By Rob Patrick
Photos by Kevin Nagle
It was a bittersweet end to the season for the Everett Black Sox of Bryant Sunday as the 2012 American Legion AA State Tournament at Bryant High School Field concluded.
The bitter part was the fact that they just ran out of gas at the end. Playing their fourth game in two days, the Sox suffered a 13-4 loss to Pine Bluff National Bank in the championship round.
The sweet part was a scintillating, hotly-contested 5-3 win over Newport Kell Motors in the game right before the final and the fact that, against the odds, they reached the title round.
Playing in a division that included teams with players aged 19 and under, the Sox, with only one play over the age of 16, made it all the way to the State finals. Though they lost to a team that was primarily the White Hall High School team that won the Class 5A State high school baseball championship, they battled to the end.
Bryant manager Jason Thompson acknowledged the toll that the four games had taken on his team but added, “Not only that, but a good Pine Bluff team. Those guys pounded out some good hits. And only that, they’re good kids, good coaches. You don’t want to lose any game but if you’re going to lose one — those guys are classy over there.”
The Sox were without one of their top pitchers and top hitters in Wesley Akers, who was injured during the 3-2 loss to Newport on July 15. The innings took their toll on the pitching, though they benefitted from some solid relief from a pair of guys that played Junior Legion most of the season. Dakota Besancon closed out the win over Newport allowing one run over the final two innings. And, in the loss to Pine Bluff, Justin Emmerling did a good job while the Sox trimmed a 9-2 lead to 9-4.
The Bankers scored four times in the bottom of the sixth to put the game on ice.
“These kids came in, they bought in, they believed in themselves,” Thompson said of his team. “Once we got to the Newport game today, it felt like they could win it. They got a little more fire in them once we won that game. We got where we wanted to be but then things happened and we couldn’t force the ‘if’ game.
“Our guys competed hard and they played well,” he added. “(Coaches) Jimmy (Parker), Mark (Akers) and I are proud of them. It was a great season. State runner-up in AA. We hosted and we had a great tournament. You don’t ever say you’re happy finishing second but, with what we had to overcome to get here, to beat Newport. We’re proud of every one of these guys.”
Bryant 5, Newport 3
Against Grant Black, a big right-hander that’s headed to Arkansas Baptist University this fall, the Sox rallied to tie with a run in the bottom of the fifth then scored three in the sixth to gain the upper hand.
Chase Tucker, after closing out the Sox win on Saturday over Wynne, started and held Kell to just five hits and two runs, one earned, over the first five innings. With the game tied 2-2, Besancon came on and allowed just two base-runners in the last two frames, picking up the win in his first AA game.
Austin Caldwell, who had struggled at the plate all season for the Sox, came through with three runs batted in with clutch singles in both the fifth and sixth innings.
Bryant took a 1-0 lead in the second. Harrison Dale doubled on a drive down the left-field line. He moved to third on Drew Tipton’s grounder to the right side then scored on a wild pitch.
With the Sox turning inning-ending doubleplays to get out of jams in the first and third innings, Tucker had a shutout until the fourth. Newport had stranded runners at third base in each of the three frames.
The fourth started with first baseman Cody Gogus making a diving catch of a foul pop in front of the Newport dugout to retire A.J. McCoy. But Bullard was hit by a pitch, stole second then scored on an errant pickoff throw.
A two-out hit by Mike Reynolds and a walk to Devonte Neal (both were freshman at Williams Baptist College this spring by the way) had yet another runner in scoring position when Tucker got Spencer Shannon to fly out to Jason Hastings in center.
Over the first four innings, Newport stranded seven runners.
Controversy arose in the bottom of the fourth. The game had been chippy from the start but it blew up in the fourth. A two-out single by Gogus and an infield hit by Dale that was followed by a throwing error, place the go-ahead runs in scoring position. When Black ended the threat with a strikeout, he taunted the Bryant dugout before walking off the field. The home-plate umpire called him over for a talk, words were exchanged between coaches and a brouhaha ensued that cost both teams a coach.
