Bryant’s back-end bullpen bully in comeback
CONWAY — Bryant’s bullpen helped the Black Sox clear a major hurdle Monday afternoon in the American Legion AAA State Tournament.
Will McEntire, Boston Heil and Beaux Bonvillain combined to throw 31/3 innings of hitless relief as the Sox rallied for a 8-5 victory over Cabot Centennial Bank in the winners bracket semifinals at Hendrix College.
Bryant scored five runs in the eighth inning to charge back from a 5-3 deficit and earn a berth in Friday’s winners bracket finals against Texarkana.
Monday’s contest was the conclusion of a game that started Sunday afternoon but was called after 2½ innings when a heavy thunderstorm rolled through Faulkner County. Neither of Sunday’s starting pitchers — Bryant’s Alex Shurtleff nor Cabot’s Brett Brockington — were eligible to return to the mound Monday, forcing both managers to go deeper in their pitching staffs than they had intended.
If Legion pitchers throw 31 or more pitches in one game, they are not allowed to return to the mound until two days later.
“With what happened yesterday and with Shurtleff being burnt, they knew everybody would have to step up,” Bryant Manager Darren Hurt said. “We were going to need a little bit out of everybody in
Brockington had defeated Bryant earlier in the summer, and Cabot Manager Casey Vaughan was counting on his staff’s ace to pitch the majority of the semifinal game.
“It’s unfortunate that we had to burn him because he was our best arm,” Vaughan said. “We lost him after 48 pitches, and we couldn’t get him back today. But there’s no excuses. Our mentality is ‘next guy up,’ and we had to roll with it.”
Cabot tabbed Koleston Eastham to continue Brockington’s start, and the juniorto-be at Cabot High School responded by throwing four scoreless innings. Bryant, however, used five walks and three singles to score five runs in the eighth inning. All five of the runs came with two outs.
“Eastham probably hasn’t thrown that many pitches in two years,” Vaughan said. “He stepped up for us big, and we were four outs away. We rode him until he couldn’t go any longer.”
Bryant went down in order in the first two innings Sunday, but an RBI sacrifice bunt by Coby Greiner and doubles by Logan Allen and Seth Tucker gave the Sox a 3-1 lead before the rains forced the suspension.
“Trust me, we wanted to keep playing [Sunday],” Hurt said. “We liked our spot yesterday because we had finally got to them, and we had things going our way.”
Cabot scored four runs on six hits against Tucker, who started Monday’s action. Cabot held a 4-3 advantage after the fourth inning and started the fifth inning with three consecutive hits — including an RBI single by Michael Crumbly — but Tucker closed the inning with three consecutive strikeouts.
“We didn’t come out real sharp today,” Hurt said. “But we grinded it out and got it done.”
Bryant’s Scott Schmidt singled in a run in the eighth to cut Cabot’s lead to 5-4, and pinch hitter Brandon Hoover — who was making his first plate appearance in the tournament — followed with a game-tying single. A balk, a single by Jake East and a bases-loaded walk to Tucker capped the scoring.
Bryant’s relievers shut down Cabot during the final four innings. McEntire threw only two pitches, getting Dillon Thomas to ground into a double play to end the sixth inning. Heil pitched a perfect seventh inning and picked up the victory. Bonvillain, who picked up the save, gave up two walks and hit a batter in his two innings of work.
Cabot compiled eight hits. Logan Edmondson had three singles and drove in a run. Blake McCutchen went 2 for 4 with a double and two runs scored. Crumbly drove in two runs with a single and a ground out.