By Rob Patrick
BAUXITE — In American Legion baseball, there are four divisions. Teams in the “A” division are made up of players aged 16-and-under. Teams in the Junior Division include players that are 17-and-under.
Things then get a little more complicated. Both the Senior division and the AA division are open to players aged 19-and-under. The difference is that teams that draw from a school district or a combination of school districts that have average attendance at the high school level of more than 1,800 students are in the Senior division while teams that draw from high schools from school districts with less than 1,800 compete at the AA level.
It’s basically the same as the enrollment figured determining what classification a school competes in. It’s based on average enrollment and it’s intended to give the teams from smaller communities from having to compete against those from larger ones including some teams that are basically regional all-star teams (Texarkana, for example, or Fort Smith).
Now, back in the day (not too long ago actually), only those under 18 could play Legion and the AA (18-and-under) teams were lumped in with the Junior (17-and-under), presuming that the Junior teams from larger areas with more players to choose from would be on a par with teams that included 18's from a smaller pool to pull from. (The three divisions back then were AAA, AA, and A).
Invariably, however, when it came time for the AA State tournament, the AA teams with 18's won out over the AA teams without 18's.
So, when American Legion Baseball decided to allow 19-year-olds to play, it was changed so that Junior would be separated from AA when it came to the post-season (District and State tournaments).
Since only the Senior division teams play in leagues or zones, there is still a lot of mixing and matching during the regular season. Open tournaments may include AA teams, Junior teams and even A teams.
Now, while it might seem unfair for a AA (19-and-under) team (however small its communities) to play against a Junior (17-and-under) team, let alone an A (16-and-under) team, as the old saying goes: “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”
So, on Monday, while the fact that the Bryant Black Sox Junior team, which is actually made up mostly of 16-year-olds with a trio of 15’s, suffered defeat for the first time this season at the hands of the Hot Springs Lakeside AA team, which included a college player or two, might be somewhat expected, the fact that the Sox competed bodes well for them down the line.
In fact, Lakeside’s 3-0 win to capture the American Legion portion of the 29th annual Wally Hall Tournament of Champions, was anything but comfortable.
Lefty Tyler Hill, a freshman at Central Baptist College this spring, pitched a six-hit shutout but needed 108 pitches to get it done. He worked out of jams in the second, the fourth and the sixth.
But Bryant’s Tryce Schalchlin, who just finished his sophomore year in high school, nearly matched Hill, holding Lakeside to six hits as well. Two of Schalchlin’s four walks proved problematic but only because of a couple of clutch hits by the Rams early in the game.
“This game helped us get better,” stated Sox manager Jimmy Parker. “With an 18-year-old kid throwing and throwing well, we hit him. We hit some balls hard that were right at the defense.
“I loved the way we played,” he emphasized. “We competed, we scrapped with them. Our pitching today was unbelievable; the first game (in the semifinals against North Little Rock earlier in the day) with Tyler (Green) and this game with Tryce. We couldn’t get a hit when we needed it. We couldn’t get a bunt down when we needed it but it wasn’t because of a lack of effort. They battled and scrapped and I’m very proud of them.”
Lakeside took a 1-0 lead on an unearned run in the top of the first. Jacob Bradshaw walked and advanced to second on an errant pickoff throw. Schalchlin retired Hill and Jonathan Rodgers and got within a strike of ending the inning when Logan Derozier slapped a single to right to chase home the run.
Derozier stole second and went to third on an infield hit by Taylor Parker but Schalchlin picked off Parker to get out of the inning.
In the second, Schalchlin issued a walk to Foster Pratt but then set down the next three to keep it 1-0.
Bryant made a bid to tie it or take the lead in the bottom of the second when, with one out, Daniel Richards and Schalchlin cracked singles and Josh Davis drew a walk to load the bases. With Ozzie Hurt at the plate, the Sox tried to squeeze in a run. But, on a slider boring in on Hurt, he did well just to get a piece and foul it off.
Hill came back to strike out Hurt and Korey Thompson to get out of the jam.
Bradshaw drew a free pass to start the third. Hill sacrificed him to second then Rodgers grounded out to Richards at third as Bradshaw moved up. Derozier followed with a slow roller up the third-base line that he beat out for an RBI single, making it 2-0. Parker then laced a drive to left-center for a double that made it 3-0.
The Rams made noise again in the fourth but the Sox escaped unscathed. Jose Soto and Jordan Craig each singled. Craig took second on a throw to third that just missed nabbing Soto. Garrett Garner followed with a grounder to Hurt at second. Noticing Craig well off the second base bag, Hurt ran towards him and made him commit towards third. At that point, Soto headed home only to have Hurt fire a strike to the plate where Davis made the tag for the out.
Schalchlin then picked off Garner with the fake-to-third, throw-to-first move and, when Bradshaw flew out to Green in center, the Rams’ threat was squelched. Schalchlin went on to allow just one baserunner — Parker, on a lead-off walk in the sixth — the rest of the contest, retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced.
The Sox made another bid to score in the bottom of the fourth. Cody Gogus lined a single to left and Richards drew a walk. Schalchlin got a sacrifice down to put runners at second and third but, Hill retired the next two to preserve the shutout.
Bryant’s last best chance came in the sixth when Marcus Wilson reached on an error, Gogus socked his second hit and, with one out, Schalchlin shot a single to right to load the bases. Davis came up and, on a 1-2 pitch, hit a sharp chopper up the middle that Hill reached high to field. The resulting 1-2-3 doubleplay brought the threat to an end.
In the seventh, Green managed a two-out single before Hill closed out the win.
The Sox were awarded the runner-up trophy after going 4-1 in the season-opening tourney. They’ll return to action on Wednesday at 6 p.m., against Benton.
HOT SPRINGS LAKESIDE AA 3, BRYANT JUNIOR 0
Rams ab r h bi Black Sox ab r h bi
Bradshaw, lf 2 2 0 0 Green, cf 4 0 1 0
Hill, p 3 0 0 0 Ezell, ss 4 0 0 0
Rodgers, c 3 0 0 0 Wilson, lf 2 0 0 0
Derozier, 3b 3 1 2 2 Gogus, 1b 3 0 2 0
Parker, ss 2 0 2 1 Richards, 3b 2 0 1 0
Pratt, cf 1 0 0 0 Schalchlin, p 2 0 2 0
Soto, 1b 3 0 1 0 Davis, c 2 0 0 0
Craig, rf 3 0 1 0 Hurt, 2b 3 0 0 0
Garner, 2b 3 0 0 0 Thompson, rf 2 0 0 0
Graddy, ph 1 0 0 0
Totals 23 3 6 3 Totals 25 0 6 0
Lakeside 102 000 0 — 3
BRYANT 000 000 0 — 0
E—Parker. DP—Lakeside 1. LOB—Lakeside 5, Bryant 8. 2B—Parker. SB—Derozier, Pratt. S—Hill, Schalchlin, Pratt.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Hill (W) 7 0 0 6 1 8
Schalchlin (L) 7 3 2 6 4 2
Lakeside 3, Bryant 0