By Rob Patrick
With dark clouds roiling, the huge U.S. flag at Bears Stadium flapping in the gusting winds[more] and the rumble of distant thunder, the Bryant Black Sox and Fort Smith Kerwins Senior American Legion teams played into the third inning of the first game of their scheduled doubleheader at the University of Central Arkansas field Wednesday.
The skies finally opened up and the teams waited out a 47-minute rain delay. After play resumed they got through the bottom of the fourth before UCA baseball coach Alan Gum, citing too much lightning in the area, called the game.
At the time, the Sox held a 6-1 lead. Bryant will call it a win. Fort Smith probably won’t call it a loss.
As a seven-inning game, it was official, having reached the midway point. But, after the initial rain delay, the coaches agreed to play one nine-inning contest instead of two sevens. By that standard, the game needed to get through the top of the fifth to be official.
So both teams can have it their way.
The Sox improved to 27-3-1 going into their crucial Zone 4 double-dip showdown at Texarkana on Saturday. The two teams are currently tied for the league lead.
Right-hander Ozzie Hurt, who was a freshman at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith this spring, started on the mound against a Kerwins team that included UAFS teammate Brennan Rogers and UAFS assistant coach Mark Kincannon as assistants to Sportsman’s head coach Trey Prieur.
When the rain hit, Hurt had limited Kerwins to a one-out walk in the second and a lead-off walk in the third. The pass to Hayden Harvey to open the third was followed by a sacrifice bunt from Toby Richard. After the first pitch to the next batter, Evan Fincher, the rain began to pour and play was suspended.
The Sox had a 1-0 lead at the point. Against Fort Smith’s hard-throwing right-hander Jonathan Smith, Bryant lead-off man Trevor Ezell had whistled a single to right. Hurt sacrifice him to second and, after a grounder to the right side by Marcus Wilson, Hayden Lessenberry lofted a fly to right. Kerwins’ Nate Whitson started in after it but the wind kept blowing it closer and closer to the infield. It wound up dropping in for an RBI single.
In the second, Hayden Daniel walked and stole second. With one out, he tried to swipe third when Smith didn’t look him back in the stretch. But Kerwins’ catcher Jordan Miller had the throw there in time for the out.
Austin Caldwell was struck by a Smith fastball but he was stranded.
Thanks to the fact that the Bears Stadium field is entirely artificial surface except the pitcher’s mound, the heavy rain failed to end the game. When play resumed, Fincher bunted Hurt’s first pitch. The ball hugged the third-base line but never went foul and Fincher had the first Kerwins hit.
With Harvey at third, Fincher took off on a steal attempt. For the second time in as many games, the Sox had a pickoff play on. Hurt fired to Harrison Dale at third, trying to pick Harvey but Dale came off the bag and relayed to Korey Thompson at second in time to nab Fincher for the second out of the inning.
But a wild pitch allowed Harvey to score as Michael Rhea waited out a walk. But Hurt kept it tied 1-1 by getting Max Schaffer to fly to Caldwell in right.
Smith failed to weather the storm as well as Hurt. In the bottom of the third, Ezell drilled a long fly to right-center that was tracked down by Richard. But Hurt singled into the hole at short.
At that point, Smith lost track of the strike zone. He threw 16 consecutive pitches out of the zone and Wilson, Lessenberry, Tyler Nelson and Daniel took them for walks that forced in two runs.
The Kerwins hurler finally got a strike over to Harrison Dale and, on the next pitch, a grounder to short produced the second out on a force play. But Dale picked up an RBI as Lessenberry scored to make it 4-1.
The first two pitches to Caldwell were out of the zone and when the frustrated Smith took the return throw from Miller after the second delivery, he turned his back on the plate. Nelson took off for home and, on a bang-bang play that Prieur argued, Nelson slid in safely to make it 5-1.
A pitching change ensued after the argument. Hayden Henley came on and, with his fourth pitch, Caldwell was plunked again. Thompson followed with a liner to center for an RBI single. The ball was bobbled in center momentarily and Thompson tried to hustle into second but Richard recovered and threw in just in time to nab him to end the inning.
Trailing 6-1, the Sportsmen could only muster a two-out single by Houston Kennedy in the top of the fourth and, with the lightning intensifying in the western sky as the third out was recorded, Gum called everyone off the field.