By Rob Patrick
BENTON — After breaking out to an 8-1 lead after three innings, the Sport Shop Black Sox[more] suffered through a nightmare fifth as Ashdown rallied for seven runs on the way to an 11-9 win in the opening round of the Zone 4 AA American Legion Tournament at Bernard Holland Park Saturday morning.
The game was originally scheduled for Friday night but storms prevented it. That proved to be a break for Ashdown in that it had already played on Friday, winning a play-in game against Gravette.
With the loss, it was the Sox who wound up having to play two games in a day. They were set to return Saturday afternoon at 3 to take on Benton Everett in an elimination game.
Sport Shop trailed 11-8 but battled back for a run in the bottom of the sixth. But the Sox left the bases loaded in the sixth and the seventh innings much to their frustration.
Ashdown left three on in the first, second and fourth against Bryant starter Dakota Besancon. In the first, a hit batsman, a walk and a single by Starnes York had them full with one out but the Sox right-hander got a pop to Daniel Darbonne at second and a groundout to escape.
The Sox’ bats went to work in the bottom of the inning with C.J. Phillips ripping a double to left. Besancon beat out a bunt single then Justin Emmerling walked to load the bags. Weston Jones, who came into the game with a team-leading .465 average, blooped an RBI single to right-center and the Sox were on the board.
Darbonne picked up an RBI with a grounder to short that resulted in a force at second. He then worked a double steal with Emmerlng, who crossed the plate without a throw as Darbonne slid in safely at second.
After a wild pitch, Michael Martindale nailed a double over the left-fielder’s head to make it 4-0. He took third on an errant pickoff throw then scored on Andrew Kincaid’s sacrifice fly.
Ashdown managed a run in the top of the second when Josh Reynolds walked and reached second on the first of Bryant’s five errors, spoiling what might’ve been a doubleplay ball. A bunt single by Briar Reed loaded the bases then a walk to Drew Day forced in the run.
But Besancon got the next three batters to pop up on the infield, dowsing the fire.
Martindale came through with a two-out, three-run double to left-center in the bottom of the second as the lead ballooned to 8-0.
To set up the knock, Besancon singled up the middle and stole his way to third as Jones and Darbonne waited out two-out walks. Ashdown made a pitching change and Martindale greeted the new hurler with the bases-clearing drive.
After that, however, the reliever, Levi Harger shut the Sox out through the fifth as his team came from behind.
Aided by a splendid diving catch in short left-center by Martindale, Besancon struck out the side in the third. In the fourth, though, Ashdown’s Hunter Cross was hit by a pitch and Reed drew a walk to set the stage for Day’s RBI double. A second run scored on Austin Ashley’s groundout then an infield hit by Tyler Olson made it 8-4.
An error allowed York to reach but Besancon got a strikeout. A walk on a 3-2 pitch filled the sacks but the right-hander ended it there with his fourth strikeout.
Besancon cracked his third hit, another single up the middle to lead off the bottom of the fourth but a doubleplay got Harger out of trouble.
With Besancon up to 95 pitches, Bryant manager Seth Doxey brought Jones to the mound for his first appearance of the season. Doxey was impressed with Jones’ bullpen earlier this week as he searched for more pitching after losing Hunter Oglesby to the Everett Black Sox Junior Legion team, which was the result of the Junior’s losing Zach Jackson to the Senior team.
Jones got off to a rough start when he walked the first two he faced. He appeared to find his stride when he got a strike in to Day but on the next pitch Day pulled a double inside the first-base bag for a two-run double. When Austin Ashley beat out a bunt hit, Ashdown had runners at the corners.
Tre Davis came in to relieve and got a grounder to third. A check of the runner held Ashley but a high throw to first resulted as Day scored and Olson reached. On a short passed ball, Ashley charged down the line and slid into Davis as he tried to take the toss from Phillips, his catcher, tying the game.
Davis, who hurt his hand on the play, tried to continue but walked York and, after a pitch missed the zone to the next hitter Jay Server, Nick Kehrees came in to relieve.
Server got a bunt down but an errant throw to first allowed Olson to score. York wound up at third and Server at second for Drew Akins, who singled to right to make it 10-8.
The 11th run scored when the Sox turned a doubleplay. Kehrees induced a pop to first to bring a welcome end to the rugged inning.
“We went from not being able to throw strikes to throwing the ball away and it just snowballed big time,” Doxey noted. “It’s one of those things where you’ve just got to get an out. That two-ball was huge. Nick came in and threw very well.”
Kincaid walked in the bottom of the inning but Harger fanned two on the way to sending it to the sixth.
Kehrees worked around a two-out single by Ashley in the top of the sixth and the Sox got a run back in the home half. Phillips was hit by a pitch and, with one out, Emmerling singled. A walk to Chase Brooks loaded the bases then a walk to Darbonne forced in a run. But that was all the Sox could get as Harger induced a pop to second for the final out.
Again Kehrees stopped Ashdown in the top of the seventh despite a lead-off double by York. In the bottom of the inning, Kincaid singled to right-center to ignite a potential rally. Ashdown brought in Ashley to pitch and the Sox sent up Caleb Chaffin to pinch hit. With plenty of open space in the right-field corner, Chaffin drilled a 1-2 pitch in that direction. But he got just under it and Cross was able to sprint over and make the catch.
With two down, however, Phillips blooped a single just behind the reach of the Ashdown second baseman. A four-pitch walk to Besancon loaded the bases but Ashley ended it there with a strikeout.
“I’ve been preaching to the guys about bringing intensity and it’s just like they don’t know what I’m talking about,” Doxey said. “Then, all of a sudden in the last two innings, they jump all over them. I’ve been preaching to them, ‘Bring that intensity, every inning, every pitch.’”