Newport proceeded to take the lead in the top of the fifth. Tucker had retired the first two batters including a strikeout of Black. A delay ensued in which the umpires had to send the departed coaches completely out of the park. Tucker, who didn’t throw any to stay warm during the delay, issued a walk to Matt Duvall when play resumed. McCoy followed with a long double that plated Duvall, making it 2-1.
But Bryant answered in the bottom of the inning to knot it back up. C.J. Phillips reached on an error and advanced on a wild pitch. Trey Breeding placed a bunt so well it not only moved Phillips to third, he beat it out for a single. Caldwell then bounced a single into left to drive in the tying run.
A one-out single by Korey Thompson loaded the bases but Black escaped with no further damage.
Besancon took the mound for the top of the sixth and Gunnar Bullard beat out an infield hit. Cade Niswonger tried to sacrifice but he popped up his bunt and Besancon grabbed it. And he caught Bullard wandering too far off the bag for a doubleplay. Mike Reynolds lined to left to end the frame.
A walk to Drew Tipton started the Sox’ game-breaking uprising in the home sixth. He stole second and took third on a wild pitch as Phillips walked. With two down, Caldwell came through again in a big way, shooting a single to right to drive in both runners, putting the Sox ahead to stay.
Black hit Trevor Ezell with a pitch then Thompson belted a single up the middle to plate Caldwell, making it 5-2.
Neal reached on an error in the top of the seventh. He stole second and went to third on a grounder to first by Spencer Shannon. Gogus’ toss to Besancon covering was just in time for the out. Neal scored when Black bounced out to second and, a pitch later, Wil Hubbard skied to left where, fittingly enough, Caldwell made the catch to end it.
Pine Bluff National Bank 13, Bryant 4
Bryant trailed just 3-2 going into the bottom of the fourth inning as Gogus dueled with Pine Bluff right-hander Chris Smith. But, aided by three Bryant errors, the Bankers scored six times in the home fourth to take control of the game.
The Sox wound up using six different pitchers along the way with Emmerling keeping Pine Bluff off the board in the fifth. Another error, two hit batsmen and a walk contributed to the Bankers’ four-run clincher in the bottom of the sixth after Bryant had trimmed the margin to 9-4.
The game started with a bang for Bryant as Trevor Ezell lashed a triple to right-center, the first of his three hits. He scored on a grounder to short by Thompson.
Pine Bluff got that run back in the home half on singles by Austin Lewis, Dylan James and Tyler Zuber.
Neither team scored in the second. In the third, Caldwell singled but was thrown out trying to steal by Pine Bluff catcher Justin McCarty. Ezell singled and, with two out, Hastings was plunked but both were stranded when Gogus’ lone fly to right was tracked down.
A two-out walk to McCarty, an RBI double for Zuber and a run-scoring single by Tanner Attwood made it 3-1.
But the Sox made it a one-run game in the top of the fourth when Dale’s fly to left was dropped. Tipton followed with a long fly to left that allowed Dale to tag and head to third. And when the throw in sailed over the third baseman’s head, Dale scampered home.
Smith started the six-run fourth with a double and the Sox went through four pitchers in the inning. Consecutive hits by McCarty, Zuber, Attwood and Conner Clemons highlighted the inning for the Bankers.
Neither team scored in the fifth but, in the sixth, Bryant bot up off the deck when Emmerling walked and, on an errant pickoff throw, sprinted all the way to third. After a one-out walk to Dale, Tipton hit a high pop to shallow right. Clemons went out and caught it but when Emmerling tagged at third, the second sacker slipped and his throw was too late.
Phillips followed with a tap between the mound and the plate. McCarty fielded it but his throw to first was late. Dale took third and, noticing that neither McCarty nor Smith was covering the plate, he sprinted home to make it 9-4.
But that’s all the Sox could get and Pine Bluff responded with a four-run home sixth.
The Sox finish with a 25-7 record.
Bryant AA Sox reach finals, lose to Pine Bluff