Senior Sox’ season concludes amid debacle at State Tournament

MOUNTAIN HOME — Though the 2013 Senior American Legion State Tournament championship was decided on the field on Tuesday, July 30, when the TEXAR Federal Credit Union Razorbacks defeated the Bryant Black Sox, 9-6; it may have been determined on Monday.

Down to the final four teams, organizers of the tournament decided to change it. Instead of nine-inning games, the teams would play seven-inning games and instead of the original bracket, based on the one used for many years for the College World Series (and every year for Legion tournament even after the College World Series did away with it), a switch was made to a standard bracket.

All of Monday’s games were seven innings. It was a bit of a benefit for the Jonesboro Ricemen as they came out of the loser’s bracket. And it was a big benefit to whoever won the winners bracket final, which turned out to be the Razorbacks with an 8-6 win over Bryant.

The Sox were whittling on the Razorbacks’ lead in the seventh inning. They, no doubt, could’ve used those two extra innings to continue their comeback.

To top it off, on Tuesday, the officials decided to return to nine-inning games but they gave the winners bracket finalist another break. When four teams are left in the original bracket, the winners bracket finals winner plays one of the loser’s bracket survivors and the winners bracket finals loser plays the other. Those winners advance to the championship round.

It’s all about pitching. Fewer games, fewer innings, fewer pitchers, fewer pitches, big advantage; more games, more innings, more pitchers, more pitches, big disadvantage.

The coaches for the four teams were not happy when the decisions were made on Monday because it could’ve had a detrimental effect on any of them. The coaches, of course, included Bryant’s Darren Hurt, whose Black Sox were trying to repeat as State champs and earn a bid to the Mid-South Regional at North Little Rock, which starts Thursday, Aug. 8.

“I wasn’t the only one,” acknowledged Hurt. “Texarkana’s coach agreed with me. I threw a little bit bigger fit but when I threw my fit it wasn’t after we had lost the game. This was before anything had ever happened. I didn’t think it was right. We were in the finals of the winners bracket. We’d been playing nine innings and now, all of a sudden, we’re going to seven innings because we think it’s going to rain. That was the reason I was given.

“They wanted to move up a game but we’d been playing four nine-inning games a day,” he continued. “My argument was, that doesn’t hold water. Why don’t we start at 10 o’clock (in the morning) like we had been. We’ll get all four games in and they’ll be nine-inning games. You don’t change the format in the middle of the tournament when the sun’s shining. If we were behind three or four days, maybe.”

Even then, there was no reason to rush to get the tournament over with the Regional more than a week away.

“I made that point also,” Hurt said. “I didn’t understand and I was very vocal about my disagreement. Not that they cared. They didn’t change anything.”

Emphasizing that it wasn’t sour grapes, the Bryant coach repeated, “And this was before we ever played (on Monday).”

When they did play Monday night, TEXAR built an 8-4 lead (see related story on the site) but Bryant trimmed the margin with a run in the fifth and another in the seventh.

“We’re sitting there down 8-6 in the seventh,” Hurt recalled. “If it’s a nine-inning game, I play it different. I can use the safety squeeze to get a run. That’s the thing that kind of aggravated me. If we have two more innings to play then I’m willing to play for one run in the seventh and get that much closer. I would’ve liked to have had the opportunity.”

Jonesboro, meanwhile, played two seven-inning games to eliminate North Little Rock and Blytheville on Monday. After North Little Rock was ousted, however, the original bracket would’ve pitted Bryant and Jonesboro while Texarkana played Blytheville. But the change that was made forced Jonesboro to beat Blytheville too while Texarkana got the game off. The Ricemen then played the Sox to determine who would take on the Razorbacks in the title round.

If Texarkana had played Blytheville, they would’ve had to use extra pitching and, had they lost by chance, instead of two chances to win the title they’d have had just one.

“The extra game was supposed to be there,” Hurt said. “They changed everything. It gave (Texarkana) a huge break.”

Of course, if Bryant had won the winners bracket final, it would’ve been the Sox who would’ve had the break. It wouldn’t have been fair to Texarkana or Jonesboro.

“It also let the losers bracket teams kind of off the hook instead of using nine innings of pitching,” Hurt noted. “That day they had to play two games, they played 14 innings instead of 18 innings. That four innings is huge for your pitching.

“Then they turn around the next day — now we’re in the loser’s bracket — and they say we’re going back to nine-inning games. Nothing about it was right. It wasn’t a fair tournament.”

Of course, Bryant might not have won anyway but they might’s had a better chance.

But that’s all water under the bridge now and the Sox’ season is over. They compiled a sparkling 37-5-1 record.

“Overall, I thought it was a great year,” Hurt stated. “I thought we won a lot of games against some good teams, especially out of state at St. Louis and Omaha, that maybe we kind of overachieved a little. We found ways to win all year long.”

Bryant 6, Jonesboro 5

As it turned out, Bryant and Jonesboro wound up playing 10 innings in the first game Tuesday. After the Sox scored twice in the bottom of the inning with Marcus Wilson driving home the second run with a double, the game ended when Wilson threw out a runner at the plate trying to score to tie it up again off a drive to left.

The Sox had a 4-3 lead going into the ninth but a single, an errant pickoff throw and a two-out base hit evened it up and sent it to the extra inning.

Bryant took a 1-0 lead in the first when Trevor Ezell singled, took second on a sacrifice bunt by Ozzie Hurt then stole third as Wilson drew a walk. On an errant pickoff throw to first, Ezell scored and Wilson went to second.

