Ada Post 72 coach Travis Graham’s approach to the American Legion west regional tournament turned from proactive to reactive on the heels of his second-seeded club’s stunning 18-8 first-round loss to Lawton Wednesday at Rose State College.
With ace Blake Logan having been shut down for the rest of his summer by his college coach earlier in the week, Graham opted to start Dylan Johnson Wednesday against Lawton — a club the Braves had run-ruled three times earlier in the season — with an eye toward saving his top two starters — Matt Benedict and Dalton Pickering — for games Thursday and Friday and a possible run at the regional title.
But after the gamble blew up in Graham’s face, resulting in one of the most unexpected losses in his four seasons as the Ada coach, he said Benedict (6-2) will start today’s (5:30 p.m.) elimination game against Brassfield. With a win, the Braves will become one of four teams to advance to next week’s state tournament out of the six-team regional; with a loss, they will be one of only three Legion teams in the state who will sit out next week.
“Ugliest game ever,” Graham said after seeing his team — which entered the tournament 30-8 — fall to the Colonels, who entered the game with a 16-28 record. “We didn’t start out like we wanted to win. We dug ourselves a hole and couldn’t recover.”
Johnson (0-2) surrendered 11 runs in less than three innings, and Lawton led 14-0 Before Tanner Bell hit a solo home run — just the second Ada hit off Lawton starter Nick Yoning — with two outs in the bottom of the third.
Cody Knight’s fifth hit and second home run of the game — a solo blast to right-center with two outs in the top of the sixth — made it 16-2 before the Braves scored five unearned runs in the bottom of the inning with the help of the only error in the game by either team.
But Lawton got a leadoff bloop single from Graydon Gatlin and an RBI double from T. J. Turner to start the seventh, and after moving to third on a balk, Turner scored the run that ultimately ended the game on the run rule on a groundout by Garrett Daniel. Ada pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh and had runners at first and second when Dylan Tinkler struck out looking to end the game.
Knight was the big gun for the Colonels, but they pounded out 20 hits, seven of them for extra bases. All nine Lawton starters had at least one hit and scored at least one run, and eight of the nine had at least one RBI.
After singling to left and scoring the second run in a two-run Lawton first inning, Knight followed a one-out RBI double by Barton McDonald in the second with a no-doubt, three-run blast over the fence in left-center to make it 6-0. Knight’s RBI single was one of seven hits in an eight-run third-inning explosion, and after being stranded following a two-out single in the fourth, he wrapped his five-RBI day with his second home run of the game in the sixth.
Daniel also had a big afternoon with three hits and four RBIs. His two-run single capped Lawton’s third-inning outburst, and he added RBI groundsouts in the fifth (following a one-out triple by Turner) and seventh.
Ada, meanwhile, couldn’t take advantage of 10 walks and a hit batter by Yoning and reliever Taylaun Scott. Coming off a victory Monday over Durant in which they stranded 15 baserunners, the Braves left 11 on base in their seven at-bats Wednesday. Matt Johnson scored the second Ada run on a wild pitch in the fifth, and although four of Ada’s last five hits drove in runs, it was too little, too late.
Bell had one of four doubles — three of them with two outs — in Ada’s five-run sixth. Matt Benedict started the rally with a leadoff double into the left field corner, and Bell’s two-run hit down the right field line made it 16-4. Blake Logan followed with a fly-ball, two-run double to left-center, and Josiah Nyberg capped the rally with another double down the left field line to score Logan.
In addition to the 11 free baserunners provided by Yoning and Scott, the Braves finished with nine hits, including two apiece from Bell, Matt Johnson and Cody Robinson, whose single in the seventh drove in the game’s final run.