CONWAY — With several players back from a team that won two games in the 2017 American Legion World Series, the Bryant Black Sox earned 37 wins this season including tourney titles at Memphis and Springfield. So, it wouldn’t be surprising if they came into the 2018 Senior American Legion State Tournament at Hendrix College on Friday, with a little swagger, plenty of confidence.
But Friday’s State opener against the Fort Smith Sportsman Athletics team was indeed surprising; in part, because far from swagger, the Sox seemed, according to manager Darren Hurt, tight, particularly at the plate.
Right-hander Seth Key, a freshman this spring at Northeastern (Okla.) State University and an alum of Arkoma, Okla., High School, shackled the Sox on five hits.
Sportsman scored six runs on three hits and four uncharacteristic errors in the bottom of the sixth to blow open a 4-1 game on the way to 10-1 victory
Bryant plays again on Saturday at 11 a.m., facing elimination against the El Dorado Oilers, a 13-5 loser to Paragould Glen Sain GMC on Friday.
In other action, Sheridan outlasted Mountain Home, 6-4, and Russellville surprised Little Rock, 2-0.
Bryant and Fort Smith had split two games during the regular season. Bryant had won 8-7 on June 10 then Fort Smith won 9-4 on June 19. Both games were in Fort Smith.
Against Key and his teammates on Friday, the lone Bryant run came on a triple by Myers Buck to start the fifth inning and an RBI groundout by Scott Schmidt.
Buck’s hit was just the third of the game for the Sox. Logan Chambers had led off the game with a single and Schmidt had a two-out knock in the second.
Buck started the game on the mound for Bryant. He pitched around a single and an error in the first then induced a doubleplay after issuing a walk in the second.
In the third, Fort Smith’s Jake Melton led off with a single to center. He stole second and remained there as Jake Smith bunted and ran into the live ball on his way to first. Buck then got lead-off man Brock Thibodeaux to fly to center.
But a walk to Cash Balentine extended the inning for Ben Klutts. He and Buck battled to a 3-2 count, so the Sox were a strike away from getting out of the inning unscathed. But Klutts drilled a three-run homer.
Meanwhile, Key was in a stretch in which he retired seven batters in a row.
In the fourth, with Will McEntire on in relief, Fort Smith used a one-out single by Ryan Daggs, a walk to Jackson Scrivner and a base hit by Melton to make it 4-0.
After the Sox got on the board in the top of the fifth, Boston Heil eased through the home fifth around a one-out single to Klutts.
Bryant was retired in order in the sixth then the debacle that was the home sixth unfolded. An error allowed Daggs to reach second. Another miscue allowed Scrivner to trade places with him at second.
With one down, Smith singled to make it 6-1.
On an 0-2 count, Thibodeaux singled to center. Balentine beat out an infield hit as Smith scored.
Logan Catton took the mound and, Klutts reached on an error to load the bases. With the infield in, Rey Lozano grounded to short. But Chambers’ throw to the plate in hopes of a force, got in the dirt and catcher Cade Drennan was unable to dig it up as Thibodeaux scored.
A hit batsman forced in a run then a sacrifice fly made it 10-1 before Schmidt robbed Scrivner of a hit and tossed to Catton covering first for the inning-ending out.
Gage Stark led off Bryant’s seventh with a single but Fort Smith turned a doubleplay and a lineout ended the contest.
“Our pitchers did their job,” Hurt said after the game. “If we make the plays in that sixth, our seventh inning is a whole different situation.”
2018 ARKANSAS SENIOR AMERICAN LEGION STATE TOURNAMENT
At Hendrix College, Conway
Friday, July 27
Game 1 — Fort Smith Sportsman 10, Bryant Black Sox 1
Game 2 — Paragould Glen Sain GMC 13, El Dorado Oilers 5
Game 3 — Russellville Pirates 2, Little Rock Post 1 Vipers 0
Game 4 — Sheridan McCoy-Tygart Drug Store 6 Mountain Home Lockeroom 4
Saturday, July 28
Game 5 — Bryant Black Sox vs. El Dorado Oilers, 11 a.m.
Game 6 — Little Rock Vipers vs. Mountain Home Lockeroom, 1:30 p.m.
Game 7 — Fort Smith Sportsman vs. Paragould Glen Sain GMC, 4 p.m.
Game 8 — Russellville Pirates vs. Sheridan McCoy-Tygart Drug Store, 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 29
Game 9 — Game 7 winner vs. game 6 loser, 1 p.m.
Game 10 — Game 8 winner vs. game 5 loser, 3:15 p.m.
Game 11 — Game 5 winner vs. game 6 winner, 5:30 p.m.
Game 12 — Game 9 winner vs. game 10 winner, 8 p.m.
Monday, July 30
Game 13 — Game 12 winner vs. game 11 loser, 5 p.m.
Game 14 — Game 11 winner vs. game 13 winner, 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 31
Game 15 — Game 11 winner vs. game 13 winner, if necessary, 6 p.m.