By Rob Patrick
JONESBORO — It was far too hot and humid to be Christmas, but the[more] Bryant Black Sox and the Blue Valley Southwest Timberwolves of Kansas City both came bearing gifts to start the Jonesboro Senior American Legion Tournament at Arkansas State University Friday night.
The Timberwolves doled out seven walks and a hit batsman to the Sox, while Bryant bestowed seven errors on the Kansas City squad.
It was anybody’s game after five innings but the Timberwolves, after scoring two unearned runs in the fifth, tacked on a run in the seventh and held on for a 6-4 victory.
Blue Valley Southwest advanced into the winners backet semifinals on Saturday at 7 p.m., while the Sox continue in the consolation bracket at 1 p.m.
“It’s the same thing as the other night against Benton,” said Bryant manager Darren Hurt, referring to his team’s season-opener on Wednesday. “Defensively, we’re just not getting it done and that’s what we talked about (after the game).”
Right-hander Landon Pickett absorbed the loss. He scattered six hits, walked one and struck out eight in his 4 2/3 innings of work. But only two of the five runs BVS managed against him were earned. Matt Neal relieved in the fifth, getting the third out then worked a 1-2-3 sixth. He was greeted in the seventh by a double from Alec Alvarez and Dylan Cross was called on. After an RBI single by Bradley Bullock, Cross retired the side. But the Sox were unable to rally against Grant Laterza, the third Timberwolves’ pitcher.
“Pickett did exactly what we wanted him to do,” Hurt noted. “He made some mistakes. He made some 0-2 pitches that were supposed to be out of the zone that he left in there. But I thought he threw well enough to win. And our middle relief, with Neal, did good and Cross did.
“But the bottom line is, we just didn’t make plays for them,” he added. “And Pickett’s pitch count went through the roof because of that. It made him throw a lot more pitches than we should’ve.”
Bryant only mustered four hits but hit in some bad luck too. Blue Valley Southwest starter Jackson Rowe, a lefty, pitched out of bases-loaded jams in the second and fourth before the Sox put together a four-run fifth that ended with the potential tying and lead runs in scoring position.
“I thought, even in the first inning, we hit him,” Hurt commented. “We squared him up. I thought, the second time through the order, we were really going to get on him. We had the bases loaded a couple of times and didn’t get the hit. “
A key moment in the game came in the bottom of the sixth. The Sox trailed 5-4 but Tyler Nelson had walked and taken second on a nice sacrifice bunt by Tyler Brown. Jordan Taylor followed with a laser liner. But it was snatched by Timberwolves’ shortstop Mitch Thurman who quickly tossed to Alvarez at second to complete an inning-ending doubleplay.
“If that one gets through, we tie the game up,” Hurt said. “Again, we squared some balls up that just were right at them.”
Pickett worked around a one-out single to Alvarez and an errant throw on a steal in the top of the opening inning. In the second, he surrendered his only walk to Brady Childs then Thurman singled to left. Matt Gruber sacrificed the runners to second and third but when Childs tried to score on a pitch that got past Bryant catcher B.J. Ellis, he was thrown out at the plate as Ellis hustled after the ball and tossed to Pickett covering the plate in time.
Zac Rodgers struck out to leave Thurman at third.
Bryant’s first threat came in the bottom of the inning. Hunter Mayall laced a single to left and Chris Joiner sacrificed him to second. With two down, walks to Brady Butler and Josh Pultro loaded the bases but Rowe fanned Evan Jobe to escape unscathed.
Blue Valley got on the board in the third. Ben Lewis slapped a single to right then Laterza got down a sacrifice bunt. Brown charged from third and made a nice scoop of the ball but his rushed throw to first couldn’t be dug out by Butler.
Nelson made a nice play to retire Alvarez but, on the next pitch, Bullock yanked a home run just inside the four pole to make it 3-0.
The Sox went down in order in the bottom of the inning. In the fourth, Pickett pitched around a two-out error and his teammates threatened again in the home half of the frame. With one out, Joiner walked. He was forced at second on Hayden Lessenberry’s bouncer to short but Butler walked again and Pultro cracked a single to fill the bags.
