Sox sweep DH from Express

LITTLE ROCK – The Bryant Senior Black Sox American Legion baseball team went to Little Rock to face the Express and came away with two 6-1 decisions in a doubleheader played at the University of Arkansas Little Rock’s Gary Hogan Field on Tuesday night. The two wins pushed the Black Sox record to 5-0 on the season.

Bryant got off to a slow start in the first game and had their troubles scoring during the night. In the top of the first, Hunter Mayall singled to center field to get things going, stole second base and went to third base on a fielder’s choice error by the second baseman on Tyler Nelson’s grounder. The next two men grounded out and Hayden Lessenberry was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Josh Pultro popped out to second base to leave the bases loaded for the first time of the night.

“The pitching was definitely a different velocity than what we’ve been seeing,” Bryant Coach Darren Hurt said of the Express’ lack of speed. “We did not make any adjustments early and we talked and talked and talked, and were preaching to go the other way, go the other way. We just couldn’t get it done at the plate. The [starting pitchers} threw a good game, both of them. They just kept us off balance and we didn’t really square them up very well.”

Though the Black Sox were only 5 for 25 for the first game, the Express gave Bryant opportunities through walks and hit by pitches. Little Rock’s starting pitcher Joseph Harris walked five and hit two Black Sox in game one.

The Black Sox scored two unearned runs in the top of the second inning after the first two men were retired. Marcus Wilson reached on an error by the third baseman and stole second base. Mayall walked and he and Wilson executed a double steal to put runners at second and third. Wilson scored on a wild pitch and Mayall scored on Nelson’s single to center to put Bryant up 2-0.

After being set down in order in the top of the third, Bryant scored two more in the fourth. Hayden Daniel was hit by a pitch with one out and stole the Black Sox’s fifth base of the game. Daniel went to third base on a wild pitch and scored on Wilson’s single to left field to put Bryant up 3-0. Wilson went to second on a balk and scored on Mayall’s single to center for a 4-0 lead.

On the other side of the mound, Bryant starting pitcher Tyler Brown was solid and efficient. Brown threw just 25 pitches through the first three innings and the only run he gave up in the game came when he struck out Calvin Wilborn, but Wilborn reached when the strikeout pitch was wild and got away from Lessenberry. Wilborn was sacrifice bunted to second and scored on last-place hitter Conley Culpepper’s single to center field to make it a 4-1 game.

Brown threw 69 percent of his pitches for strikes and pitched a two-hit complete game (seven innings) for the win, striking out five and walking three on 80 pitches.

Mayall continued to get on base and make things happen for Bryant as he reached on an infield single in the top of the seventh and stole his third base of the game. Nelson walked and Jordan Taylor sacrifice bunted the runners to second and third. Landon Pickett walked to load the bases and Lessenberry walked as well to score a run for a 5-1 score. Pultro hit a sacrifice fly to left field for the final margin.

“They scratched around and did what they had to do and scored enough,” Hurt said of his team.

Mayall accounted for three of the Black Sox’s five hits going 3 for 3 with two runs, an RBI and three stolen bases. Nelson went 1 for 3 with a run and RBI, and Wilson went 1 for 3, scoring twice and contributing an RBI and two stolen bases.

Bryant got off to a quicker start in the second game. Nelson reached on a one-out walk in the top of the first and stole second base. He went to third on a ground out and scored an unearned run on a passed ball to make it 1-0.

Pultro singled to start the top of the second and went to second in what should have been a double-play ball, but the pitcher, Douglas Munson, threw too low that the shortstop couldn’t handle it. Ozzie Hurt sacrifice bunted Pultro and Wilson over and catcher Zach Graddy was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Mayall hit a two-run single to make it 3-0 and two batters later, Pickett hit a two-run double to left field to give the Black Sox a 5-0 lead after two.

The Black Sox would score their sixth and final run in the top of the third when Pultro again led off with a single, stole second base and went to third on a ground out. After Hurt struck out, Graddy hit a two-out single to center to score Pultro.

Daniel started for the Sox and picked up the win giving up one run in the first inning. He gave up six hits and a walk in four innings and struck out one for the win. Tryce Schacilin gave up a hit, a walk and struck out one in two innings of relief, and Pultro, who hasn’t pitched yet this year, threw 11 consecutive strikes and struck out the last batter he faced looking at a curve ball. He pitched a perfect 1-2-3 inning in his season pitching debut.

“Josh Pultro there at the end, he’s been begging me to look at him [to pitch] and I’ve been kind of blowing him off,” Hurt said. “He walked in the bullpen [Monday] night and probably threw harder than anyone we’ve got. I said, ‘We might be able to work with this,’ and decided to give him a shot in a game situation. We didn’t get to see him in the stretch yet, but he did a really good job in the windup.”

Pultro didn’t work out of the stretch because he mowed down every Express hitter he faced.

“He threw the breaking pitch in the bullpen [Monday] night and I said we were going to have to scrap that,” Hurt said of Pultro. “We showed him another grip and had [Nate] Rutherford and some of them work with him a little bit on spinning it. He went down to the bullpen [Tuesday], was working on it and said, ‘I’ve got the curveball working and we let him throw it a few times and the last pitch right there, he threw a really nice one. He throws it hard enough he could end up helping us in the late innings.”

The Black Sox have a tournament in Omaha, Neb., next week where they will play at least five games and possibly eight, so Hurt said he is trying to get several pitchers some work.

“That’s what we’re trying to do this week – trying to throw a lot,” he said. “We know Omaha and down the line where we know there will be nine-inning games late when it matters. We’re trying to get to seven or eight arms instead of just four that we just ride every time. We’re just trying to expand it a little bit.”

Mayall, who is currently hitting .692 with a .765 on-base percentage, led the way for the Black Sox again in the second game going 2 for 4 with a run and two RBIs. For the doubleheader, he went 5 for 7 with three runs and three RBIs, and also stole three bases.

“If you ask him, he’s not happy because he made two outs tonight. That’s what Mayall does,” Hurt said of him getting on base. “He just walks up to the plate and you can’t strike him out. I don’t know how many hits he’s got this year with two strikes.”

Graddy went 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI, Pultro went 2 for 4 with two runs and a stolen base offensively, and nelson and Pickett each went 1 for 2 with Pickett adding two RBIs.

Before they head to Omaha, the Black Sox will play Fort Smith for a doubleheader on Thursday at the University of Central Arkansas. First pitch for game one is 5 p.m.