FORT SMITH — The Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team has been a thorn in the side of the Fort Smith Sporstman Athletics in recent years.
It’s a rivalry that stretches back to the early 2000’s but in 2015, the two teams met for the Senior Legion State championship. Bryant came into the round as the last unbeaten team and Fort Smith handed the Sox a 10-4 win to force a winner-take-all final. Behind stellar right-hander Zach Jackets, Bryant won the title 5-2 at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
In 2016, the team teams met again in the State tourney. This time it was in the quarterfinals. The Sox ended the season for the Sportsman with a 7-4 win.
Though it wasn’t at State (yet), the two teams met yet again on Sunday for the championship of the Sportsman’s annual Katzer Tournament. The scene: The same UAFS field. Each had won their respective pools in the tournament with the Sox going 3-0 to reach the title game.
Once again, Bryant spoiled things for Fort Smith. Behind a six-run third inning, the Sox built a 9-1 lead then held on for a 9-6 victory and the championship.
Jake East pitched into the fourth and delivered two hits and two runs batted in along the way. Seth Tucker and Alex Shurtleff also had two hits apiece and Dylan Hurt drove in three.
Boston Heil relieved East in the fourth and did just enough to hold Fort Smith at bay until giving way to Myers Buck in the bottom of the seventh. After giving up a hit, Buck got the final out to earn a save.
The win improved the Sox to 7-3 going into a doubleheader at Fort Smith against the Sportsman on Wednesday. Bryant travels to a Perfect Timing Showcase Tournament in Fayetteville on Thursday. The tourney concludes on Sunday.
The game was scoreless until the Bryant third. With one out, Shurtleff ignited the outburst with a lined single to left. Scott Schmidt’s shallow fly to left fell in for a base hit then Tucker lashed a single up the middle to load the bases for East who helped himself with a two-run double.
The inning continued with a walk to Logan Allen to fill the sacks again. Hurt emptied them with a shot beyond the centerfielder for a three-run triple and a 5-0 lead. Moments later, Hurt scored run number six on a passed ball before Logan Chambers singled.
Fort Smith got out of that jam then peeled a run off the margin in the bottom of the third. Kinner Brasher singled with one out then tagged and went to second on Max Frazier’s long fly to center that Allen chased down. An error on a ball hit to short by Cody Smith allowed Brasher to score but when Smith tried to reach second, he was thrown out to end the inning.
Bryant got that run back and another in the top of the fourth. Shurtleff ripped a single to center to start it off. He stole second then reached third on Schmidt’s sacrifice. Tucker responded with an RBI single to center. Base hits by East and Allen followed but East was caught rounding second and trying to get back to the bag.
Nonetheless, Allen stole second and when the Fort Smith catcher unleashed an errant throw, Tucker scored to make it 8-1.
East issued a pair of walks to start the bottom of the fourth. But a fly to center and a strikeout eased the threat. A single by Brock Thibodeaux loaded the bases but Ryan Reeves hit a grounder to Tucker at short resulting in an inning-ending force at second.
Brandon Hoover opened Bryant’s fifth with a double to left. With Coby Greiner in as a pinch runner, Aaron Orender singled to send him to third. Orender stole second then Shurtleff was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Though Schmidt grounded into a 6-4-3 doubleplay, Greiner scored to make it 9-1.
Heil took over on the mound for Bryant in the fifth. With one out, he surrendered a single to Frazier. He fanned Smith but Ryan Daggs drilled a double that drove in Frazier.
Garrett Carter was hit by a 3-1 pitch then Jake Melton reached on a third-strike wild pitch that allowed Daggs to score making it 9-3.
The Sox were set down in order in the top of the sixth and Fort Smith added a run on consecutive singles by Thibodeaux, Reeves and Brasher.
Heil recouped and fanned Frazier. Smith hit a grounder back to Heil who threw to Greiner at third for a force. With two down, Daggs walked but three were left on when Carter grounded out to Greiner at third.
With Dalton Sharp in as the third Fort Smith pitcher, Greiner drew a one-out walk and Orender reached on an error by Frazier at second. Heil tried to sacrifice but his bunt was fielded by Sharp who went to second to start and inning-ending doubleplay.
Heil retired the first two in the bottom of the seventh. Thibodeaux kept Fort Smith alive with a single. Buck relieved Heil and, on his first pitch, Reeves doubled to plate Thibodeaux, making it 9-6.
But the game ended there as Buck got Frazer to roll one to Greiner at third for the final out.