MOUNTAIN HOME — The Pontotoc, Miss., Red Sox featured 11 college-age players including nine that are on college baseball rosters. So, it’s no surprise that they won the 24th Twin Lakes Classic in Mountain Home over the weekend.
And along the way, they ended the weekend for the Bryant Black Sox.
But the 14-8 loss proved to be a character game for the Black Sox who were in danger of being run-ruled twice and, as was the case for much of the tournament, had more than their share of controversial calls go against them.[more]
(Several with the Bryant contingent reported that a number of Mountain Home folks commiserated with them, noting that they felt like the Sox got — to paraphrase — a raw deal.)
The loss dropped the Sox to 8-8 on the season going into their annual “trap” game (immediately following the Classic) against Zone 4 rival Pine Bluff Simmons on Monday.
“They hit the baseball,” acknowledged Bryant manager Darren Hurt regarding the Red Sox. “They’re loaded. They were hitting the ball hard. But we made some mistakes too. They’re a good team but our kids did not give up at any point. They fought the whole game. Here we are down 12-2 and we started fighting back at them and we got them pretty nervous.”
In fact, Pontotoc built an 11-0 advantage going into the bottom of the fourth. The Red Sox just needed to keep the Black Sox scoreless in the home half to end the game by virtue of the 10-and-four run rule.
But the Sox rallied for three runs to stay alive.
Pontotoc added a run in the top of the fifth to get within three outs of ending the game by virtue of the eight-after-five run rule.
But the Sox picked up four runs in the bottom of the inning to extend the game.
It might’ve been closer, Hurt explained, “In the third inning, we had a couple of controversial calls but the big one was when we picked a guy off, the second one we picked off third. The field umpire was not sure if we tagged the runner or not, so he didn’t call him out. I asked him if he would ask for help from the homeplate umpire. So he did and when they came back, they decided it was a balk after about a two-minute conversation. I talked to them for a while and they really couldn’t explain themselves.
The first pick-off in the opening inning came after a two-run triple by Lee Wilson. An error and a single had opened the game and Dylan Cross’ move to third took the starch out of Pontotoc’s opening salvo.
It stayed 2-0 until the third when a hit batsman and a double by Zach Chavers started a four-run uprising that would’ve been at least one less if the Black Sox had gotten the pick-off call.
In the fourth, the Red Sox added five more, taking advantage of a pair of misplayed flyballs to add five more. Cross was chased after a pair of singles and a double. Brady Butler relieved and eventually got out of the inning but Bryant was looking up at an 11-0 deficit.
The Black Sox had been limited to singles by Chris Joiner and Brennan Bullock to that point. In the bottom of the fourth, however, a Pontotoc miscue helped give Bryant some life. Jordan Taylor reached on the error and Butler, Bullock and Landon Pickett followed with consecutive singles. Another error allowed a second run to score then Matt Neal’s sacrifice fly made it 11-3.
Butler held Pontotoc to one run in the fifth to set up another Bryant uprising in the bottom of the inning which was once more tempered by controversy.
Caleb Garrett opened the inning with a single to left and advanced on a groundout by Taylor. Butler singled Garrett to third then Bullock appeared to have singled him home.
“We got a base hit up the middle (by Bullock) to make it 12-4,” recounted Hurt. “We were pretty much going station-to-station at the time, so I had held him at third (on Butler’s hit). We scored that fourth run and we were in the process of buying ourselves another inning (avoiding the eight-after-five run rule).
“Ozzie (Hurt) was on deck and he looked at me and said, ‘They called Caleb out,’” continued the coach. “I said, ‘They called who out?’ I thought he was confused but the umpire called me over and said, ‘Coach, that last run, I called that kid out.’ I said, ‘The one that just scored without a play on the base hit?’ He said, ‘Yeah, he just didn’t touch the plate.’
“Ozzie’s there saying, ‘Dad, he touched the plate, he touched the plate. I saw him.’ I told the guy, ‘Now wait a minute. Is this run causing you a little problem because it means this game’s going to go a little longer or what’s the deal?’ I didn’t holler at him or anything else. He just told me he didn’t step on the plate.
“So I told him, ‘Well, you’re going to have to throw me out.’ He said, ‘Nah, I’m not going to throw you out.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re going to need to throw me out. I’m not going to holler at you but you’re going to throw me out of the game,’ and I just stood there. He said, ‘Coach, are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m not going anywhere until you throw me out.’ So he said, ‘Okay, you’re gone.’
“So, he chunked me and we get three or four hits in a row and all of a sudden it’s 12-7. And we ended the inning on a hard-hit ball. It was just right at the shortstop with two in scoring position. We rallied back and made it a game.”
Pickett, Lucas Castleberry, Ozzie Hurt and Matt Neal provided the hits and, after Joiner drew a walk to load the bases with Garrett back at the plate. He smacked the hard grounder to short for the final out.
“And in the top of the sixth, they had the meat of their order up and Brady gets them three up and three down,” Coach Hurt continued. “Everybody was kind of juiced up.”
And the Black Sox trimmed another run off the lead in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Butler drew a walk and, with two down, Pickett’s double past third put two in scoring position for Castleberry who came through with a two-run single to make it 12-8.
But Pontotoc took advantage of a pair of Bryant errors to score two unearned insurance runs in the top of the seventh.
The Black Sox managed to get a couple aboard with two out in the bottom of the seventh to make the Red Sox sweat a little more. Josh Pultro walked and Taylor was hit by a pitch but reliever Sam Cruz got Butler to ground to short to end the marathon contest.