Photos by Rick Nation
Say, for instance, there are runners at second and third and two outs. And, to load the bases, creating a force out at every base, the opponent decides to intentionally walk the guy that’s bats in front of you. Even though the guy they walked was your team’s leading hitter, it’s still taken, quite often, as a diss, a lack of respect, a challenge — especially when you’re the cleanup hitter. It makes you want to burn them for it.
That was the situation in the second inning of the Bryant Black Sox’ game against the rival Texarkana Razorbacks on Saturday in the winners bracket final of the 2016 Senior American Legion State Tournament at Hendrix College. With the Sox up 1-0, singles by Aaron Orender and Logan Allen had two aboard. A wild pitch moved them up to second and third with Bryant’s leader in batting average and runs batted in during the result season, Garrett Misenheimer, coming to the plate.
The intentional walk loaded the bases and brought up cleanup hitter Austin Kelly. On the very first pitch he saw from Texarkana ace Taylor Vaught, Kelly got the satisfaction of blasting a towering home run to left, a grand slam.
And behind the pitching of Black Sox’ ace Zach Jackson, the Sox went on to blank the Razorbacks 10-0. In doing so, Bryant not only advanced to the championship round of the tournament but clinched one of the two bids from the State to the MidSouth Regional Tournament set for Aug. 3 at UALR.
Texarkana will be in both spots too after coming back later in the day to eliminate the Little Rock Post 1 Vipers, 16-6. Little Rock had ousted North Little Rock between those games, 12-0, with right-hander Gavin Johnson tossing a seven-inning no-hitter.
The championship round with Bryant and Texarkana playing for the State trophy and seeding for the Regional is set for today at noon. If Texarkana wins that game, another will be played for the title.
Jackson shut out the Razorbacks on six hits over six innings. Boston Heil worked a scoreless seventh to close out the win. Jackson walked just two and struck out three. He retired 10 of the last 11 batters he faced after working out of jams in the second and third.
Texarkana is 30-3 on the season, with two of its losses to Bryant. The Sox improved to 26-7-1. It’s the third consecutive Regional appearance for the Sox who reached the finals in 2014 and lost in the semifinals to eventual World Series finalist Retif Oil of New Orleans.
Bryant turned two doubleplays against Texarkana, one in the first to wipe out a lead-off single by Matt Goodheart and another to end the game.
Offensively, one of the keys to the Sox’ success was the way they were able to grind out at bats in the first inning against the Razorbacks’ unbeaten ace, Taylor Vaught, who wound up throwing a whopping 46 pitches in the opening frame.
The tight strike zone frustrated the right-hander but so did the Sox. He walked Dylan Hurt, Misenheimer and Kelly. Hurt had a seven-pitch at-bat then both Misenheimer and Kelly each had 10-pitch at-bats.
Though Hurt was forced out at the plate on Jordan Gentry’s grounder to third, Jake East came through with a clutch two-out RBI single up the middle to get the Sox on the board. Vaught escaped further damage with a strikeout.
In the second, Texarkana got a little jittery on the bases. With one out, Parker Ribble beat out an infield hit and took second on an errant throw to first. With Beau Burson at the plate, Ribble left second too soon, trying to steal third. Jackson interrupted his delivery and threw to third for an apparent out but he was called for a balk.
Despite the protests of Bryant manager Darren Hurt, the play stood. Burson proceeded to walk to bring up Logan Vidrine. With an 0-1 count, Vidrine tried to bunt but his bunt bounced once at the plate and Hurt, the Bryant catcher, pounced on it and tagged out Ribble as he tried to score.
Burson wound up at second but, on the first pitch to Riley Orr, Hurt fired a pickoff throw to second. The Sox trapped Burson in a rundown and when he was tagged out by second sacker Seth Tucker, the inning was over.
The second-inning uprising featuring Kelly’s slam ensued as Texarkana’s frustration and Vaught’s pitch count kept building. Through two innings, Vaught had thrown 71 pitches.
The Razorbacks threatened again in the third. Orr singled and Goodheart walked. With Cole Boyd at the plate, Hurt picked off Goodheart to take some of the steam out of the Hogs. Boyd struck out and, despite Blake Hall reaching on catcher’s interference and Will Smith loading the bases with a knock, Jackson got Nick Myers to tap back to the mound to force Texarkana to strand three.
In the meantime, the Sox chased Vaught when East drilled a triple to right-center to open the home third. Tucker was hit by a pitch and Orender drew a walk to load the bags.
Patrick Flanagan relieved and Joey Cates greeted him with an two-run single to right. Allen’s sacrifice fly made it 8-0 then Hurt singled in Cates to add another tally.
In the fourth, lefty Hunter Lewis relieved for Texarkana and issued lead-off walks to Kelly and Gentry. The duo worked a double steal and, with one out, Tucker lined a single to right to make it a 10-run lead, which held for the run-rule win in seven innings.
Heil’s seventh-inning stint began with a strikeout of Burson. Vidrine knocked his second hit but the doubleplay ended the game.