CONWAY — After the first inning, it looked like the winners’ bracket final of the 2019 Junior American Legion State Tournament might just be a slugfest. The Bryant Black Sox pushed four runs across the plate in the top of the inning and left the bases loaded. The Jacksonville Gwatney Chevrolet Motormen answered with two runs and left the bases loaded.
Jacksonville’s starting pitcher Dre Bingham settled down in the second. But when Bryant starter Peyton Dillon issued his fourth walk of the game to start the second, Bryant manager Ozzie Hurt, brought right-hander Josh Turner into the game.
Turner whipped up 4 1/3 innings of shutout relief without a walk, striking out six and surrendering just three hits, two of those coming from two of the last three batters he faced.
In their best opportunity to score since the first, Jacksonville catcher Alex Moss was up with an 0-2 count.
To save on his pitch counter, Hurt brought in Hayden Thompson at that point. His first pitch was hit to J.T. Parker at second who started an inning-ending double play.
By then, Bryant had built a 7-2 lead against Bingham, who threw 98 pitches in less than four innings before being pulled.
Bryant added a run in the top of the seventh. In the bottom of the inning, Thompson issued a pair of walks and turned the mound duties over the Noah Davis. He flipped up a doubleplay ball and, after hitting a batter, got the final out on a grounder to Parker at short.
The 8-2 win leaves Bryant as the lone unbeaten team remaining. The Sox will return to action on Tuesday against Texarkana, which faces elimination. Jacksonville will play Benton Sportshop in an elimination game earlier in the day.
Win or lose, the Sox will play for the State championship on Wednesday. If they beat Texarkana, they’ll have to be beaten twice on Wednesday to be denied the crown. If they lose to Texarkana, they’ll advance to Wednesday’s second game and a winner-take-all final against the survivor of the game between Texarkana and the survivor of the Benton-Jacksonville game.
(Odd as it is, the bracket format is taken from the outdated old College World Series eight-team format, which had been rejected in recent Junior State Tournaments.)
Monday’s win was the first for Bryant at State that wasn’t a run-rule.
The Sox’ opening salvo began with Bingham issuing walks to Lawson Speer and Ryan Riggs. A bloop single by Davis loaded the bases for Parker, who unloaded them with a drive that burned the centerfielder for a triple.
With one out, Colby Morrow singled to right to make it 4-0.
With two down, Dakota Clay singled, and Blaine Sears walked to fill the sacks, but Bingham escaped with his second strikeout of the inning.
In the bottom of the frame, Dillon issued a walk to lead-off man Clay Burrows but nearly got through the inning unscathed. He fanned Bryce Overman then got Ryan Ready to ground one to Davis at short. A flip to Parker got the force for the second out and the return throw had Ready out, but the throw was dropped at first.
Again, Dillon got within a strike of getting out of the inning when Jaylon McGee doubled to right. A walk to Bingham loaded the bases and a walk to Ethan Gray forced in the first run.
Moments later, on a 2-2 pitch, Adones Fuller was hit by a pitch to force in a second tally.
Dillon came back to finish a strikeout of Riley Malone to end the uprising.
Neither team made much noise in the second. Bingham pitched around a one-out walk to Davis then, after Justin Dennis walked to start the home half, Turner got Burrows to bounce into a force at second. Burrows was then thrown out trying to steal by Riggs, the Sox’ catcher. Turner fanned Overman to send it to the third.
Will Hathcote led off for Bryant and struck out on a pitch in the dirt. He reached first safely when Overman, the catcher, threw errantly to first. Hathcote took second when Morrow pulled a soft chopper toward first. Bingham fielded it and threw to first in time.
But Aaron Morgan beat out an infield hit on a grounder into the hole. With Hathcote at third, Morgan stole second. On a 3-2 count with two away, Sears burned the right-fielder for a two-run triple, extending the lead to 6-2.
Davis made a pair of eye-popping plays at short in support of Turner in the third and fourth innings. With one out in the third, McGee reached on an error and stole second. But Turner struck out Bingham and Gray.
In the fourth, Fuller legged out an infield hit. He advanced to second on Riley Malone’s grounder to third but then Turner fanned Dennis and Davis robbed Burrows of a hit to end the frame.
Bryant’s fourth-inning run was scored by Riggs who singled up the middle to start the inning, raced all the way to third on an errant pickoff throw then scampered home on a wild pitch.
Davis singled to left and Bingham turned the pitching over to Malone. With a strikeout and a doubleplay, Jacksonville got out of the inning.
He then retired the side in order in the fifth. In turn, Turner retired the first two in the home fifth. McGee reached on an error, but Riggs picked him off first to send it to the sixth.
Malone hit Speer in the head with a pitch with one out in the top of the sixth. Speer stole second then went to third on a wild pitch.
With two out and an 0-2 count on Davis, Malone was pulled at the 30-pitch mark so that he will be available to pitch again on Tuesday.
Dennis relieved and, on a 3-2 pitch, got the benefit of the doubt on a borderline pitch for the inning-ending strikeout.
Bingham singled to right and, with one out, Fuller singled to left. Turner worked the count to 0-2 on Moss and would’ve gotten through the inning under the 60-pitch mark (which will allow him to come back on Wednesday) but Moss fouled off those two pitches.
Thompson came in needing just one strike for the second out but, on his first delivery, Moss grounded into the rally-squelching doubleplay.
Bryant’s final run in the top of the seventh was scored by Hathcote, who drilled a double down the line in left with one out. He advanced to third on Ethan Andrews’ groundout. Morgan was then struck by a pitch.
Morgan took off trying to steal second and Jacksonville tried to run a play where the second baseman was supposed to cut-off the throw, hoping to catch Hathcote wandering off third. Not only did Morgan steal successfully but, when the Motormen’s second baseman couldn’t field the throw, it rolled away far enough for Hathcote to sprint home.