Photo courtesy of Curt Youngblood/Texarkana Gazette
By Rob Patrick
TEXARKANA — Since 2004 when 17-year-old Travis Wood (now an all-star pitcher for the[more] Chicago Cubs) led the Bryant Black Sox to the Senior American Legion State finals, either the Sox or the Razorbacks of Texarkana or both, have played for that State title except once (in 2008 when Jonesboro beat Fayetteville. That includes last year when Bryant beat Texarkana, 6-5, in the championship game and two years ago when Texarkana edged Bryant, 8-7, in 11 innings for the title.
Further, Texarkana captured the State crown in 2010, Bryant was runner-up in ’09 to Jonesboro but the Sox won it all in 2007 and became just the third Arkansas team to ever reach the American Legion World Series. The Sox were runners-up in ’06 and won it all in ’05.
All of that is to illustrate that, when the Black Sox and the Razorbacks get together, it’s usually two of the best Legion teams in the state. Though that remains to be seen this year, as it was, the two teams came into Saturday’s Zone 4 doubleheader tied for the league lead, making it a crucial meeting.
Defense, pitching and more defense wound up being the difference and the advantage went to the Sox who swept the twinbill at Joe Bragg Field at Worrell Memorial Park, 4-0 and 5-3 to move a win away from sewing up the regular-season zone title and a first-round bye at the Zone Tournament in Sheridan starting this Friday, July 19. The Zone tourney will determine which two teams will represent the league at this year’s State Tournament in Mountain Home.
“Anytime, you come to Texarkana and leave with two wins, it’s huge,” stated Sox manager Darren Hurt, whose team improved to 29-3-1 overall. “Now, if we’ll just take care of business Monday (at Sheridan), we’ll wrap up the one seed and that’s what the number one goal is, to win the (Zone).”
Tyler Nelson, who tossed a no-hitter earlier in the season, may have been more impressive on Saturday against Texarkana. He finished with a four-hitter but only two of those hits and two of the 21 outs left the infield. He struck out five, walked two and hit a pair while being backed by errorless and often spectacular defense, which he contributed to as well.
“He gutted through some adversity,” Hurt mentioned. “I think he got squeezed and he brought a little bit of it on himself because he showed a little emotion a couple of times and the (umpire) definitely wasn’t going to help him after that. But he kept gutting through it and when he had to make a pitch, he did. That’s as many groundballs as I’ve seen in one game in a long time.”
Offensively, the Sox stranded 12 runners but Cody Gogus came through with a clutch two-out, two-run double in the top of the fifth to extend the tenuous 2-0 lead, making the breathing a little easier on Nelson at the end when he wound up retiring the last eight he faced.
In the nightcap, the Sox got bulldog pitching from Nate Rutherford and Tryce Schalchlin, who battled through one threat after another — Texarkana had base-runners in every inning — while the offense was led by Ozzie Hurt and Marcus Wilson with two hits each.
Bryant was also aided out by four wild pitches and four passed balls by starting pitcher Eric White of El Dorado and catcher Brandon White of Magnolia, respectively.
It helped too that the Sox again played errorless defense until the top of the seventh when an errant pickoff throw complicated what was a 5-1 game going into the inning.
The losses dropped Texarkana, sponsored by TEXAR Federal Credit Union, to 29-10 overall.
Bryant 4, Texarkana 0
Nelson and Hogs’ right-hander Jonathan Boucher of Queen City, Texas dueled in a scoreless game through three innings.Nelson pitched around a hit batsmen in the first. In the second, he issued a lead-off walk to Trey Jeans but when the next batter Hayden Phillips missed on a bunt attempt, Bryant catcher Hayden Lessenberry picked Jeans off first.
Lessenberry, by the way, caught all of both games, did a tremendous job of calling pitches for his hurlers and blocking pitches in the dirt. The Sox had no wild pitches, no passed balls.
Phillips was retired on a sparkling play up the middle by second baseman Korey Thompson. Eric White singled but on Jake Garrett’s chopper over the mound, Thompson came through again with an eye-popping play between the mound and the second-base bag to end the inning.
In the third, it was Gogus at first who made a nice stab to retire Kyle Duncan of Ashdown after Trevor Rucker of Prescott had singled with two down.
