ON TO NEW ORLEANS
NORTH LITTLE ROCK – New Orleans here they come. The Bryant Black Sox came back to defeat the Texarkana Razorbacks 6-5 in the Senior American Legion State Tournament championship game on Tuesday at Vince DeSalvo Stadium to advance to the Mid-South Regional Tournament in New Orleans starting next Thursday. The Black Sox went 5-0 in State.
After letting Texarkana tie it up in the top of the ninth, Hayden Daniel hit a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the inning to score Landon Pickett for the winning run. Pickett had reached on an error by the shortstop and went to second when Tryce Schalchlin sacrifice bunted. Marcus Wilson was intentionally walked and Hayden Lessenberry singled to left field to load the bases before Daniel’s game-winning hit.
“It’s great,” Bryant Coach Darren Hurt said. “That was the goal from the start. Two years ago when I took it over, we were a young, young team. This is the team. These guys are the ones that as 17-year olds were playing up and playing against some really good competition. We always looked for the 18-year-old year was going to be a good one, the 19-year-old year could be the year. So far, it is.”
Texarkana jumped on Bryant starter Tyler Nelson for two runs in the first inning when leadoff man Josey Langston singled to start the game. Langston was out at second on Trevor Rucker’s fielder’s choice, but Rucker stole second base and scored on Alan Copeland’s double to left field for the 1-0 Razorbacks’ lead. Hunter Wilcher traded places with Copeland at second base with a double of his own down the left-field line for the 2-0 lead.
The Black Sox (33-5) would get one of those runs back in the bottom of the first when leadoff Hunter Mayall took Texarkana starter Colton McMahan’s first pitch to center field for a double. Tyler Brown successfully sacrifice bunted Mayall to third base, who came in to score on Jordan Taylor’s sacrifice fly to get within 2-1.
Landon Pickett walked, Nelson flied out and Marcus Wilson singled to load the bases, but the runners would be left stranded when Hayden Lessenberry struck out swinging at an outside curve ball.
The Black Sox would tie it up in the bottom of the second inning when Mayall doubled, again on the first pitch from McMahan, to the right-center field gap with two outs. Brown was hit by a pitch and Taylor doubled to the left-center field gap to score Mayall for the 2-2 score. Mayall’s first-pitch double was one of three first-pitch doubles for him. Overall, the Black Sox swung and put the ball in play 14 times on the first pitch and a positive outcome came at swinging at the first pitch 9 of 14 times.
“That’s what we tell them to do,” Hurt said. “The first pitch you like, get on it. Like it or not, everybody is different on that, but I don’t like them getting behind 0-1 and the pitcher has the advantage. Unless we put the take on, green light.”
The Razorbacks would scratch for a run in the top of the third when Rucker reached on an infield single with a line drive off of Nelson’s leg. Rucker went to third on Copeland’s single to left field and scored on Wilcher’s sacrifice fly to center for a 3-2 Texarkana lead.
The Black Sox left a total of seven men on base through the first three innings, but Hurt knew what his team could do and didn’t get anxious.
“To tell you the truth, I really never was [worried about leaving men on base],” he said. “ For some reason in this game, I just thought we would be able to scratch [for runs] throughout the game. I thought we would get [McMahan] out of the game eventually. They had to be getting thin on pitching so we thought we would score runs at some point.”
Nelson struck out Copleland swinging at a slider to retire his ninth batter in a row, but walked Wilcher who would later score on an RBI single by Ethan Russell for a 4-2 Texarkana lead.
Bryant would respond, though, in the bottom of the inning when Daniel hit a one-out single and scored on Ozzie Hurt’s double down the right-field line to get within 4-3. Mayall hit his third one-pitch double to the right-center field gap to score Hurt and tie the game at 4-apiece.
The Black Sox would not open the top of the seventh well as two errors led to runners at second and third with no outs. Nelson got Langston to pop out to Brown at third base, struck out Rucker looking with a fast ball down the middle, and after intentionally walking Copeland to load the bases, struck out Wilcher swinging at a change up to get out of the inning with an emphatic fist-pump from Nelson.
“It was the difference in the game,” Hurt said of the top of the seventh. “He had a couple innings there where guys were on the bags, things aren’t looking real good. He got out of a couple big spots.”
Pickett put the Black Sox ahead by a run when he hit McMahan’s first pitch over the left-field fence in the bottom of the seventh for a 5-4 lead.
“I was focused on having a good swing every time and doing what I can to help the team,” Pickett said.
After a scoreless eighth inning, Nelson went out in the ninth after having already thrown 133 pitches.
“I told him if anybody gets on, I’m going to have to get you,” Hurt said to Nelson. “He felt wonderful, he wanted to keep going, and [Asst. Coach]Wayne [Taylor] said give him the ball.
After striking out Luke McGwire on a curve ball, Nelson gave up a hit, stayed in, and gave up another single to put runners at first and third with one out.
“It was the fifth time through the order,” Hurt started, “they had seen him all night and just wanted to show them something different. The first kid got on and I changed my mind and said I’m going to give him one more. Then another kid gets a hit and I said let’s go ahead and go with it now. It is a shame. He deserved the W.”
Schalchlin relieved and gave up a sacrifice fly to Copeland to tie the game, but Rucker got caught stealing at second base to get out of the inning.
Schalchlin got the win pitching two-thirds of an inning while Nelson got the no-decision. Nelson finished giving up five runs on 11 hits and two walks in eight and one-third innings, and he struck out seven while throwing 141 pitches.
Mayall was named MVP of the State Tournament. Mayall went 4 for 5 with two runs, an RBI and three doubles in the championship win, and hit .591 (13 for 22) with four doubles, five runs, six RBIs and a stolen base in the tournament.
Wilson also had a monster tournament and was honored with the Best Hitter Award. Wilson came through all tournament while batting .611 (11 for 18), scoring nine runs and knocking in six. He had three doubles, a go-ahead home run in game one of the tournament and stole a base.
“I felt like I was seeing it real good,” Wilson said. “That’s the best I’ve seen the ball in my life. It looked like a beach ball coming in. I was just squaring pitches up. I had a lot of confidence at the plate. I got to help my team out a lot to win some games.”
Wilson went 2 for 3 in the win with Lessenberry and Daniel each going 2 for 5. Pickett went 1 for 4 with two runs and an RBI, Taylor went 1 for 4 with two RBIs and Hurt went 1 for 4 with a run and RBI.
Bryant makes a regional for the first time since 2007 and Hurt said the team doesn’t plan on stopping there.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re not done,” he said. “That last team that won state ended up in the world series. Our plan is to go to New Orleans and then go straight to North Carolina.
The Mid-South Regional Tournament starts on Aug. 9 in New Orleans and should the Black Sox win the regional, they will go to Shelby, N.C., to the American Legion World Series.