Sport Shop Sox overcome loss of Cates, early deficit to advance to AA State finals
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
SHERIDAN — With two out in the bottom of the third in the winners’ bracket final of the AA American Legion State Tournament, the Bryant Sport Shop Black Sox trailed the Hot Springs Lakeside Rams, 3-2. Lakeside third baseman Carter West lined a full-count delivery back at Sox pitcher Joey Cates. The drive appeared to hit Cates somewhere in the head area. As he dropped to the turf beside the pitcher’s mound, the ball ricocheted all the way back behind home plate.
Time was called and coaches from both teams as well as the umpires rushed to Cates’ side. Eventually, he was helped up and led to the home dugout among the Lakeside players so he could be seated in the shade. EMS was called.
The stunning incident took a lot out of the Black Sox. Christian Harp came in to relieve and Lakeside went on to add a run to the lead on a pair of singles by Race Tittle and Caleb Lloyd.
At the end of the inning, the teams came off the field as the ambulance arrived. It was a great sign that Cates, who had been hit in the back of the head, boarded on his own.
Play resumed and the Rams added a pair of runs to the lead. And it didn’t look like the Sox would be able to overcome the concern for their teammate as the game went to the sixth inning.
But Harp settled in and kept the Rams at 6 then in the top of the sixth inning, Bryant surged for six runs to take the lead. Four more scored in the seventh as the Sox rallied for a 12-6 victory that vaults them into the championship round of the tournament.
Great news, of course, but even better news came by phone. With the game still under way, word came that Cates was aware enough to have his mother call from Saline Memorial Hospital to apologize to Bryant manager Hunter Mayall for taking with him one of the team arm bands used to decipher signals to the hospital.
Still better news came after the game that scans showed that the Cates had avoided serious injury, hadn’t even suffered a concussion. And he was insisting on playing on Saturday when the team tries to become the first from Bryant to win a AA State title. The Sox will play at 8 p.m., against the survivor of the losers’ bracket final between Lakeside and the River City Tropics, who eliminated Sheridan, 10-6, in nine innings Friday night.
Winning the AA State title is tough, especially for a team like Bryant. AA teams that draw players from smaller school districts are similar to Senior Legion teams in that they include players that are 19-and-under. But a AA team that draws from larger school districts like Bryant often are made up of 15, 16 and 17-year old players with maybe two or three 18’s. In fact, Bryant, North Little Rock and the Little Rock Eagles were the only AA teams in the 14-team State tourney that were not 19-and-under teams.
Bryant has now had teams advance to the State championship in all three Legion levels. The Senior Sox captured the State title on Tuesday in Fort Smith, the Junior Sox lost in the finals to Texarkana the week before and now the Sport Shop Sox will be in the finals of the AA State tourney.
Both Bryant and Lakeside had players unavailable for Friday’s showdown. Apparently, it wasn’t know early in the season that the AA State would be played over two weekends instead of straight through. After starting on Friday, July 24, games were played through Sunday, July 26, then came to a halt until Friday, July 31, when it was resumed. Both Junior and Senior State tourneys were played straight though. If such had been the case at the AA, it would’ve concluded on Wednesday. Because it was unclear that such would be the format, players and their families planned vacations for this weekend at the beginning of the summer.
But here the Sox are, set to play for the State title nonetheless, thanks to their surprising come-from-behind win over Lakeside.
“They’ve surprised me a lot this year,” said Mayall. “When Joey went down, all I was worried about was Joey at the time but those guys, they rallied together. They didn’t do well for a couple of innings but they rallied together as a team and decided they were going to win it and they did. It was pretty cool to be a part of.
“Harp not only pitched well coming in without warming up but he also swung the bat very well,” he noted. “He was a big part of our win. A lot of guys helped us out a lot but Harp was definitely a huge part. Great job pitching — they didn’t score a run after the fourth. He was a little shaky at first but he settled in and did a great job.”
Harp went 3 for 5 at the plate and drove in four runs. A big blow at a key moment came from Jordan Gentry, who had two hits. His three-run double provided the breaking point during the six-run sixth.
Before being injured, Cates went 2 for 2 with a pair of RBIs then his replacement in the lineup, Matthew Sandidge had two hits, scored twice and knocked one in. Preston Kyzer and Myers Buck each had two hits as well. Jeffrey Hastings and Cameron Coleman scored three times apiece.
The Sox loaded the bases in each of the first two innings. Lakeside starter Jon Youngblood escaped unscathed in the first and it looked like he might wriggle off the hook in the second but Cates came through with a two-out single to drive in a pair after an error extended the inning allowing Coleman to reach. Hastings, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, took second. Gentry had singled to load the bases for Cates.
Lakeside, however, scored three times in the bottom of the second on just one hit, a lead-off single by Zac Malugin. There were two walks, three hit batsmen and a wild pitch along the way.
Youngblood retired Bryant in order in the top of the third then the bottom of the third commenced. Cates settled down and retired the first two before getting beaned by West’s liner.
Trailing 4-2, Bryant was set down 1-2-3 in the top of the fourth. In the home half, Reece Nickles reached on an error and stole his way to third. Harp fanned Youngblood but then Brandon Hall drilled a triple to make it 5-2. He would score on an errant pickoff throw.
But the Rams would manage just three base-runners after that, one in each subsequent inning.
Bryant showed some life in the fifth with walks to Gentry and Daniel Darbonne but couldn’t dent the plate. Youngblood ended the threat with a strikeout.
In the home fifth, West singled but was thrown out by Gentry, the Sox catcher, when he tried to steal. Harp struck out Tittle and got Lloyd to line to Coleman in left to end the inning.
Buck’s single up the middle opened the sixth inning. With one out, Hastings’ grounder to second was misplayed. Coleman followed with a single to right that loaded the bases for Gentry, who plugged the gap in left-center and cleared the bases, cutting the lead to 6-5.
Sandidge singled to left and hustled to second on the throw to the plate as Gentry held at third.
Kyle Lightsey was called upon to relieve for Lakeside but he was greeted by Harp, who singled up the middle to drive in the tying and go-ahead runs.
Darbonne reached on a third-strike wild pitch then Kyzer singled over the second baseman’s head to made it 8-6.
Harp worked around an infield hit with one down in the bottom of the sixth. And, in the seventh, Bryant erupted to make it a more secure advantage.
Hastings walked and, after another pitching change, so did Coleman. With one out, Sandidge singled and, when the ball was bobbled in center, Hastings scored. With runners at second and third, Harp came through again with a two-run single to make it 11-6.
Darbonne walked to keep the line moving and Kyzer belted his second RBI single to cap the scoring.
Melugin singled to start Lakeside’s seventh but Harp got Blake Spilker to pop to Darbonne at second. Spencer Bicenic was robbed of a hit by Hastings at third who then took care of Tittle’s grounder to end the game.