Sox, blessed by Less’s tie-snapping homer in the ninth, oust Fayetteville
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
JONESBORO — “God bless Less.”
No one at the American Legion Senior State Tournament at Nettleton High School can say[more] they’re having more fun than the Bryant Black Sox. From Dylan Cross’ shadow boxing when the theme from “Rocky” is played between innings to his disco dancing when KC & the Sunshine band get cranked up; from rhythmic hand-clapping of all sorts to a variety of chants, the Sox are living it up.
Occasionally, they draw comments from opponents’ fans and other observers and those have varied from “You never know what they’re going to do or say,” to “They sound like a T-ball team” to “It’s great they’re enjoying themselves, that’s the way it should be.” They’re causing chuckles, shakes of the head and even looks of disdain.
One of the chants that has developed starts with the first line of this post. It goes:
“God bless Less, God bless Less. Hayden Lessenberry, Hayden Lessenberry. God bless Less.”
On Monday, the Sox had even more reason to raise that cry after Lessenberry slugged a one-out homer to right-center — his fourth hit of the game and first Senior Legion homer of the season — in the top of the ninth inning to snap an 8-8 tie. Cross then pitched around a two-out single in the bottom of the inning, striking out two, to nail down the victory that eliminated the Fayetteville Lindsey & Associates Dodgers.
Bryant thus became one of the last three teams in the tournament. The Sox are set to play Fort Smith Kerwins again at 4 this evening with the winner advancing to play Texarkana for the State championship at 7. Kerwins stayed alive by handing Texarkana its first loss of the tournament, 7-6, on Monday night.
“We came here and we’re at the stage now where, even coming into this game, it wasn’t just about getting to the next game,” stated Sox coach Wayne Taylor. “We’re here. We’re at this stage. We want to win it. We’re set up to win it. We don’t want to finish second. Everything’s lining up pitching-wise. If we push to that second game, we’ll go with (ace Brady) Butler then. We’re not going to go with him the first game. We want to have something when we go to that championship game that we can compete with.”
Lessenberry was not the only hero for the Sox. Mr. Resilient, a “Chip” off the ol’ block, Matt Neal, who has been a set-up man, a closer, a mop-up man and a starter in a pinch, befuddled the Dodgers for 7 2/3 innings as the Sox built an 8-2 lead. The right-hander allowed single runs in the first and second then shut out Fayetteville until the eighth.
There were times that Neal had the Fayetteville batters and fans talking to themselves, the way he mixed his pitches to stymie a team that had scored 20 runs the day before in ousting North Little Rock.
No wonder Taylor, when walking from the first-base dugout to the third-base coach’s box a time or two, seemed to be trying to suppress a bemused look as, inning after inning, Neal frustrated the Dodgers hitters. They made contact — Neal only fanned three — but the hard-hit balls were scattered.
“Maybe two innings is the most he’s given us (in a game) all year,” noted Taylor. “To come in and throw 7 2/3. It was a very good effort.
“Lessenberry, behind the plate for the fourth day in a row in the heat, to catch that many games and to come through like that,” he added. “That’s just huge.”
The dramatic homer came after Fayetteville made another comeback, erasing the 8-2 lead with six in the eighth. Three of the runs scored on a two-out error in the outfield after Tyler Brown had taken over for Neal. A pair of singles followed to put the potential go-ahead runs on base for the Dodgers. But Cross came on and struck out clean-up hitter Jalen Beeks (of Prairie Grove High School) to keep it 8-8.
Beeks, the third Fayetteville pitcher — all lefties — got the first out of the ninth on strikes but his second pitch to Lessenberry left the yard.
The Sox made a bid to get more when Ozzie Hurt and Chris Joiner singled then moved to third on Jordan Taylor’s bouncer to first, but Beeks got Hunter Mayall to fly to center to end the inning. Bryant finished with 18 hits.
Cross, however, was on his game. He fanned Preston Cash (Springdale Har-Ber), who got away with protesting a check-swing on the third strike. Tyler Fourkiller (Stillwell, Okla.) grounded to Taylor at short and, after Austin Faulconer (Fayetteville) singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch, Trey Spencer (Farmington) fanned to end the game.
“We give up the 8-2 lead and it was a prime opportunity to give up,” Coach Taylor stated. “But the boys didn’t. Less hit that homer then Cross came in and threw well.”
Though they only scored once in the first inning, the Sox forced Fayetteville starter Gabe Coldwell (Stillwell) to throw 39 pitches to escape it with the bases full. He had walked Tyler Nelson to start the game then fanned Joiner and Taylor before Mayall socked a single up the middle. Landon Pickett followed by muscling a pitch in on his fists into shallow right for an RBI single. Butler drew a walk but, after fouling off a pair of two-strike deliveries, Pultro grounded out to short.
Fayetteville’s first started with a bang when Kylar Offenbacker (Shiloh Christian) smacked an 0-2 pitch for a triple to right-center. But no one else reached base in the inning even though Tony Morales (Farmington) delivered the run with a sacrifice fly.