Bryant had loaded the bases in the first when Trevor Ezell singled, Wilson reached on an error and, after an errant pickoff throw, Nelson walked with two down. In the second, the third of TEXAR’s errors allowed Gogus to reach but to no avail.
The Sox broke through, however, in the fourth when Nelson yanked a single into right and Chase Tucker drilled a double into the right-field corner to put runners at second and third. Austin Caldwell got the first run home with a sacrifice fly then Tucker scored when third baseman Jackson Murphy played Thompson’s two-hopper off his chest for an error.
Nelson hit Murphy with the first pitch of the bottom of the fourth but then retired the side. Ozzie Hurt made a splendid play up the middle to retire Phillips and Nelson robbed Eric White of a hit on a high hopper up the middle to keep it 2-0.
To set up Gogus’ clutch double in the top of the fifth, Wilson stroked a single to center and Lessenberry beat out a single into the hole at short. With one out, Tucker bounced into a force at second but beat the relay to first to keep the inning alive for Gogus who slugged the very next pitch off the base of the fence in left to make it 4-0.
Texarkana threatened in the bottom of the inning. With one out, Nathan Stubber of Hope beat out a slow roller to short for a hit then Luke Maguire worked a walk. Rucker one-hopped to the mound. Nelson leapt and knocked the ball down but it rolled too far away for him to make a play.
With the bases loaded and the third- and fourth-place hitters coming up, Nelson bowed up and struck the both out, getting a frustrated Murphy on a pair of sliders and a change-up.
The Bryant hurler would retire the side in order in both the sixth and seventh to put it to bed.
Bryant 5, Texarkana 3
The Sox broke to a 3-0 lead in the first two innings. In the first, Ezell walked, took second on an errant pickoff throw by the catcher, third on Ozzie Hurt’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Wilson smash into the gap in left-center.
In the second, Gogus was struck by a pitch with one out. Caldwell, who was on base all three times he came up (as was Nelson), slapped a single to right. With two away, Ezell drew another pass and Hurt came through with a shot to center for a two-run single.
Rutherford worked around a two-out walk to Murphy and a single by Duncan in the top of the first (Bryant was the home team for game two) then surrendered a two-out single in the second. He erased the base-runner by picking him off first.
In the third, however, Maguire singled with one out, took second on Rucker’s groundout, and scored on a single up the middle by Murphy to make it 3-1.
Duncan followed with a double to put the tying runs in scoring position but Rutherford struck out Dalton Steed of Prescott to end the threat.
Another pickoff erased a lead-off single by Jeans in the fourth. Ezell then robbed Brandon White of a hit with a diving stop at third.
In the top of the fifth, Stubber singled, Rucker singled and, with two down, Duncan was hit by a pitch, bringing up the massive Steed who flew out to Tucker in right as Rutherford, again, worked his way out of a jam.
The Sox, in turn, expanded the lead to 5-1 in the home fifth and chased the hard-throwing Eric White who wound up walking five, hitting two batters and striking out just one. Wilson started the inning with his second hit, a single to left. A wild pitch allowed him to take second and, with one out, Nelson slapped a flair behind third for a single.
A passed ball allowed Wilson to score as Tucker walked. With runners at the corners, pinch-hitter Drew Tipton got a bunt down on a safety squeeze but Nelson got caught in a rundown and was tagged out between third and home.
Caldwell, however, was plunked by a 2-0 pitch to load the bases. White’s fourth wild pitch allowed Tucker to score the Sox’ fifth run of the game.
Rutherford hit a batter with two out in the sixth to finish his stint on the mound. Schalchlin was greeted by Maguire’s bunt single and Rucker’s liner to right-center to put runners at the corners. An errant pickoff throw to first allowed Maguire to score with Rucker sprinting to third.
Murphy delivered a sacrifice fly to make it 5-3 and when Duncan doubled to right-center, the potential tying run came to the plate. Schalchlin got pinch-hitter Jake Alexander of Ashdown to bounce out to short but he walked Jeans on a 3-2 pitch.
With Garrett at the plate, the Sox worked a pickoff play with Schalchlin throwing to third. Duncan got back but when Jeans took off for second, Ezell relayed it to Thompson who had the ball waiting for Jeans for the final out of the game.