Lucas Castleberry came on to pinch hit but, after a battle to a 3-2 count, Rowe again got off the hook with a strikeout.
The lefty only had four K’s but they all came at key moments.
The Sox’ frustrations continued in the top of the fifth. Alvarez, hustling all the way, got to second when his pop behind third was misplayed by Nelson, coming over from shortstop. Joiner picked up the loose ball and misfired on his throw to second and Alvarez wound up at third.
Pickett fanned Bullock then struck out Drew Tommelein on a pitch in the dirt. Lessenberry blocked the ball but, after checking to make sure Alvarez was headed back to third, his throw to first pulled pulled Brown off the bag. Tommerlein stole second and, after Pickett struck out Childs, Thurman singled to left to plate two, making it 5-0.
The Sox broke through in the bottom of the inning. Nelson was hit by a pitch and Brown lined a single to center. Hurt put his runners on the move when the count went to 3-2 on Taylor so they moved up when he bounced to first.
Mayall followed with a fly to left that figured to bring home Nelson. But when Lewis, the Blue Valley leftfielder dropped the ball, not only did Nelson score but Mayall reached and Brown took third.
After a strikeout, walks to Lessenberry and Caleb Garrett forced in a run and resulted in a pitching change.
Pultro greeted the new hurler, Rodgers, with a chopper up the middle that Thurman flagged down but not in time. The base hit drove in Mayall to make it 5-3. And when Rodgers uncorked a wild pitch, Lessenberry scored while Garrett and Pultro moved up to second and third. Castleberry smacked a 1-0 pitch but his two-hopper was right at Thurman at short, resulting in the third out.
Neal baffled the Timberwolves in the sixth, setting up Bryant’s last best chance at tying the game in the bottom of the inning with Laterza taking over on the mound for Blue Valley.
After the Timberwolves added their insurance run in the top of the seventh, Laterza retired the side in order in the bottom of the inning to close out the victory and earn the save.
BLUE VALLEY SOUTHWEST 6, BRYANT 4
Senior American Legion
Timberwolves ab r h bi Black Sox ab r h bi
Laterza, cf-p 3 1 0 0 Nelson, 2b-ss 2 1 0 0
Alvarez, 2b 4 2 2 0 Brown, 3b-1b 3 1 1 0
Bullock, 3b 4 1 2 4 Taylor, ss-3b 4 0 0 0
Tommelein, rf-cf 4 1 1 0 Mayall, dh 3 1 1 1
Childs, c 2 0 0 0 Joiner, lf 2 0 0 0
Thurman, ss 4 0 2 2 Ellis, c 1 0 0 0
Gruber, 1b 2 0 0 0 Lessenberry, c 2 1 0 0
Rodgers, dh-p 3 0 0 0 Butler, 1b 0 0 0 0
Wilson, cf-rf 0 0 0 0 Garrett, rf 0 0 0 1
Lewis, lf 3 1 1 0 Pultro, cf 2 0 2 1
Rowe, p 0 0 0 0 Jobe, rf 1 0 0 0
Castleberry, 2b 2 0 0 0
Pickett, p 0 0 0 0
Neal, p 0 0 0 0
Cross, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 29 6 8 6 Totals 22 4 4 3
Blue Valley SW 003 020 1 — 6
BRYANT 000 040 0 — 4
E—Ellis, Brown 2, Nelson, Joiner, Lessenberry, Lewis, Garrett. DP—Blue Valley SW 1. 2B—Alvarez. HR—Bullock. SB—Tommelein. S—Joiner, Brown, Gruber, Laterza. SF—Mayall.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Blue Valley Southwest
Rowe (W) 4.2 4 1 3 6 4
Rodgers 0.1 0 0 1 0 0
Laterza (S) 2 0 0 0 1 1
Pickett (L) 4.2 5 2 6 1 8
Neal 1.1 1 1 1 0 2
Cross 1 0 0 1 1 2
Neal faced one batter in the seventh.
HBP—Nelson (by Rowe). WP—Rowe, Rodgers, Cross.