Wild Finish

LITTLE ROCK – After coming from behind to pick up a 6-5 win over Columbia, Tenn., in the quarterfinal round of the Mid-South Regional Tournament on Saturday, the Bryant Black Sox were down again on Sunday against the Missouri champions, Jefferson City, on Sunday at UALR ‘s Gary Hogan Field. Behind 7-4 after five innings on Sunday, the Black Sox would scratch a run each in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to trail 8-7 going into the ninth. That’s when the fireworks started.

After Black Sox third baseman Brandan Warner flew out to start the final set, Dalton Holt picked up his fourth hit of the day, an infield single, and pinch hitter Evan Lee walked. Korey Thompson reached on an error by the third baseman to load them up before leadoff man Trevor Ezell worked a walk to force in a run and tie it at 8-8. Drew Tipton struck out for the second out and everyone at Gary Hogan Field would see a pitiful sight after the next at bat.

With the bases loaded and two outs, that next batter, Chase Tucker, hit a slow roller to the Jefferson City shortstop and would beat out a close play at first base to give the Black Sox a 9-8 lead, but what Missouri must not have realized is it was the top of the ninth inning, not the bottom, and Jefferson City first baseman Hayden Strobel didn’t agree with the close call, to say the least. In anger, Strobel threw the ball, along with his glove, down on the turf. With the ball rolling into right field, Bryant third base Coach Jason Thompson continued to send runners. But, Korey Thompson would have to return to third base after the umpires said they had called time out after Strobel’s ejection.

“Their explanation was that when the player is ejected, they call time out, [the play] is dead and everybody goes back,” Black Sox Coach Darren Hurt explained. “My argument was you shouldn’t reward a kid for throwing his glove down and hollering F-bombs. First of all, the umpire, he should have waited, let the play play out and then when time is called throw out whoever you need to throw out. They messed up, period. They knew it. They called time so there you go.”

Strobel wasn’t the only Missouri player to get ejected as pitcher Cole Distler was also ejected for similar actions. It seemed more of the Missouri players could have been ejected as there were more gloves on the ground from being thrown in frustration than they were on the hands of the players. Regardless, Bryant would have the 9-8 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, and Holt would pick up the save and a Black Sox chance at the American Legion World Series today when Missouri’s Logan Vogel lined out to Thompson at second, who doubled up Logan Bax at first to end the game.

“It’s crazy the inning worked out the same as it did [Saturday] night,” Hurt said. “Almost every part of that inning was an exact repeat of [Saturday]. I felt just like I did [Saturday], I never felt like we weren’t going to win the ballgame. I felt like we were waiting around, we didn’t show up early so we were having to battle from behind. The one thing it shows you is these kids, they got no quit in them at all.”
The Black Sox will face Columbia, Tenn., today at 2 p.m. Undefeated in the regional, Bryant will have to be beaten twice today to not advance to the World Series held in Shelby, N.C., beginning Thursday, Aug. 21.
“Anytime somebody has to beat you twice, you like your spot,” Hurt said. “They’re a good ball club, but the fact they have to beat us twice, we like our chances.”

Tied 1-1 after two innings, the Black Sox put a 3-spot up in the top of the third when Bryant scored twice on Missouri errors and Hayden Lessenberry scored on Warner’s squeeze bunt to make it a 4-1 Bryant lead. Missouri would get a run back in the bottom of the inning when Cody Stegemann turned on Bryant starter Devin Dupree’s pitch for a homer and 4-2 Black Sox lead, which it would remain until the bottom of the fifth.

It was then that Jefferson City pounded out five consecutive hits and four runs before Dupree got a ground out for Bryant’s first out. Missouri had two more hits and a run before Austin Caldwell came on in relief, gave up a single, struck a man out, and third baseman Warner made an excellent defensive play, diving to his right with the bases loaded and tagged third base, saving three runs with Bryant down 7-4 after five innings.

Holt would score on Ezell’s infield single to get within 7-5, but Strobel would hit a two-out home run on the first pitch he saw from Caldwell to make it 8-5 Missouri. But, that would be all Caldwell would give up as he gave up one run on five hits in 3.2 innings of relief for the win, striking out two without a walk.

“That’s what he’s done this year,” Hurt said of Caldwell. “He’s never been just a regular pitcher, but he’s a guy that eats innings for us, we got in that spot, went to him and he did a heck of a job. He kept us close. Other than the home run, he didn’t give up anything. He didn’t let them get too far away from us.”
Holt would single in Blake Patterson the top of the seventh to make it 8-6 and Ezell scored on an error in the top of the eighth to get the Black Sox within a run before tensions ran high in the ninth inning and the Black Sox held on for the win.

Holt picked up the save and went 4 for 4 with two runs and an RBI, Ezell (two runs and two RBI) and Tipton each went 3 for 5, and Tucker and Patterson each went 2 for 4 in the win. When asked if he had seen anything like the play in the top of the ninth inning, Hurt said, “Never. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a timeout called after a ball gets thrown … no, I’ve never seen anything like that. All I could see is a ball rolling toward right field and I’m over there going crazy keep sending them and then people start getting sent back.”

A Black Sox win at 2 p.m. today would result in the trip to the world series, while a loss would pit them against Columbia, Tenn., again shortly after the first game.