Bryant battles to runner-up

BRYANT – It was a hard-fought weekend for the Bryant Everett Black Sox in the Arkansas American Legion AA State Tournament, but the Black Sox fell just short of a championship on Sunday night when they came out of the loser’s bracket to face Pine Bluff National Bank in the final and lost 13-4 to be the state runner-up.

With a bye in the first round, the Black Sox (26-7) defeated Stuttgart 7-2 in the second round before falling to Newport 3-2 to drop to the loser’s bracket. It didn’t look promising for Bryant as they were down by three runs going into the last inning against Wynne. But a Wynne meltdown – four walks and two hit by pitches to start the final inning – allowed the Black Sox to score seven runs in the last inning and take the game 12-9.

Bryant had Lakeside next and was down by one run before scoring two in the fifth inning with two outs to win 5-4 and earn a rematch with Newport. The Black Sox exacted their revenge picking up a 5-3 victory over Newport to make it to the championship game against Pine Bluff. The Black Sox would have had to defeat Pine Bluff twice to win the title, but just ran out of pitching in the end.

“We knew we were going to run short,” Bryant Coach Jason Thompson said. “We wanted to get back to where we were at. This was our goal, we made it here. We knew if we got to this point, anything could happen.”

Things were looking good for the Black Sox in the top of the first against Pine Bluff when leadoff man Trevor Ezell tripled to center field and scored on Korey Thompson’s RBI groundout to the shortstop for a 1-0 lead.

Pine Bluff responded in the bottom of the inning when Tyler Zuber hit Austin Lewis in with a two-out RBI single to right field for an unearned run to tie it at 1-apiece. PBNB would add two more in the third inning when Bryant starter Cody Gogus walked Justin McCarty with two outs. Zuber came through again for Pine Bluff with a double to left field to make it 2-1 and would later score on Tanner Attwood’s single to center for a Black Sox 3-1 deficit.

Bryant’s Harrison Dale reached on an error when the left fielder dropped a fly ball to start the top of the fourth inning allowing Dale to reach second base. Drew Tipton flew out to the left fielder Dylan James, who made a throwing error to let Dale score to make it a 3-2 ballgame.

Pine Bluff starting pitcher Chris Smith doubled to start the bottom of the fourth and then things got out of hand for Everett. Landon Reed attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but Gogus tried to get Smith out at third and threw the ball into foul territory allowing Smith to score and Reed to advance to second. Another sac bunt attempt went poorly for Bryant when catcher C.J. Phillips’ throw to first went into right field allowing Reed to score for a 5-2 Pine Bluff lead. Gogus walked the next batter and was pulled for a relief pitcher, but Pine Bluff welcomed Jason Hastings with a double and single, and relief pitcher Dakota Besancon with a single and a double resulting in six runs in the inning and a 9-2 PBNB lead. Still with no outs, Justin Emmerling relieved Besancon and got out of the inning.

“Those guys are good,” Thompson said of PBNB. “Pine Bluff is a great team and when you’re down on pitching and tired like that, we had a few mistakes we made, left some guys on base. They hit the ball well. I don’t think there’s a ball I remember not hitting off the wall.”

The Black Sox picked up two more unearned runs in the top of the sixth to make it 9-4, but Pine Bluff scored four in the bottom of the inning to put the nail in the coffin.

Pine Bluff outhit the Black Sox 14 to 5 and Ezell had three of Everett’s five hits. Ezell went 3 for 4 and scored a run, Phillips went 1 for 3 and Austin Caldwell went 1 for 2. For PBNB, Lewis went 4 for 5 with three runs, Zuber went 3 for 4 with three RBIs, Attwood went 2 for 3 with three RBIs and McCarty went 1 for 2 with three runs and three RBIs.

Thompson was unable to coach in the championship game because he was ejected in the previous game against Newport. Newport starting pitcher Grant Black caught a rocket shot lineout from Ezell to end the bottom of the third and, according to Thompson, started blowing kisses to the Bryant dugout. Third base coach Jimmy Parker had some words for Black and Newport’s coach and Black’s dad had some words for Parker. That’s when Thompson, who coaches first base, blew up and had even more intense words for the Newport coach and both coaches were ejected.

The Black Sox struck first in their revenge game with Newport when Harrison Dale hit a double to left field with one out in the bottom of the second, went to third on Tipton’s ground out to second base and scored on a wild pitch to make it 1-0.

Newport would tie it in the fourth inning and took the lead in the fifth at 2-1 before Phillips reached on an error by the shortstop in the bottom of the inning. Trey Breeding attempted to sacrifice bunt him over, but the Newport third baseman didn’t charge the ball and Breeding was safe with a hit to put runners at first and third. Caldwell came through with a single to left field to tie it at 2-2, but with runners at first and second and no outs, Bryant couldn’t push any more runs across in the inning.

Tipton and Phillips reached on one-out walks in the sixth and after Breeding struck out for the second out, Caldwell came through again with a double to the right-center field gap to score both runs and make it 4-2. Thompson knocked Caldwell in with an infield hit to make it a three-run game.

“Caldwell stepped up big time,” Coach Thompson said. “He’s been struggling. He stepped up two clutch times. That was huge for us.”

Everett relief pitcher Dakota Besancon relieved for starter Chase Tucker in the sixth inning and held Newport scoreless through two innings for the win. Tucker was solid giving up two runs in five innings.

“It was Besancon’s first appearance in Double A this year,” Thompson said of Besancon, who played for the junior legion team for the whole year. “He hadn’t played any with us.”

Caldwell, the last-place hitter, went 2 for 3 with a run and three RBIs, Thompson went 2 for 4 with an RBI and Gogus and Dale each went 1 for 3.

“These guys played hard and they didn’t quit,” Thompson said. “I’m proud of them. You can’t ask for any more from these guys. They gut-wrenched all year long. They battled and battled and never quit. It was a good season, I’m proud of them.”