If Ada Post 72 Braves are going to supplant the two-time defending state champion Oklahoma Outlaws as the state’s best American Legion baseball team, they’re going to have to finish stronger.
Ada had lost three straight to the Outlaws this season heading into Saturday evening’s championship game at the Legion west regional tournament at Rose State College — the previous two (14-10 at the Justin Sullivan Tournament and 12-10 in Ada) after rallying to tie the score at 10-10 late in the game. And on Saturday the game was still in doubt after five innings, with the host squad clinging to a 5-4 lead.
But the Outlaws scored four runs — three unearned — in the top of the sixth and put the game away with four more in the eighth en route to a 13-6 victory that stamped them as the team to beat for the state title again this year.
Even more of a concern, though, to the Ada coaches heading into Wednesday’s opening round of the state tournament is the uncertainty they have to be feeling about the team’s pitching and offense.
Staff ace Matt Benedict from Tupelo and unheralded Moses Isham from Moss both turned in solid efforts on the mound during the regional to help the Braves rebound from an 18-8 opening-round loss to Lawton and reach the championship game. In their other three games at the regional, however, Ada pitchers surrendered 44 runs and 54 hits.
Offensively, the Braves were solid from the sixth inning of the loss to Lawton, but two of the team’s top four hitters — catcher/outfielder Tanner Bell and DH Blake Logan — won’t be available for Wednesday’s state tournament opener. Bell will miss Wednesday and Thursday’s action because he will be playing in one of three All-State basketball games Thursday night in Tulsa; Logan, meanwhile, will have to sit out a game after being ejected, along with Post 72 head coach Travis Graham, in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game.
With the Braves trailing 4-3 and a runner at second base with one out in the top of the fourth, Outlaw leadoff hitter Alex Polston attempted to check his swing on the first pitch from Ada starter Jake Sanders. Polston appeared to go around, but after an appeal from Bell, the second base umpire ruled no swing. That prompted a comment from the bench from Logan, who was promptly ejected, and Graham was also tossed when he went out to also complain about the call and Logan’s ejection.
Under Legion rules, any player or coach ejected from a game must sit out a game. Coupled with the prior commitment for Bell (who had three home runs and 13 RBIs in Ada’s five regional contests) the loss of Logan — who has hit a team record 17 home runs this summer and was 1-for-1 with an RBI when he was ejected Saturday — figures to cripple an offense that has been the team’s strength all season.
Outlaw ace Kevin Hill worked seven inning in his second start of the season against the Braves and earned his third victory against the Post 72 squad in 2011. He surrendered four runs and eight hits over the first five innings, but he was also able to strand runners at third base — after they had both arrived there with less than two outs — in both the third and fifth innings to keep his team in front.
Sanders, making his first start of the summer, also worked out of several jams and, despite giving up 11 hits in five innings, had given the Braves a chance to win heading to the sixth. But a leadoff error opened the door for a four-run outburst capped by Polston’s one-out, two-run double Taylor Hawkins’ two-out, two-run homer.
A two-out RBI single by Kaleb Matthews was the big blow in a two-run rally by the Outlaws in the top of the first, and the Braves answered in the bottom of the inning with two runs of their own. Logan singled home the first run in the inning and Dylan Tinkler plated Bell (who had reached on an infield hit) with the second on a groundout to third to tie the score.
Tanner Goodwin’s leadoff triple and RBI singles by Polston and Hawkins highlighted a two-run rally in the top of the second that put the Outlaws back in front 4-2. The Braves failed to score in the bottom of the inning after a one-out walk to Josiah Nyberg and Hunter Marcum’s single to left, but they touched Hill for a run in the third and had a chance for more.
Logan drew a leadoff walk and was erased at second base on a fielder’s choice, then Matt Johnson lined a triple to the wall in right-center before Hill came back to strike out Dylan Johnson and Kade Curry to end the inning.
The Outlaws added a run in th efifth on a one-out single by Hawkins and Blake Stringer’s triple two pitches later. Sanders, who had used double plays in the second, third and fourth innings to escape huge jams, avoided further trouble in the fifth by striking out Matthews and retiring Landon Coon on a fly ball to center. The Braves then missed another opportunity to tie the score or take the lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Bell led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice by Sanders (who had replaced Logan in the cleanup spot in the lineup). Tinkler grounded a single through the right side to score Bell and moved all the way to third on an error in right field. Matt Johnson tapped back to the mound for the second out, however, and Hill retired Dylan Johnson on a fly ball to right to end the threat.
Ada (33-10) failed to score after putting runners in scoring position in the sixth and seventh, and the Outlaws put the game away with four runs in the eighth off Marcum, who had relieved Sanders to start the seventh. Marcum walked two batters in the inning — including Tanner Hessman leading off — and gave up three hits, including RBI singles to Stringer and Goodwin.
Matt Johnson worked a scoreless ninth, and the Braves scored the game’s final two runs in the bottom of the inning on a leadoff single by Bell, a one-out RBI double by Tinkler, an error and Dylan Johnson’s RBI single.
Marcum was 3-for-4 in Saturday and, after missing Wednesday’s game, finished the regional 11-for-17.
Bell was 3-for-5 Saturday with three runs scored and finished the regional 12-for-23, and Tinkler was 2-for-5 with three RBIs in the loss.
Seven of nine starters had at least two hits for the outlaws, who outhit Ada, 18-10.
Hawkins and Stringer were both 3-for-6 and combined for five runs scored and five RBIs, and Matthews finished 3-for-4 in the victory, which led the Outlaws at 55-13 heading into the state tournament.