Photos courtesy of Paul Dotson
NEW ORLEANS — None of the current players were involved but for Bryant Black Sox manager Darren Hurt, the 9-6 win over Columbia, Tenn., to open the Senior American Legion Mid-South Regional Tournament at Kirsch-Rooney Stadium on Wednesday, it had to produce a certain amount of satisfaction.
In 2014, Hurt’s Black Sox stood a win away from winning the Mid-South Regional, which was held at UALR that year. As the final undefeated team in the tourney, the Sox had two chances to get that win. But Columbia, Tenn., with some remarkable and unlikely comebacks, spoiled Bryant’s plans for the American Legion World Series winning twice to advance to the Series in Shelby, N.C.
Wednesday’s game, which started at 9:30 in the morning, was a tight one through five innings. But the Sox exploded for seven runs in the top of the sixth to blow the game up.
Columbia didn’t fold, rallying for a run in the bottom of the sixth and three in the seventh to trim the margin to three runs. But Boston Heil came on to throw three innings of shutout relief, allowing just four hits, to nail down a save.
Starter Alex Shurtleff earned the win allowing two runs, one earned on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts in the first 5 2/3 innings.
Offensively, Dylan Hurt, Scott Schmidt and Aaron Orender each pounded out three hits while Seth Tucker and Coby Greiner each drove in two runs.
It stayed 1-0 until the Sox tied it in the top of the fourth. Tucker lined a single to right to get the uprising started. Hurt grounded a single to left and, with one out, the duo worked a double steal. So, when Orender grounded out to second, Tucker was able to score.
The Tennessee team regained the advantage in the bottom of the inning on a walk, a sacrifice, a single and a sacrifice fly.
In the top of the fifth, Schmidt ripped a lead-off double, taking third when the ball was misplayed in left. Greiner then got a squeeze bunt down to get him home.
Hurt ignited Bryant’s breakout inning with a double to left. Jake Wright drew a walk and Aaron Orender got a bunt down that he beat out for a hit. An error on the throw to first allowed Hurt to score, snapping the 2-2 deadlock.
With one out, Schmidt ripped a single to right to get Wright home. Greiner then squeezed successfully again and reached first safely as the Columbia pitcher fielded his bunt and threw home, too late to get Orender.
Logan Allen’s grounder to short resulted in an error that allowed Schmidt to score from second to make it 6-2.
Jake East’s sacrifice bunt moved Greiner to third and Allen to second, setting the table for Tucker who smacked a line-drive single to left that plated both runners.
Shurtleff retired the first two Tennessee batters in the bottom of the inning. Tucker relieved as his pitch count reached 71. Three singles in a row, including a blooper for the RBI made it 9-3.
Bryant was kept from adding on in the top of the eighth despite hits by Greiner and East. In the bottom of the inning, back-to-back singles and a walk had the bases loaded.
Heil relieved and retired the first two he faced, though the second one was on a force at second that got a run home. Consecutive RBI singles made it 9-6 before Heil got the final out on a grounder to Tucker at second.
In the bottom of the eighth, a pair of one-out singles had Columbia thinking about whittling the lead further but a pair of pop outs, one to Orender outside of first and the other to Schmidt at third, ended the threat.
Columbia’s ninth began with a fly to Wright in left. A fly out to center had them an out away. And, after Heil hit a batter, that final out came on a grounder to Tucker at second.
Now 35-6 this season, the Arkansas champion Sox will advance in the winners’ bracket to take on Pedal Valve of LaPlace, the Louisiana champion, on Thursday at 4:30 p.m.