With two out, Chase Tucker walked and Hayden Daniel singled to load the bases but Jonesboro got out of the jam.

The Sox made it 4-0 in the third. Hayden Lessenberry singled and, with two down, Cody Gogus walked. Austin Caldwell beat out a bunt single to load the bases for Korey Thompson, who drilled a double down the right-field line to drive in two. An error allowed Caldwell to score as well.
Jonesboro whittled a run off the margin in the bottom of the third but Tucker, the Bryant starter, retired 12 of the next 14 batters to keep the lead 4-1 going into the eight.

The Sox were unable to add on despite putting two on in the top of the sixth.

Jonesboro scratched out two runs in the eighth and had runners at first and second with two double when Daniel relieved and picked a runner off second to preserve the lead.

Wilson and Tucker worked walks in the top of the ninth but were unable to pad the lead. In the home ninth, Daniel retired the first batter then surrendered a single. With two down, the errant pickoff throw allowed the runner to take second and, on a 1-1 pitch, the subsequent batter singled to center to tie it.

Tyler Nelson pinch-hit to start the 10th and drew a walk. Caldwell singled and Thompson was hit by a pitch to fill the sacks. With one out, Hurt grounded into a fielder’s choice that retired Nelson at the plate but, in an attempt to get a doubleplay, the relay to first was errant allowing Caldwell to score the go-ahead run. Wilson doubled in Thompson and it was 6-4.

Schalchlin took over in the bottom of the 10th and surrendered a single to center and an infield hit. A grounder to Ezell at third resulted in a doubleplay as he got the force at third and threw to first for the second out. But a single followed, driving in a run. The next batter shot a hit down the line in left and the runner at first tried to come all the way around to score only to have Wilson throw him out to end the game.

Texarkana 9, Bryant 6

The Razorbacks and Black Sox met again for the State title. In 2012, the Sox won it. In 2013, the Hogs won it.

Texarkana had snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Sox in the abbreviated 8-6 win on Monday. With the monkey off their backs, the Razorbacks overcame a 5-4 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the seventh and two in the bottom of the eight to take the 9-5 lead. Bryant rallied for a run in the top of the ninth and had runners at the corners with the final out was recorded.

“Unfortunately, when you’ve beat a team nine times in a row, the ‘due’ factor kind of comes in and maybe it was their time to get our number,” Hurt stated.

Texarkana took a 3-0 lead in the home first. Trevor Rucker doubled, Kyle Duncan and Jackson Murphy walked and Austin Roark delivered a sacrifice fly. Jake Garrett’s single drove in two.

Bryant tied it in the second. Lessenberry singled and Nelson walked. Tucker moved them up on a sacrifice bunt then Daniel singled up the middle to plate Lessenberry. Gogus’ base hit knocked in Tucker and, after Thompson sacrificed them to second and third, Ezell singled to chase home Daniel.

The Razorbacks snapped the tie in the third, taking advantage of a hit batsman, a walk, a double steal and a groundout.

Bryant knotted it back up in the top of the fourth. Tucker walked, Daniel doubled and Thompson delivered a sacrifice fly.

Schalchlin, who started the game after finishing the previous one, worked around a one-out single in the fourth and Bryant took its first lead in the top of the fifth. Ozzie Hurt singled, took second on a passed ball and, after Lessenberry singled, Nelson cracked a hit to center to chase him in, making it 5-4.

Though the Sox had runners on base in the sixth, seventh and eighth, they were unable to add on.

Zach Jackson took over for Schalchlin in the seventh to try to close out the win but a pair of two-out errors and a hit batsman were followed by singles from Garrett and Brandon White, putting Texarkana ahead with three unearned runs. On White’s hit, Tucker’s throw to the plate was too late to get the lead runner but Lessenberry, the Bryant catcher, relayed it to Ezell at third to nail Garrett to end the inning.

Lefty Dalton Willige who had pitched well against the Sox in the winners bracket final of the Zone tournament only to lose 3-2, relieved Boucher in the eight after opened the inning with a single. He struck out the next two batters and, after Ezell singled, got a third strikeout to end the inning and preserve the 7-5 lead.

Nathan Stubber singled with one out in the bottom of the eighth but Jackson appeared to be out of the inning when he induced a two-out grounder to short but it was booted and Stubber, who had swiped second, scored on the play. Duncan singled then got into a rundown between first and second long enough for Rucker, who had reached on the error, to come around to score to make it 9-5.

Wilson singled to start the top of the ninth. With one out, Nelson walked. Tucker beat out an infield hit to load the bases. A run scored when Daniel grounded into a force at third but a strikeout ended the game and the season for the Sox.

“Offensively, we had our struggles late in the year,” Darren Hurt related. “Other than the outburst against Texarkana in District (an 18-3 win), we were just kind of scratching around trying to score runs. It was kind of the same thing at (State). We just couldn’t get runs and the pitching staff wasn’t going to stay at 1.20 ERA all year. The law of averages kind of caught up with us. At some point, you’ve got to score runs to win and we just couldn’t get the hits.

“When you don’t score runs, that puts pressure on every pitch and it puts more pressure on every defensive play and we just had one inning where we didn’t make the plays therefore it kind got away,” he added. “The pitchers still did a great job keeping us in the game and giving us a chance to win. We just had a couple of defensive lapses there that got us.”

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