Photos courtesy of Paul Dotson
CONWAY — The annual postseason showdown between rivals Bryant Black Sox and Texarkana Razorbacks was renewed on Friday at the Senior American Legion State Tournament at Bear Field on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas. The two state and regional powerhouses (and national now too since Texarakana won the American Legion National championship last year) always seem to meet with plenty on the line and many times it’s more than once in a post-season.
This year, the Sox will hope it’s a multi-game showdown after suffering a 6-1 loss in the winners’ bracket finals. Texarkana advances to the championship round as the last unbeaten team in the tourney. Bryant will have to beat Fort Smith Sportsman Athletics on Saturday to get another shot at the Hogs.
Fort Smith eliminated Paragould, 13-12, and Cabot, 6-3, on Friday to reach the losers’ bracket finals against Bryant at noon on Saturday. The winner will take on Texarkana hoping to earn a victory and force a winner-take-all final on Sunday to determine which team represents the state in the MidSouth Regional Tournament in New Orleans.
But the biggest thing was the pitching of Texarkana right-hander Tanner Vaught who pitched all nine innings allowing the one run while holding the Sox to four hits. He struck out six and walked no one. At one point, he retired 11 in a row. He gave up a hit then set down the next nine straight to close out the game.
Bryant starter Alex Shurtleff deserved a better fate as he worked 7 2/3 innings. Only two runs that scored in the bottom of the sixth by Texarkana were earned.
And there’s this:
There’s hardly ever been a Bryant-Texarkana battle that didn’t include some controversy. Though it was nothing like the debacle that occurred at the MidSouth Regional at UALR last summer when Bryant was the last unbeaten team, but, due to rain and a rather arbitrary judgment by the tournament director, didn’t get to play the championship game as Texarkana, with a semifinal win over the Sox, was awarded the tourney title and the trip to the World Series.
Trailing 4-1 in the top of the sixth, the Sox appeared to be grabbing the momentum when Logan Allen led off with a hustle-double. Jake East worked the count to 3-2 and, on a curveball that appeared the hang up at about East’s eyes, he was called out on strikes. So, instead of having runners at first and second with no outs and the heart of the batting order coming up, there was one out with Allen still at second.
The inning came to naught; as it turned out, Bryant’s last opportunity to rally.
The game started so well for the Sox. With two down in the top of the first, Seth Tucker drilled a 1-2 pitch into the gap in right-center and sprinted to third with a triple. A pitch later, Dylan Hurt singled to right to drive him home.
The bottom of the inning, however, proved to be a tough one for Bryant. Shurtleff issued a lead-off walk to Parker Ribble but then got Riley Orr to ground into a force at second. Orr advanced on a wild pitch but remained at second after Allen made a shoestring catch of Matt Goodheart’s liner to center.
With two down, the Sox and Shurtleff appeared to be out of the inning when he got clean-up hitter John Michael Russ to hit a chopper on the infield. The ball had to be charged, which it was. But it was booted as Russ reached safely and Orr went to third.
Beau Burson singled in a run to tie the game then Will Smith walked to load the bases for Kade Garmany. On a 1-1 pitch, he drilled a fly to left-center that got down before a Bryant outfielder could get to it. The result was a three-run double to make it 4-1.
Shurtleff settled in and got out of the inning. He worked around a lead-off single by Logan Vidrine in the second and a lead-off single by Russ in the third. He then retired nine in a row through five innings.
Aaron Orender gave Bryant a chance with a one-out double in the second but Vaught wriggled off the hook. The Sox didn’t have another base-runner, much less another hit, until Allen’s double to start the sixth.
A delay for lightning in the area interrupted Bryant’s sixth as well. When play resumed with two out and Allen on third, Vaught induced a groundout to end the threat.
An infield hit by Burson, a wild pitch and a pinch-hit single from Tyler Moreland made it 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth. Moreland took second on a late throw to the plate. Garmany sacrificed him to third and Cole Boyd made it 6-1 with a sacrifice fly.
Shurtleff retired eight in a row after Moreland’s hit. A second single by Moreland with two out in the bottom of the eighth led to a pitching change. Will McEntire relieved and, on his third pitch, Garmany grounded into a force to send it to the ninth.
The setback ended a 12-game winning streak for the Black Sox, now 31-6, whose last loss was at Texarkana by the same score on July 11. They started their streak with a 3-1 win in the second game of the doubleheader that day.
The Razorbacks improved to 32-8 with Friday’s win.
2017 Senior American Legion State Tournament
At UCA/Hendrix College (HC), Conway
Friday, July 21
Game 1 — Paragould 9, Benton 7 (10 innings) (HC)
Game 2 — Cabot 10, Arkadelphia 5 (UCA)
Game 3 — Bryant 17, Mountain Home 0 (HC)
Game 4 — Russellville 11, Jacksonville 3 (HC)
Game 5 — Texarkana def. Searcy (UCA)
Game 6 — Little Rock 10, Batesville 0 (HC)
Game 7 — Fort Smith 14, El Dorado 1 (UCA)
Game 8 — Conway 7, Sheridan 6 (UCA)
Saturday, July 22
Game 9 — Arkadelphia 11, Benton 6 (UCA)
Game 10 — Mountain Home 7, Jacksonville 1 (HC)
Game 11 — Batesville 10, Searcy 9 (UCA)
Game 12 — Sheridan 10, El Dorado 6 (HC)
Game 13 — Cabot 7, Paragould 5 (12 innings) (UCA)
Game 14 — Bryant 6, Russellville 0 (UCA)
Game 15 — Texarkana 6, Little Rock 5 (HC)
Game 16 — Fort Smith 14, Conway 4 (HC)
Sunday, July 23
Game 17 — Conway 14, Arkadelphia 3 (HC)
Game 18 — Little Rock 13, Mountain Home 10 (UCA)
Game 19 — Russellville 8, Batesville 6 (UCA)
Game 20 — Paragould 3, Sheridan 2 (HC)
Game 21 — Bryant 3, Cabot 1, suspended (HC)
Game 22 — Texarkana 7, Fort Smith 2 (UCA)
Monday, July 24
Game 21 — Bryant 8, Cabot 5 (HC)
Game 23 — Paragould 10, Russellville 0 (HC)
Game 24 — Little Rock 4, Conway 3 (HC)
Thursday, July 27
Game 25 — Cabot 7, Little Rock 3 (HC)
Game 26 — Paragould vs. Fort Smith, ppd., rain (HC)
Friday, July 28
Game 26 — Fort Smith 13, Paragould 12
Game 27 — Texarkana 6, Bryant 1 (HC)
Game 28 — Fort Smith 6, Cabot 3 (HC)
Saturday, July 29
Game 29 — Fort Smith vs. Bryant, 12 p.m. (HC)
Game 30 — Texarkana vs. game 29 winner, 30 minutes after game 29 (HC)
Sunday, July 30
Game 31 — if necessary