In the second, Fourkiller doubled to left-center with one out and Faulconer reached on an error. With two down, Jerad Chenier (Shiloh Christian) knocked in the unearned run with a single to center. Neal then fanned Offenbacker to keep it 2-1.
Bryant regained the lead in the fourth. Pultro, Lucas Castleberry and Lessenberry singled consecutively to produce the tying run before an out was recorded. Joiner walked with one down to load the bases then Taylor hit a bouncer to third that resulted in a force at the plate. But Mayall laced a liner to left and the Sox had a 4-2 lead as Coldwell’s pitch count reached 107 through just four innings.
Lefty Kylar Tumbla (Westville, Okla.) took over in the fifth then ran into trouble in the sixth. Lessenberry beat out an infield hit then Nelson slapped a single to left. Joiner tried to sacrifice but Morales charged aggressively in from first and threw to third for a force.
Taylor, however, smacked an RBI single to left and, with two down, Pickett was hit by a pitch to set the table for Butler’s shot to Cash at third who made a spectacular play but couldn’t right himself and throw in time to retire the Bryant batter as Joiner came in to make it 6-2.
Bryant would tack on two more against Tumbla in the eighth. Joiner singled, Taylor ripped a double and, Pickett delivered a sacrifice fly. Butler singled to left and it was 8-2.
Neal, meanwhile, worked around an error and a walk in the third then helped himself with a splendid defensive play in the fourth. Faulconer had led off with a single and Spencer was up to bunt. But he hit a little popper that Neal came after, making a diving catch just before it hit the ground. Faulconer, who was on the move, was doubled off first. Chenier followed with a shot that hit Neal, who calmly found the baseball and threw to first to retire the side.
He pitched around a lead-off single by Offenbacker in the fifth, striking out Morales and Beeks, then worked a 1-2-3 sixth, aided by a sparkling play at third by Castleberry.
In the seventh, Spencer singled and Chenier walked. But, after Offenbacker flew out to Pultro in center, Devin Bench (Springdale Har-Ber) hit a grounder to Nelson at second. He tagged out Chenier and threw to first to complete an inning-ending doubleplay.
Fayetteville’s rally commenced with a lead-off walk to Morales. Neal induced a pair of popouts before Fourkiller pulled a single into left. Faulconer’s second hit loaded the bases for Spencer. Neal got him behind in the count 0-2 but Spencer hit a grounder that ricocheted off the third-base back for a two-run single.
Neal hit Chenier to load the bases and was replaced by Brown, receiving a well-deserved hand as he left the field. Offenbacker followed with a high fly to the right-field corner that Butler got to on the run but could not hold. With two out, the runners had been off on contact and all three scored. Offenbacker wound up at third. Brown got two strikes in to pinch-hitter Bradley Hollenbeck (Fayetteville) who got enough of his next pitch to slap it into right for a game-tying single. Morales followed with a two-strike single up the middle resulting in Cross’ entry.
The win was Bryant’s 20th of the season in 29 games.
BRYANT 9, FAYETTEVILLE LINDSEY & ASSOCIATES 8
Senior American Legion
Black Sox ab r h bi Dodgers ab r h bi
Nelson, 2b 4 2 1 0 Offenbacker, ss-2b 4 2 2 0
Hurt, 2b 1 0 1 0 Bench, rf 4 0 0 0
Joiner, lf 5 3 2 0 Hollenbeck, ph-ss 1 0 1 1
Taylor, ss 5 1 2 1 Morales, 1b 3 1 1 1
Mayall, dh 6 0 2 2 Beeks, cf-p 4 0 0 0
Pickett, 1b 2 0 1 2 Cash, 3b-cf 5 0 0 0
Butler, rf 4 0 2 2 Fourkiller, dh-3b 5 2 2 0
Pultro, cf 5 1 2 0 Faulconer, 2b-rf 5 1 3 0
Castleberry, 3b 5 0 1 0 Spencer, c 5 1 2 2
Lessenberry, c 5 2 4 2 Chenier, lf 2 1 1 1
Neal, p 0 0 0 0 Coldwell, p 0 0 0 0
Brown, p 0 0 0 0 Tumbla, p 0 0 0 0
BRYANT 100 302 021 — 9
Fayetteville 110 000 060 — 8
E—Nelson 2, Butler. DP—Bryant 2, Fayetteville 2. LOB—Bryant 13, Fayetteville 9. 2B—Fourkiller, Taylor. 3B—Offenbacker. HR—Lessenberry. SB—Bench. SF—Morales, Pickett.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Neal 7.2 7 3 9 3 3
Brown 0 1 0 2 0 0
Cross (W) 1.1 0 0 1 0 3
Coldwell 4 4 4 6 5 5
Tumbla 4 4 4 9 0 2
Beeks (L) 1 1 1 3 0 1
HBP—Pickett (by Tumbla), Chenier (by Neal). WP—Coldwell, Neal 2.