By Rob Patrick
JONESBORO — Hitting from both sides of the plate is nothing new to Trevor Ezell. But he[more] pretty much stuck to his natural side on the right for the 2013 Bryant High School season and through the first 10 games of the American Legion season.
On Friday, though, with his team leading 11-2 over the Sylvan Hills Bears’ summer high school team at Jonesboro Hurricane Field, Ezell asked Bryant Black Sox manager Darren Hurt if he could bat left-handed as his fourth plate appearance came around with two out and a man on in the bottom of the fourth.
“Go ahead,” said Hurt.
As Ezell stepped toward the plate, Sox pitcher Nate Rutherford told his manager, “He’s going to go yard.”
Hurt told his team, “If he does, I’m buying you guys dinner.”
After Ezell took a pitch, Hurt had to start looking for his wallet because the Sox third baseman walloped the second delivery over the fence in right-center to make it 13-2.
Rutherford retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning and the Sox had secured a sweep of their first two games at the Red Wolves Diamond Classic.
Bryant will finish up the event on Saturday at 12:30 p.m., against a travel team called Clark 18.
Ezell’s blast was just the final highlight of a day full of them for the Black Sox who downed Arkansas Express 16, a travel team that included BHS players Jason Hastings and Ty Harris, 7-1, at Arkansas State University earlier on Friday afternoon.
Those foes may indicate what a hodge-podge the Classic is this season. In the past, it was an eight-team American Legion tournament that actually crowned a champion. But this year, 29 teams including Legion, travel teams and extended high school season teams are on hand in basically a showcase. In fact, Sylvan Hills’ previous two games in the Classic both ended in ties. Against Bryant, the Bears’ batting order included 11 batters.
“We thought we were coming to play a tournament,” acknowledged Hurt. “They drew up a schedule and we’re going to get to play three games this weekend so we’ve just got to get after whoever it is.”
For the Sox, Chase Tucker went 6 for 6 in the two games, driving in three runs. Tyler Nelson, who hit a solo bomb in the second game, pitched a two-hitter in the opener in his first appearance on the mound since firing a no-hitter at Benton. Counting an inning in his previous appearance and 3 1/3 perfect innings against Arkansas Express, Nelson’s no-hit run went 11 1/3 innings before a bloop single ended the run. The Express also had a double in the top of the sixth, which turned out to be the final frame of the game.
Rutherford picked up the win in the second game. After giving up two runs on three hits to the first five Sylvan Hills’ batters, he faced the minimum. He came right back to strike out the side in the second.
The only baserunner after the first came in the top of the third when a liner off the bat of Charlie Roberts ricocheted off Rutherford’s thigh for a base hit. Bruised, the big right-hander took a few moments to shake it off then a few warm-up pitches and continued.
With Roberts on the move, the next batter Chase Imhoff hit a soft pop on the infield that shortstop Ozzie Hurt snatched just before it hit the ground. He threw to first for an inning-ending doubleplay. And the next six Bears went down in order, three of the last four on strikes.
“I love the way he competed,” commented Darren Hurt. “His first inning was rough. And for him to come back and shut them down like he did, striking out the side in the next inning.”
Bryant countered Sylvan Hills’ two in the top of the first with a seven spot in the home half.
“That’s the kind of thing I like to see,” Hurt noted.
Ezell beat out an infield hit then Hurt’s sacrifice bunt resulted i a wild throw to first. Nelson lashed an RBI single to center and Marcus Wilson burned the centerfielder for the first of the Sox’ two triples in the game. Hayden Daniel singled him in then stole second and scored on Tucker’s first hit of the game, a solid single to right.
The Bears finally recorded an out when Austin Caldwell grounded into a force at second but he stole second moments later and wound up scoring on a two-out single to center by Korey Thompson to make it 6-2.
On the late throw to the plate, Thompson hustled to second and, after he stole third, he came in when Ezell’s roller to third forced a rushed throw that pulled the first sacker off the bag.
Nelson led off the second with his blast to right. And the onslaught continued in the third when Zach Graddy led off with a single and Thompson walked. Though courtesy runner Justin Emmerling was picked off second, Ezell walked and Hurt ripped a single to left to plate Thompson. Nelson delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 10-2.
In the fourth, Tucker hit a liner to right that resulted in a triple when the right fielder fell down. He would score on a wild pitch as Graddy drew a walk. Thompson bounced into a force at second before Ezell unloaded from the port side of the plate.
Earlier in the day, the Sox took on the Express 16-year-old team after their scheduled opponent, Marion High School, had to leave the tournament because of the unexpected death of one of the player’s father.
Nelson rolled through the first 10 batters before giving up the first hit. By that time, the Sox had built a 6-0 lead. Two scored in the first when Hurt doubled, Nelson and Hayden Lessenberry drew walks and Wilson slapped a single to right. With two down, Tucker beat out an infield hit and picked up the second RBI.
Walks to Thompson and Ezell started a four-run second. Hurt’s sacrifice bunt drew another wild throw to first allowing Thompson to score and Ezell to reach third. Nelson’s sacrifice fly made it 4-0.
After a pitching change, Lessenberry was hit by a pitch. Caldwell came in as a courtesy runner for the catcher and the Sox worked a safety squeeze to get Hurt home. Wilson got the bunt down and picked up the RBI. Daniel then singled in Caldwell.
The Express got their run on that first hit, a pair of stolen bases and an errant throw. Nelson issued his lone walk of the game with one out in the inning but after a steal of second, Lessenberry threw him out at third to end the inning.
Bryant got the run back in the bottom of the fourth when Daniel walked, took second on an errant pickoff throw and scored on Tucker’s third hit of the game, a double to left-center.
Nelson fanned a pair in a 1-2-3 fifth then, after the inning-opening double in the top of the sixth, set down the next three to close it out.