Win over Fulton, Mo., lifts Senior Sox into Classic semifinals

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — With a 4-1 win over Fulton, Mo., on Saturday, the Bryant Black Sox Senior[more] American Legion team won its pool and advanced to the championship bracket at the Southwest Illinois Firecracker Classic (formerly Tournament of Champions), a wood bat tournament hosted by Alton, Ill.

The Sox lost a 2-1 game to Belleville, the host team of the pool but it didn't effect their advancement since they had clinched their berth in the title round with the win over Fulton.

They were set to play in the semifinals against North Little Rock today at 11 a.m., in Alton. With a win, the Sox play for the championship of the tourney at 3:30 p.m. or so.

Right-hander Nate Rutherford went the distance on the mound in the win over Fulton, Mo., allowing one run on nine hits. He struck out six, walked no one and hit a batter to outduel Fulton’s Burke Echelmeir.

A three-run third gave Bryant a 4-0 lead. The Sox got a run in the first when Trevor Ezell, who had two hits in the contest, cracked a single to right center, stole second and went to third on a single to right by Marcus Wilson. Hayden Lessenberry then got down a squeeze bunt to get Ezell home.

A bunt hit by Tyler Nelson put runners at the corners but both were stranded as Echelmier got Chase Tucker to pop to first.

The three-run third began with Ezell drilled a single to center and Ozzie Hurt slapping one to right to send him to third. Wilson got a RBI single and when Lessenberry got a bunt down again, an attempt to get a force resulted in a wild throw, scoring both runners as Lessenberry took second.

With two down, Hayden Daniel singled then he and Lessenberry tried to work a double steal but Fulton catcher Jake Nicklebon’s throw was cut off by second baseman Riley Brant and returned home in time to retire Lessenberry to end the inning.

Rutherford pitched around a lead-off single in the first and a one-out hit in the second. He hit Randall Cole with a pitch to start the third but induced three consecutive infield grounders to get through it unscathed.

In the fourth, however, a one-out double by Jake Cowan led to the lone Fulton run. He advance to third when Justin Murphy struck out on a pitch in the dirt that Lessenberry recovered, throwing to first for the second out. A pitch later, however, Jake Matthews singled in the run.

Rutherford struck out the next batter to keep it 4-1.

For the Sox, Korey Thompson singled in the fourth, Lessenberry doubled with two out in the fifth, and Daniel singled in the sixth. Hurt walked and Wilson singled in the seventh but they were unable to add to the run total.

Fulton didn’t go quietly either. In the fifth, Brant singled with one out. Smith Kemper followed with a liner to right that Austin Caldwell charged in and caught. He fired into first and doubled off Brant to end the inning.

Rutherford retired the first two in the sixth then surrendered a single to Cowan. Murphy reached on an error and Matthews beat ou a bunt single to load the bases. But Rutherford picked Cowan off third to end the threat.

The game ended in dramatic fashion as well. Gus Goodnight singled to open the seventh for Fulton. He moved up on a grounder to short and when Kemper singled to center Goodnight tried to score only to have Daniel fire in to Ezell at third to nab him for the second out. The game ended on a pop to first.

Against Belleville, Bryce Richter outdueled Hurt and Tucker. Bryant took a 1-0 lead in the fourth and Belleville struck for its two in the fifth and it held up for the win.

Richter retired the first six batters he faced before surrendering a single to Zach Graddy to lead off the third. Though he was out trying to steal, Harrison Dale singled but Richter forced the Sox to strand him.

In the fourth, however, Drew Tipton singled and stole second, advancing to third on Daniel’s grounder to first and scoring on Lessenberry’s single. Lessenberry swiped a bag and, with two out, Caldwell walked but both were stranded as Richter started a string in which he retired the last 10 batters of the game.

Hurt also retired the first six batters he faced before issuing a walk to Luke Frazier to open the home third. A two-out walk to Adam Bauer put runners at first and second but they got no further as Aaron Meyer bounced out to Thompson at second.

Hurt worked a 1-2-3 fourth and set down the first batter of the fifth before giving up his first hit, a single to left by Frazier, who promptly stole second and scored on a two-out single by Ryan Marcuin. He stole second and wound up scoring on Bauer’s double.

Tucker was brought in at that point and got Meyer to fly to center to end the inning. He would surrender a double in the sixth but retire the next three including two on strikes to keep it 2-1.

But that was enough with Richter pitching for Belleville.

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