CONWAY — It wasn’t originally manager Ozzie Hurt’s intention to start Will Hathcote, one of his top pitchers, against the Texarkana Razorbacks on Tuesday in what some have begun to call “the silly extra game” at the 2019 Junior American Legion State Tournament.
Using the obsolete old College World Series bracket that even the NCAA discarded several years ago (but somehow the American Legion clings to), the Bryant Black Sox, despite being the last unbeaten team in the tournament, had to play against a once-beaten team on Tuesday instead of waiting for the survivor of the losers’ bracket.
Hurt had thought about saving pitching for the championship round on Wednesday. But he changed his mind. And Hathcote came through for him, shutting out the Razorbacks over six innings on five hits, two walks and five strikeouts. Tyler Bates worked a 1-2-3 seventh as the Sox eliminated the Hogs with an 8-0 win.
“It’s one of those games where you don’t really know what to do,” Hurt said. “Every situation’s different. Every tournament’s different. But every time you’re in a bracket like this, the way you go about it could change.
“And we felt like we needed to get Texarkana out of here,” he continued. “We felt like if we could win this game, we’d feel very comfortable about tomorrow (with two chances to win the title). And we do. It worked out as best as it could, like it has all tournament.
“It was out of respect that we threw Will,” he mentioned. “We feel like they’re one of the best teams in the tournament. Anytime we have a chance to knock them out, we need to do it.”
Earlier on Monday, the Benton Sportshop Dirtbags of Bauxite stunned the Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet Chevy Boys, 11-3.
So, it’ll be an all-Saline County final on Wednesday and Benton will have to beat Bryant twice to capture the championship. First pitch is at 5 p.m., at the University of Central Arkansas’ Bear Stadium.
The shutout of Texarkana made Bryant 3-0 this season against their rivals. And, including Blaine Sears’ four-hit shutout against the Razorbacks in the Sheridan tournament on June 9, the Sox have now blanked them for 14 consecutive innings.
This time, Bryant, now 28-7 on the season, only led 2-0 after four innings but Texarkana began to throw the ball around on defense and the Sox scored two in the fifth and four in the sixth. For the game, they had nine hits to take advantage of six errors and seven walks from a trio of Razorback pitchers.
“Ever since that Fort Smith game in District, they’ve turned it around,” Hurt said of his hitters. “It’s like everybody’s going and, when one person’s not, there’s somebody there to back them up. It was good to get Peyton Dillon back in the lineup.”
Dillon had been unable to swing due to a shoulder injury but played first and went 1 for 3 with a walk.
“He felt comfortable all day,” Hurt asserted.
Bryant, meanwhile, played errorless defense, not surprising from a team coached by Hurt and Korey Thompson, two of the finest infield defenders in the history of baseball in Bryant. The Sox had just two errors in four games so far in the tourney.
Ryan Riggs, Noah Davis and J.T. Parker each had two hits in the game. Davis and Parker drove in two apiece and each made a dazzling play on defense along the way — Davis showing his range to his left starting a doubleplay in the first inning after Texarkana’s Rock Hawthorne and Haylon Dear had each singled.
After the twin-killing, Hathcote got Cameron Braley to tap back to the mound to end the scoring opportunity.
In the bottom of the inning, Lawson Speer drew a lead-off walk and Riggs swatted a single to left. Speer went to third when Davis grounded into a force at second but beat the rap at first to avoid a doubleplay.
Parker followed with a drive to left that appeared to be trapped by Gage Green. The field umpire called Parker out on the catch while the Homeplate umpire, whose call it should’ve been, ruled it trapped.
Speer had tagged and scored regardless but, after racing around the bases, Davis had to scramble back to first. But, after the conference between the umpires, Davis was awarded second and Parker was safe at first.
It came even though Texarkana had thrown to second to try to get a force on Davis. Much to their chagrin (and the agitation of the Texarkana fans), the play stood.
The duo pulled off a double steal ,but the confusing call turned out to be mute when Hathcote lined into an inning-ending doubleplay.
Hathcote pitched around a lead-off walk in the top of the second. The runner stole second and reached third on a one-out grounder to short. But he fanned Trey Malone to force the Hogs to strand him.
Bryant threatened in the bottom of the second when Bates walked, Peyton Dillon beat out an infield hit, and Sears ripped a liner up the middle for a single. But Hawthorne, the Razorbacks’ centerfielder, charged hard and threw Bates out at the plate.
Tucker Sanders opened the Texarkana third with a walk. Hawthorne sacrificed him to second but, when Dear grounded to Dakota Clay at third, he caught Sanders wandering too far off second and got him in a rundown for the second out.
That proved important when the next batter, Silas Cowgill doubled to left-center. The Hornets worked the relay to force Dear to stop at third. And when Braley flew out to Speer in center, it remained 1-0.
In turn, The Sox were unable to take advantage of Parker’s long triple over the head of Hawthorne.
Aided by Parker’s diving catch of a one-out liner to second, Hathcote set down the Hogs in order in the top of the fourth.
In the home half, Sanders, the Texarkana starter on the mound, threw 10 consecutive pitches out of the strike zone. Clay and Bates walked, and Dillon had a 2-0 count on him.
Green relieved and, on a 3-0 count, Dillon laced a screamer to left that held up long enough for Sanders to catch. He threw in to second, trying to double up Clay but the throw got away from shortstop Nate Moore and Clay hustled to third.
Sears made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Malone beat out an infield hit to start Texarkana’s fifth, but he was forced on Sanders’ grounder to Parker at second. Riggs, the Bryant catcher, then threw out Sanders trying to steal second. So, there was no one on when Hawthorne yanked a single to left. Dear popped out to Clay outside of third for the final out of the inning.
With one out in the home half, Davis drilled a double a double down the left-field line and Parker was intentionally passed. Hathcote flew to left but Davis was able to tag and reach third. Clay followed with a one-hop shot that skipped right under the glove of second sacker Landon Yateman and into right. Both Davis and Parker scored when Hawthorne threw to second then Yateman fired to the plate, way over Braley the catcher.
Hathcote struck out the first two in the top of the sixth. Quaid Aycock singled but was forced at second on a grounder to Parker.
Dillon walked to start Bryant’s sixth. Sears hit into a force at second but stole second, moments later. Speer followed with a chopper that Moore fielded. He looked to try to throw out Sears getting back to second and wound up with no play at first.
The roof began to fall in on the Hogs at that point. Riggs singled to center and Sears was only able to make it to third because, as he started for third, Moore stuck out a leg and tripped him up.
Hurt appealed the play but neither of the umpires saw it and the Sox had the bases loaded.
Davis singled to right to drive in two and when the relay came in to Yateman, he made an ill-advised throw to third to try to get Riggs, only to skip it past his teammate and over the wall and out of play. Riggs scored and Davis was awarded third.
He scored when Parker’s grounder to Moore at short was booted, making it 8-0.
Hathcote reached on yet another error, this time on new pitcher Tanner Neilson. Clay singled to center and Parker was thrown out at the plate. Bates walked to load the bases, but Texarkana got the final out with no further damage.
Bates relieved for Bryant, getting his first work of the tournament. After a groundout to Clay at third, he struck out two pinch-hitters to end the game in 10 pitches.