By Rob Patrick
With nine inning games in the post-season as opposed to seven in the regular season for Senior American Legion teams, a pitching staff can get depleted in short order. So when a team, particularly one in the losers bracket, can get a pitching performance that works deep into a game, it's huge.
In an elimination game in the Zone 4 tournament at Bryant High School on Saturday, Little Rock Post 1 Blue got just such a lift when right-hander Davis Ward went eight innings, allowing runs in just one of them, walked one, hit a batter and fanned five to help his team keep its hopes of returning to the State tourney for a second year in a row.
With Michael Marsh supplying three hits and three runs batted in and Joe Ramm going 3-for-4 with an RBI, Little Rock Blue ousted third-seeded Pine Bluff Simmons with a 7-3 win.
Blue, which had lost to Bryant 10-0 earlier in the day, stays alive to play Benton McClendon's in another elimination game on Sunday at 4. The winner will get a shot at a State bid in the losers bracket final at 7 against either Bryant or Texarkana.
For Pine Bluff Simmons, the game marked the end of a frustrating and all-too-short Zone tournament. The Bankers had opened with a 5-0 loss to Benton.[more]
Ward and Pine Bluff right-hander Jesse Blackstock dueled through three innings. Ward surrendered a game-opening single to Landon Hardin then set down nine in a row. Blackstock, meanwhile, worked around a two-out walk to Dustin Ward in the first and got the help of a doubleplay after a single by Marsh in the second. In the third, Ramm singled, took second on a wild pitch then was thrown out trying to steal. With two down, Tyler Brown walked but Blackstock got Daron Watson to ground out to short to end the inning.
In the fourth, Simmons broke through. Nick Cox singled up the middle to get the uprising started. Brandon Arnold drew a walk and Jeffrey Hayes looped a single to right to load the bases with no one out. Ward induced a pop up to second by Matt Harbison but Thomas Strahan came through with a sacrifice fly and Hunter Reed plugged the gap in right center to drive in two.
Blue answered with two in the bottom of the inning. Dustin Ward's double got things going. Taylor Brown singled him to third then Marsh knocked him in with a base hit to right. With one out, Ben Anderson's sacrifice fly made it 3-2. Ramm doubled but Blackstock got John Gray to fly to center to end the threat with the lead intact.
Robby Graves greeted Davis Ward with a single to start the fifth but the right-hander sat down the next three including two on strikes.
In turn, Blue took the lead. Tyler Brown was hit by a pitch but forced at second on Watson's bouncer to first. Dustin Ward fought off a pair of tough two-strike pitches before drawing a walk, setting the stage for Taylor Brown's RBI single to center. Marsh followed with a shot down the left-field line for a two-run double, giving Little Rock the lead. A single by Davis Ward on the third pitch by Harbison who came in to relieve, plated Marsh, making it 6-3.
Pine Bluff continued to put baserunners aboard but Ward kept wriggling off the hook. In the sixth, Hayes reached on an error and Harbison ricocheted a single off the first-base bag to put runners at the corners with no one out. Much to the frustration of the Bankers, Ward retired the next three batters to escape, picking up some defensive help from Watson who tracked down a pop up down the left-field line.
Ward worked around a two-out single by Cox in the seventh and, in the bottom of the inning, Marsh and Ward walked. With two down, Harbison came within a strike of getting out of the inning only to have Ramm shoot a single into right to drive in Marsh. Ramm was thrown out trying to get to second on the play, ending the inning.
Ward surrendered a two-out hit by Jared Wilson in the eight but he too was stranded. With his pitch count up to 132, Ward gave way to Tyler Brown in the ninth. And Pine Bluff didn't go quietly. Blake Sorrey led off the ninth with a shot to right-center for a double. Tristan DeWalt drew a walk then a wild pitch put runners at second and third but they didn't budge from there. Hardin lined out to center then Brown fanned the next two to end the game.
LITTLE ROCK BLUE 7, PINE BLUFF SIMMONS 3
Senior American Legion
Pine Bluff ab r h bi Little Rock Blue ab r h bi
Hardin, cf 5 0 1 0 Ty.Brown, cf-p 3 0 1 0
Cox, c 4 1 2 0 Watson, 3b 5 1 1 0
Arnold, 1b 3 1 0 0 Du.Ward, rf-cf 4 2 1 0
Lee, rf 1 0 0 0 Ta.Brown, ss 5 2 2 1
Hayes, ss 4 1 1 0 Marsh, 1b 3 2 3 3
Harbison, 3b-p 4 0 1 0 Da.Ward, p 3 0 1 1
Strahan, 2b 1 0 0 1 Andress, 2b 0 0 0 0
Wilson, 2b 2 0 1 0 Anderson, lf 3 0 0 1
Reed, rf 3 0 1 2 Speed, lf 0 0 0 0
Reynolds, 1b 1 0 0 0 Ramm, c 4 0 3 1
Blackstock, p-3b 2 0 0 0 Gray, 2b-rf 3 0 0 0
Sorrey, 3b 1 0 0 0
Graves, lf 2 0 1 0
Williams, lf 1 0 0 0
DeWalt, lf 0 0 0 0
Totals 35 3 9 3 Totals 32 7 12 7
Pine Bluff 000 300 000 — 3
LR Blue 000 240 10x — 7
E—Ta.Brown, Hayes. DP—Pine Bluff Simmons 2. LOB—Pine Bluff Simmons 9, LR Blue 9. 2B—Reed, Du.Ward, Ramm, Marsh, Sorrey. SB—Watson 2, Du.Ward. S—Cox. SF—Anderson, Strahan.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Pine Bluff Simmons
Blackstock (L) 4.1 6 6 8 3 1
Harbison 2.2 1 1 4 3 1
Da.Ward 8 3 3 8 1 5
Ty.Brown 1 0 0 1 1 2
HBP—Ty.Brown (by Blackstock). WP—Blackstock, Da.Ward, Ty.Brown.