Having trouble closing out games throughout the season, the Bryant Jr. Black Sox had little trouble doing just that on Tuesday in the Area 1 Zone Tournament championship game in Maumelle. The Jr. Sox took a 5-0 lead after three innings and cruised to a 12-2, six-inning win over the Little Rock Diamondbacks in the title game to claim a No. 1 seed in the Junior State Tournament on Friday.
Bryant (22-7) will face an opponent to be determined on Friday morning at 10 a.m. at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
“That’s one thing we talked about all year is finishing,” Jr. Sox Coach Ozzie Hurt said. “That’s one thing we’ve struggled with. We’ll get ahead and let them hang around, and before you know it we’re up by one. But (Tuesday) they did a good job of getting ahead and staying ahead.”
The Jr. Sox took a 1-0 lead after one inning when Ryan Riggs singled in Blaine Sears, who reached via single, for the 1-run advantage after one.
Bryant would get some free runners in the bottom of the third as Riggs and JT Parker walked to start and Will Hathcote hit an RBI double for the 2-0 lead. Dakota Clay and Lawson Speer both hit RBI singles for the 4-run advantage and Clay later scored on an error for the 5-0 lead after three.
Sears, Bryant’s starter, would walk a runner in in the top of the fourth, but that was the only run he allowed in four innings of work as he gave up four hits and three walks, while striking out one.
But, Bryant responded with three runs of its own in the bottom of the inning on RBI triples by Parker and Hathcote, and an RBI single by Joshua Turner for the 8-1 advantage.
The Jr. Sox added two runs in the fifth and invoked the sportsmanship rule in the sixth inning when Speer scored on a passed ball for the 12-2 final.
Bryant pounded out 14 hits, while holding Little Rock to five, with Speer leading the way with a 3-for-5 day, scoring twice with an RBI. Hathcote was 2 for 3 with two runs and two RBIs, Parker 2 for 2 with an RBI, Clay 2 for 3 with two runs and one RBI, Aaron Morgan 2 for 3 with a run and Riggs was 1 for 3 with two RBIs. Sears and Turner both had a hit and an RBI.
Turner also pitched two innings of relief, giving up an unearned run on one hit vs. no walks, striking out one.
Bryant swept the Zone Tournament, downing Fort Smith 2-1, River Valley 18-0 and the same Little Rock team 8-7 on Monday.
“We got off to a slow start against Fort Smith, really a game we shouldn’t have won, but they found a way in the last inning to walk them off,” Hurt said. “We took care of River Valley pretty easily. (Monday) against Little Rock was a tough one. We had them down 8-4 in the last inning and tried to give it away but didn’t.”
Hurt also credited the work on the mound for getting the Jr. Sox to this point.
“It’s been the same thing all year - pitching,” he said. “Pitching keeps us in it, always. Peyton Dillon gave up a run in the first against Fort Smith and we end up winning 2-1. He shut them down from then on out. We didn’t give up any against River Valley. (Monday) was weird, it was just a lack of focus from everyone … pitching, defense.
“Pitching is what has gotten us to this point and it will get us through state, hopefully.”