By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — They started the season with a 22-6 win and the five games that followed[more] weren’t much closer. So, it’s understandable that the defending State champion Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team was feeling pretty good about itself.
They hit a bit of a bump last Tuesday when rival Benton McClendon’s kept them to two runs but the no-hitter that Sox right-hander Tyler Nelson tossed kind of overshadowed the lack of offense.
On Thursday, however, the Sox went to Curren-Conway Field at UALR and took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh and that lack of offense wound up coming back to haunt the Sox when the Little Rock Vipers rallied for three unearned runs with two outs to hand them a stunning 3-2 loss. It was Bryant’s first of the season in eighth games and first in Zone 4 play.
The wake-up call took hold and, with a spark from manager Darren Hurt between games and a controversial call early in the second contest of the twinbill, they got back on track with a 7-1 victory. The Sox hammered out 11 hits including three by lead-off man Trevor Ezell and two each from Hayden Lessenberry and Marcus Wilson to back the four-hit pitching of Hayden Daniel and Devin Dupree.
With those results, the Sox head into Monday’s home doubleheader against Russellville 8-1 overall and 4-1 in Zone games. (A doubleheader at Jonesboro set for Saturday, June 8, was postponed due to ACT test day.)
Shut out on just four hits through six innings by Bryant right-hander Nate Rutherford, the Vipers’ seventh-inning rally started with a Bryant error allowing Jared Shepard to reach base. Tanner Wagner drew a walk on a borderline 3-2 pitch but then Rutherford struck out the next two batters. Lead-off man Conley Culpepper beat out an infield hit to load the bases for Theo Mitchell.
On a 2-1 delivery, Mitchell hit a sinking liner to right that fell in for an RBI single. With one of Little Rock’s top hitters, Colin Carrone, at the plate, Rutherford gave way to closer Tryce Schalchlin. His first pitch, a slider, just missed. His second, a fastball, was yanked down the left-field line for a two-run double that won the game.
Hurt lauded the pitching in both games. He mentioned that, between games, he wasn’t as upset about the loss, for which he claimed some blame, as he was about the team’s approach, particularly at the plate. Vipers’ right-hander Micah Shepard had allowed just three hits, two walks and one earned run in the opener, while striking out just one.
“I thought later in the Benton game, our at-bats, they got worse as the game went on,” he related. “We’re facing soft-throwing righties and we want to complain about the speed of the pitch. I just told them, we’ve got to let that go and we’ve got to get up there and battle. We’re not battling. We’re going up there defeated at the plate and nobody’s getting the job done. We couldn’t get a lead-off man on, we couldn’t get anything going. No intensity, no life. You just can’t expect to win by showing up. They thought if they threw their jersey on, it was over.”
In the second game, the Sox loaded the bases in the first inning on singles from Nelson and Wilson around Lessenberry getting plunked. But the frustration continued when they were unable to get anyone home. Still, Hurt liked the energy he saw from his team. And, with one out in the second, Austin Caldwell drew a walk. Korey Thompson followed with a great bunt down the third base line. He was called out on a close play at first that Hurt argued vehemently as the Sox fans voiced their disapproval.
It was the first in a series of close calls in which the Sox felt they came out on the short end. There were also some side issues that involved some jawing between the two teams.
But that initial controversy, when followed by a long double to right-center by Ezell, seemed the stir the Black Sox.
In the bottom of the inning, Lessenberry threw out a base-runner trying to steal and Daniel struck out two, fueling the fire further.
A six-run third put Bryant in control of the game.
“As bad as I hate to say that a conference loss was a good thing, it might end up being one,” Hurt stated after the contest. “I thought the second game we were a lot more intense. Did we really get the job done at the plate? Well, we didn’t go up there and just knock the cover off it but the attitude was better, at-bats were better and I hope, I think this could be something that sets us on a pretty good path, if we’ll take it that way and let it.”
The game-breaking third began with Nelson getting struck by a pitch from Wagner, the Vipers’ lefty starter. Nelson stole second and Lessenberry laced a single to right and, with him on the run from first, Wilson cracked a hit through the left side that not only plated Nelson but, when Lessenberry drew an errant throw as he slid into third, he too scored to make it 3-0.
Wilson, who wound up on third, came in on Daniel’s sacrifice fly. With the bases clear, however, the Sox didn’t stop there. Chase Tucker got things revved up again with a liner to the gap in right-center for a ringing double. Caldwell placed a bunt for a hit and took second when the Vipers threw home as Tucker rounded the bag hard towards the plate. A throw behind him allowed Caldwell to advance.
Thompson followed with another bunt on a squeeze play and, this time, it wasn’t even close at first as the second baseman was too late covering. That made it 5-0. With runners at the corners, Ezell ripped a 1-1 pitch to deep left for a double that chased Thompson in all the way from first to cap off the scoring.
Little Rock managed its first hit, an infield single, in the bottom of the inning then scored its lone run in the bottom of the fourth. Mitchell singled, stole second, took third on a base hit by Carrone and scored on an errant throw to second on a steal attempt by Carrone.
The Vipers had four base-runners after that. In the fifth, however, a single by Wagner was erased when Daniel picked him off first. In the sixth, Carrone got another hit, a slicing liner to right but when he tried to stretch to a double, Bryant’s Harrison Dale fired a strike to second to nail him.
Dupree relieved in the seventh and was greeted by a single from Daniel Messirer. But, moments later, he got Alex Stilwell to bounce to Hurt at second, who started a 4-6-3 doubleplay.
