By Rob Patrick
PINE BLUFF — It has become, over the years, a regular occurrence. When the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team returns from a distant tournament like Mountain Home’s Twin Lakes Classic or the Tournament of Champions in Alton, Ill., they struggle in their next game.
And, in recent years, that game has been against Zone 4 rival Pine Bluff Simmons First Bank. Last year after the Mountain Home tourney, the Sox had three days before they played the Bankers then eked out a 3-1 win.[more]
In 2008, the schedule was rearranged so that when the Sox came back from Mountain Home, they clubbed Stuttgart 17-1. But, later in the campaign, they returned from Alton and barely escaped against the Hot Springs AA team, 5-4.
In 2007, the year the team made it all the way to the American Legion World Series, the Sox returned from Mountain Home and lost to Pine Bluff 3-0 then, after coming back from Alton, they lost to Benton, 6-2.
On Monday, June 21, fresh from the 24th Twin Lakes Classic, the Sox traveled to Taylor Field in Pine Bluff and absorbed a 6-2 loss, their first in Zone 4 play.
The Sox dropped to 8-9 overall and 2-1 in Zone 4. Simmons improved to 10-2 overall and 3-1 against Zone foes.
With the news that Little Rock Blue had dropped its Senior team, there are five members of the zone so each game is crucial to the teams’ bid to earn a first-round bye in the Zone Tournament which will be held at Bryant.
On Monday, though, the short-handed Black Sox scrapped and stayed close but just couldn’t break through. Pine Bluff lefty Zach Barr allowed just two hits, walked three, hit a batter and struck out nine. He went the distance and threw 126 pitches.
Bryant’s Jordan Taylor allowed 12 hits but, after a four-run first, kept working his way out of jams until the bottom of the sixth when Josh Guy blasted a two-run homer to give his team some breathing room.
Up to that point, the Sox were very much in position to forge a victory but they stranded nine.
“We’ve got to swing the sticks better,” declared manager Darren Hurt. “We’re just not getting anything going. We’re leaving too many men on. We’re just not getting that big hit when we need it.”
Pine Bluff’s opening salvo began with a double into the left-field corner by Hunter Colson. Tyler Brown made a nice play at third to retire Justin Dardenne but Collin Massanelli singled and stole second to set up Guy who pulled a double down the third-base line to drive both runners home.
With two out, Taylor appeared to be out of the inning on a towering fly to left by Trey Moser. But tracking a high fly at Taylor Field was an adventure Monday because some of the outfield lights were out. Bryant left fielder Brennan Bullock got to the ball but couldn’t hold it. Moser reached second as Guy scored. Ryan Bowlin followed with an RBI double to make it 4-0.
Taylor struck out Garrett Lee to end the inning.
In the second, Bullock beat out an infield hit, a roller on the right side that only Barr could get to. He didn’t get there in time, much less field it cleanly, as Bullock reached. Landon Pickett followed with a grounder to second that was booted then Lucas Castleberry drew a walk t load the bases.
The first run scored when Brown grounded into a force at second. A pitch later, Ozzie Hurt got a safety squeeze bunt down to get Pickett home with second run.
Barr ended the inning with one of his nine strikeouts.
But the Sox were in the game and it was early.
In the bottom of the inning, Taylor worked around a two-out walk to Dardenne and a single by Massanelli, getting Guy to bounce to third.
After the Sox were unable to take advantage of a lead-off walk to Caleb Garrett in the top of the third, one-out singles by Moser, Bowlin and Lee loaded the bases. But Taylor picked Moser off of third for the second out then struck out Antoine Jackson to escape the threat.
Barr struck out four in the top of the fourth after Castleberry reached on a third-strike passed ball with one out.
Taylor again pitched out of trouble in the bottom of the inning. Colson walked and Dardenne was hit by a pitch to start things off but Taylor waded through the heart of the Simmons lineup. Massanelli’s tap to first moved the runners to second and third then, with the infield in, Guy bounced to Hurt at second as the runners held. Donta Howard struck out and the Sox escaped again.
At the plate, the Sox were unable to take advantage of a hit batsman. Back on defense, they again found a way out of a jam. Moser singled and Bowlin blooped a double to right. Lee followed with a grounder to Castleberry at short. When Moser tried the score, the Bryant shortstop fired to catch Chris Joiner for a putout at the plate.
Taylor struck out pinch-hitter Jared Wilson but Colson hit a rocket up the middle that appeared to be headed to center for two more runs only to have Castleberry lay out and make the stab behind second to end the inning.
The Sox made noise in the top of the sixth when Pickett drew a one-out walk and Castleberry lined a single to center for the team’s second base hit. And when Brown hit a bouncer to first, a throw to third was too late and Bryant had the bases loaded with one out.
Barr came back to strikeout pinch-hitter Dylan Cross then Joiner grounded to short as the game remained 4-2.
Dardenne singled to open the bottom of the sixth, advancing on a roller to second. Guy followed with a drive over the boards in left, making it 6-2.
Taylor grittily rebounded from that to strike out Howard and Moser. But a one-out walk to Taylor in the top of the seventh amounted to as much as the Sox could muster as Barr closed out the victory.
The Sox were losing players right up until game time when Cross reported stinging his bruised left thumb. Manager Hurt had to alter his starting lineup putting Joiner behind the plate.
The team was already without catcher B.J. Ellis, still nursing a sore wrist. In addition, ace Ben Wells remained out as he prepares to represent Bryant High School in the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star game and considers an offer by the Chicago Cubs, the Major League team that drafted him in the seventh round. Top hitter Hunter Mayall was out of town and also unavailable for the game.
Pine Bluff was without starter Ryan Dardenne who is also set to play in the All-Star game later this week.
The Bryant Senior team was scheduled to play Little Rock Blue on Wednesday but, instead, there will just be a Junior game. The Senior Sox will return to action at home on Friday against Zone rival Little Rock Continental Express.
PINE BLUFF SIMMONS 6, BRYANT BLACK SOX 2
Senior American Legion
Black Sox ab r h bi Simmons ab r h bi
Joiner, c 4 0 0 0 Colson, ss 3 1 1 0
Garrett, cf 2 0 0 0 Dardenne, lf 2 1 1 0
Taylor, p 2 0 0 0 Massanelli, cf 4 1 2 0
Butler, rf-1b 4 0 0 0 Guy, 1b 4 2 2 4
Bullock, lf 4 1 1 0 Howard, rf 4 0 0 0
Pickett, 1b-3b 2 1 0 0 Moser, c 4 1 2 0
Castleberry, ss 2 0 1 0 Bowlin, 3b 3 0 3 1
Brown, 3b-2b 3 0 0 1 Lee, dh 3 0 1 0
Hurt, 2b 1 0 0 1 Jackson, 2b 2 0 0 0
Cross, ph 1 0 0 0 Wilson, 2b 1 0 0 0
Jobe, rf 0 0 0 0 Barr, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 25 2 2 2 Totals 30 6 12 5
BRYANT 020 000 0 — 2
Pine Bluff 400 002 x — 6
E—Bullock, Jackson. LOB—Bryant 9, Pine Bluff 9. 2B—Colson, Guy, Bowlin 2. HR—Guy. SB—Massanelli, Lee. S—Hurt.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Taylor (L) 7 6 4 12 2 7
Barr (W) 6 2 0 2 3 9
HBP—Taylor, Garrett (by Barr). PB—Moser 2.