Photos courtesy of Phil and Michele Pickett
TEXARKANA — If you’re going to go all the way to Texarkana to play a baseball game, you might as well win[more] it. And if you’re going to have to play a second if you win the first, well, you might as well win that one too.
The Bryant Black Sox and TEXAR Razorbacks of Texarkana had both already qualified for the Senior American Legion State Tournament in North Little Rock this weekend, but the Sox were tasked with one more trip to Joe Blagg Field in Texarkana for the championship round of the Zone 4 tournament on Monday. Many years, the finals in the Zone tournament become an afterthought. Both teams have qualified for State and usually one of the teams has battled through the losers bracket and the other has only played two or three games, meaning one team’s pitching is depleted and the other’s is not.
This year, the former was Bryant. After losing a tough 4-3 game to Sheridan on Saturday, the Sox had dismissed Little Rock Express then ousted Sheridan in dramatic fashion on Sunday. Texarkana was the former, winning games over Benton McClendon’s and Sheridan to get to the finals.
That’s why it’s so remarkable that the Sox wound up beating Texarkana twice on Monday evening to win the Zone championship and garner the league’s top seed at the State tourney.
And they did that in dramatic fashion too. After winning the first game, 9-2, the Sox trailed 5-0 right out of the gate in the second contest. They whittled away at the lead but still trailed 6-4 going into the ninth. A two-run rally, highlighted by Marcus Wilson's two-out, two-run single, tied it in the top of the ninth, sending it to extra innings. In the 10th, the Sox’ Jordan Taylor blasted a two-out three-run bomb to give Bryant the lead for the first time in the game.
Texarkana rallied in the bottom of the inning but only managed one run and the Sox, after 19 innings, had pulled off the sweep, the tourney title and the top seed.
In 2011, Bryant and Texarkana wound up playing for the State title as well, with the Hogs prevailing. The Sox, now 28-5 this season, would like nothing better, no doubt, than to turn the tables this season.
Bryant 9, Texarkana 7, 10 innings
Tyler Brown had singled and Ozzie Hurt had sacrificed him to second to start the 10th. Hunter Mayall was walked intentionally and, with two out, Taylor tied into the first pitch from Texarkana’s Jonathan Boucher for the decisive blast.
Hurt, who had shut out the Hogs after relieving in the eighth, issued a one-out walk to Alan Copeland in the bottom of the inning but got Dalton McCarty to ground out to Landon Pickett at first for the second out. With Copeland at second, Tim Buchanan singled to chase him home. But the run proved meaningless when Hurt induced a bouncer to Taylor at short for the final out.
Pickett had three hits for the Sox. Mayall, Taylor and Wilson added two each with Taylor supplying four runs batted in.
Hayden Daniel provided a big lift to the Sox. After the Hogs had scored the five runs early, he relieved Pickett, the starter, and, over the next five innings, allowed just one unearned run on one hit. He set down the first 10 batters he faced.
Bryant's ninth-inning rally began with a one-out walk to Taylor. Pickett was hit by a pitch from Boucher. Down to their last out, Taylor and Pickett worked a double steal, which, at the time, didn’t seem to be too significant. But, moments later, it became huge as Wilson drilled a clutch single to center to plate them both and tie the game.
Hurt retired the Hogs in order in the bottom of the inning to send it to extra innings.
Texarkana, now 27-10 on the season, grabbed the early lead in the game when Copeland singled in two in the first. Daniel Thompson and Hunter Wilcher singled in runs in the second as the lead grew to 5-0.
Bryant started its gradual comeback in the third. Mayall singled with one down then was forced at second on a grounder to short by Tyler Nelson. But after Nelson stole second, Taylor shot a single to right to bring him around.
Daniel worked a 1-2-3 third and the Sox continued in the fourth. Daniel walked with two down then Hurt was plunked to set the table for Mayall, who doubled in Daniel to make it 5-2.
Again, the Hogs were retired in order in the bottom of the inning. Bryant’s fifth-inning run was scored by Nelson who was hit by a pitch to start the frame. Walks to Taylor and Pickett loaded the bases and Josh Pultro picked up the RBI when he bounced into a fielder’s choice.
In the sixth, Mayall drew a one-out walk and, when Nelson’s grounder to second was misplayed, he scored all the way from first to make it 5-4.
A one-out walk broke Daniel’s string in the bottom of the sixth. A hit batsman and another pass loaded the bases but when the lead runner tried to score on Josey Langston’s fly to center, Wilson fired home in time for a spectacular inning-ending doubleplay.
In the seventh, however, Texarkana added a run. Thompson reached on an error and stole second before Trevor Rucker walked. Wilcher beat out a bunt single to load the bases and Copeland came through with a sacrifice fly. The Sox turned a more conventional doubleplay to keep it to that.
Boucher became the third Texarkana pitcher in the eighth and worked around a two-out error on Hurt’s grounder to second. But Hurt took over in the bottom of the inning for Bryant and shut down the Hogs to set up Bryant’s stirring comeback.
Bryant 9, Texarkana 2
Taylor and Brown combined to shackle the Razorbacks in the first game. Taylor needed just 80 pitches to get through seven innings. At the plate, he contributed three hits and his catcher, Hayden Lessenberry, did the same. Mayall, Pultro and Hurt added two hits each.
Texarkana only managed single runs in the first and fourth but those tallies produced a 2-0 lead that held until the Sox erupted for four runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Hurt singled to ignite the rally. With one out, Brown was struck by a delivery from Texarkana starter Blake White and Taylor lined a single to center to load the bags. With two down, Nelson cracked a single to right to tie the game. An error extended the inning as Pultro reached and Taylor scored. Lessenberry bounced a single up the middle and it was 4-2.
In the top of the sixth, Wilcher led off with a double but when he tried to tag and go to third on a fly to right by Copeland, Pultro gunned him down at third. That proved crucial when Brennan Watkins followed with a double. Taylor ended the inning by inducing a grounder to Pickett at first.
The Sox added on in the sixth. Singles by Mayall, Brown and Taylor loaded the bases with one out. Pickett delivered a sacrifice fly and, after Nelson walked to fill the sacks again, Pultro drew an RBI walk to make it 6-2.
Taylor finished his stint on the mound by retiring the side in the top of the seventh around a one-out single by Rucker.
A three-run seventh provided more cushion for Brown to work with when he relieved in the eighth. Daniel’s double to left opened the seventh. Hurt beat out a bunt single and Mayall picked up the RBI with a grounder to first. Brown was hit by a pitch so when Taylor walked, it forced in Daniel. Pickett’s grounder to third was booted allowing Hurt to score then Nelson drew another run-scoring walk to make it 9-2.
Neither team mustered a base-runner in the eighth and, in the top of the ninth, Brown surrendered a lead-off single to Watkins but retired the last three, two on strikes to end the game.