“It got a little hairy at the end,” Darren Hurt acknowledged. “I don’t think Shack had his best stuff but he battled through. We were on pins and needles over here. We had (Zach) Jackson ready to go but he ended up working through it. EZ (Ezell) called the pick play there at the end. We’ve been working on that. They’ve taken the third-to-first (pickoff move) away from us so we just picked to third and threw him out at second. He called it at the right time.
“(Rutherford) got out of jam after jam,” he noted. “He left the bases loaded in the fifth and that was huge because they had the meat of the order up then.
“It was one of those games,” the manager commented. “We’ve got to execute better on small ball. In Illinois (at the Firecracker Classic the weekend of the 4th), that’s what we won a tournament on. We didn’t get our bunts down today. We didn’t execute; bad base-running a couple of times; that’s the stuff we’ve got to clean up.
“I thought we squared the ball up,” he noted. “The kid in the second game (White) threw the ball hard and I thought we let him know early that, ‘You’re not going to throw it by us.’ We did a good job at the plate.”
Bryant has now won seven in a row over TEXAR including twice in the 2012 State Tournament and twice at the Zone 4 Tournament last year.
BRYANT 4-5, TEXAR FEDERAL CREDIT UNION OF TEXARKANA 0-3
Black Sox ab r h bi Razorbacks ab r h bi
Ezell, 3b 4 0 1 0 McGuire, cf 3 0 0 0
Hurt, ss 4 0 0 0 Rucker, ss 3 0 2 0
Wilson, cf 4 1 1 0 Duncan, 1b 2 0 0 0
Lessenberry, c 3 0 1 0 Murphy, 3b 2 0 0 0
Nelson, p 3 1 1 0 Jeans, rf 2 0 0 0
Tucker, rf 4 2 1 0 Phillips, lf-2b 3 0 0 0
Gogus, 1b 4 0 1 2 E.White, dh 3 0 1 0
Caldwell, lf 1 0 0 1 Malone, lf 0 0 0 0
Thompson, 2b 3 0 1 0 Garrett, c 3 0 0 0
Stubber, 2b-p 3 0 1 0
Boucher, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 30 4 7 3 Totals 24 0 4 0
BRYANT 000 220 0 — 4
Texarkana 000 000 0 — 0
E—Boucher, Murphy 2, Stubber. LOB—Bryant 12, Texarkana 7. 2B—Tucker, Gogus. SF—Caldwell.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Nelson (W) 7 0 0 4 2 5
Boucher (L) 6 4 3 6 5 2
Stubber 1 0 0 1 1 2
HBP—Duncan, Murphy (by Nelson).
Razorbacks ab r h bi Black Sox ab r h bi
Maguire, cf 4 2 2 0 Ezell, 3b 2 1 0 0
Rucker, ss 4 1 2 0 Hurt, ss 3 0 2 2
Murphy, dh-p 2 0 1 2 Wilson, cf 4 1 2 1
Duncan, 3b 3 0 3 0 Lessenberry, c 3 0 1 0
Steed, 1b 3 0 0 0 Nelson, 1b 2 0 1 0
Alexander, ph 1 0 0 0 Tucker, rf 1 1 0 0
Jeans, rf 3 0 1 0 Gogus, dh 1 1 0 0
B.White, c 3 0 0 0 Tipton, ph 1 0 0 0
Garrett, c 0 0 0 0 Caldwell, lf 1 1 1 0
Malone, lf 2 0 1 0 Thompson, 2b 2 0 0 0
Phillips, lf 0 0 0 0 Rutherford, p 0 0 0 0
Stubber, 2b 3 0 1 0 Schalchlin, p 0 0 0 0
E.White, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 28 3 9 2 Totals 20 5 7 3
Texarkana 001 000 2 — 3
BRYANT 120 020 x — 5
E—Schalchlin. DP—Texarkana 1. LOB—Texarkana 9, Bryant 8. 2B—Wilson, Duncan 2. S—Hurt, Thompson. SF—Murphy.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
E.White (L) 5 5 5 6 5 1
Murphy 1 0 0 1 0 0
Rutherford (W) 6 1 1 8 1 5
Schalchlin 1 2 1 3 1 0
HBP—Gogus, Caldwell (by E.White), Duncan, Phillips (by Rutherford). WP—E.White 4. PB—B.White 4.