Jared Shepard walked but Dupree ended it there when Taylor Dunn fouled out to Lessenberry.
In the opener, Rutherford turned in his typically efficient work, using just 57 pitches to get through six innings of shutout ball. The first 10 batters he faced all hit the ball on the ground with two of them getting through for hits. The second was a lead-off single in the third off the bat of Calvin Wilbon. Ezell made a nice play on a hit-and-run chopper to third, charging in and short-hopping the ball to retire Micah Shepard. With Wilbon at second, Rutherford issued the first of his two walks to Culpepper but Mitchell grounded into a force at second and Carrone became the first batter to get the ball in the air, flying out to Wilson in left.
In the fourth, Ezell made a diving stop on a shot by Jared Shepard and first baseman Cody Gogus made a nice scoop on his throw for the third out of the frame. Another gem defensively occurred in the fifth after Wagner singled. With one out, Micah Shepard rolled one to Hurt at short. He fired to first to retire the batter and when Wagner tried to sneak into third, Gogus threw a strike to Ezell for an inning-ending doubleplay.
The Sox scored their two runs and had two of their three hits in the second. Wilson, who went 2 for 3 in the game, singled on a soft liner to left to open the frame. Daniel reached on an error then Gogus walked to load the sacks. With one out, Thompson drilled a hit down the line in left to plate both runs, though he was out trying to stretch it to a double.
Micah Shepard then retired 15 of 17 to finish the game. Wilson singled to start the fourth, stole second. He tagged and went to third on a deep fly to left by Gogus but was stranded there.
Nelson worked a walk to lead off the sixth but Lessenberry’s line drive was speared by the pitcher who threw to first in time to double up Nelson. Though Wilson battled, fouling off three two-strike pitches, he was eventually retired on a grounder to third to end the inning. Shepard closed it out with a 1-2-3 seventh to set up his team’s comeback.
LITTLE ROCK 3-1, BRYANT 2-7
Black Sox ab r h bi Vipers ab r h bi
Ezell, 3b-ss 3 0 0 0 Culpepper, ss 3 1 2 0
Hurt, ss 2 0 0 0 Mitchell, lf 4 0 2 1
Dale, 3b 0 0 0 0 Carrone, c 4 0 1 2
Nelson, dh 2 0 0 0 Massirer, 3b 3 0 0 0
Lessenberry, c 3 0 0 0 Stilwell, 1b 3 0 0 0
Wilson, lf 3 1 2 0 J.Shepard, 2b 3 1 0 0
Daniel, cf 3 1 0 0 Wagner, rf 2 1 1 0
Gogus, 1b 2 0 0 0 Wilbon, cf 3 0 1 0
Caldwell, rf 3 0 0 0 M.Shepard, p 3 0 0 0
Thompson, 2b 2 0 1 2
Rutherford, p 0 0 0 0
Schalchlin, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 23 1 3 2 Totals 28 3 7 3
BRYANT 020 000 0 — 2
Little Rock 000 000 3 — 3
Two out when winning run scored.
E—Massirer, Hurt, Dale. DP—Bryant 1, Little Rock 1. LOB—Bryant 3, Little Rock 7. 2B—Carrone. SB—Wilson, Mitchell.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Rutherford (L) 6.2 3 0 6 2 4
Schalchlin 0 0 0 1 0 0
M.Shepard (W) 7 2 1 3 2 1
HBP—Hurt (by M.Shepard).
Black Sox ab r h bi Vipers ab r h bi
Ezell, 3b 4 0 3 3 Culpepper, ss 2 0 0 0
Hurt, ss-2b 4 0 0 0 Mayes, rf 1 0 0 0
Nelson, 1b-ss 3 1 1 0 Mitchell, lf 3 1 1 0
Lessenberry, c 2 1 2 0 Carrone, c-3b 3 0 2 0
Dale, pr-lf-rf 1 0 0 0 Massirer, rf-ss 2 0 1 0
Wilson, lf-cf 4 1 2 1 Stilwell, 1b-3b-p 3 0 0 0
Daniel, p 2 0 0 1 J.Shepard, 2b-p-c 2 0 0 0
Dupree, p 0 0 0 0 Wilbon, cf 2 0 0 0
Tucker, cf-rf 3 1 1 0 Dunn, ph 1 0 0 0
Patterson, 1b 1 0 0 0 Britten, 3b-2b 2 0 0 0
Caldwell, rf 1 2 1 0 Wagner, p-1b 2 0 2 0
Graddy, c 1 0 0 0
Thompson, 2b 1 1 1 1
Lee, lf 0 0 0 0
Totals 27 7 11 6 Totals 23 1 6 0
BRYANT 016 000 0 — 7
Little Rock 000 100 0 — 1
E—J.Shepard, Lessenberry, Mitchell. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Bryant 7, Little Rock 3. 2B—Ezell, Tucker. SB—Caldwell, Mitchell, Carrone 2, Nelson. S—Thompson. SF—Daniel.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Daniel (W) 6 1 0 5 0 7
Dupree 1 0 0 1 1 0
Wagner (L) 3 7 7 9 1 1
J.Shepard 2 0 0 1 1 1
Stilwell 2 0 0 1 0 1
HBP—Massirer (by Daniel), Lessenberry, Nelson (by Wagner), Daniel (by Stilwell). WP—Daniel.