro, cf 3 0 2 0 Jackson, 2b 1 2 0 0
Butler, rf 3 0 1 0
Ellis, c 3 0 0 0
Totals 28 1 10 1 Totals 24 6 6 6
BRYANT 000 000 1 — 1
Pine Bluff 000 033 x — 6
E—none. DP—Pine Bluff 2. LOB—Bryant 7, Pine Bluff 6. 2B—Hefly, Nelson. HR—James, Colson. SB—Butler.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Taylor (L) 5 4 4 5 4 7
Cross 0.2 2 2 1 0 1
Neal 0.1 0 0 0 0 1
Guy (W) 7 1 1 10 1 8
HBP—Jackson, James (by Cross). WP—Taylor, Guy.