All things considered, the Ada Post 72 Braves are in about as good a position as they could have expected headed into tonight’s winner’s bracket championship showdown with the defending national champion Oklahoma Outlaws at the American Legion State Tournament at Oklahoma City University.
After shaking off the absence of three starters and head coach Travis Graham and beating Lawton, 16-6, on Wednesday, the Braves — still minus catcher Tanner Bell and outfielder Cody Robinson — lost a home run in the second inning of Thursday’s winner’s bracket semifinal with Three Rivers when Brandon Maggia was ruled to have used an illegal bat. But Ada bounced back to score seven runs in the third and went on to an 8-4 victory.
With the win, the Braves improved to 35-10 and advanced to their fifth meeting of the summer with the Outlaws, the two-time defending state champions and a club Ada hasn’t beaten since the 2009 state tournament. The Outlaws earned their spot in tonight’s game by beating McAlester in Thursday’s nightcap.
In loser’s bracket action Thursday, Ardmore edged Brassfield, 5-4, and Bartlesville eliminated Lawton, 12-4. Three Rivers will play Ardmore at 1 p.m. and Bartlesville will face McAlester at 5 p.m. today in elimination games, with the winners of those two games playing Saturday for the right to meet the loser of the Braves-Outlaws contest later in the day for a spot against the winner of tonight’s finale in Sunday’s championship game.
“That was just one more thing we had to overcome this year,” Graham said of the controversy surrounding Maggia’s negated home run in the bottom of the third. “I had checked with the umpires (regarding the bat in question) before the game, but I didn’t check with the tournament director. It just got us fired up and inspired us to a seven-run rally in the next inning.”
Ada’s third-inning explosion was more than enough for starting pitcher Jake Sanders (1-1) and two relievers. Sanders, making his second start of the season (both in the playoffs), allowed three runs and seven hits while striking out six over seven innings and handed off an 8-3 lead to Matt Johnson to start the eighth. Johnson worked a perfect inning, then Jordan Scott surrendered a run on two hits in the top of the ninth before retiring the final two batters he faced with two men on base to preserve the win.
“We knew Jake would keep the ball down, and Three Rivers hits a lot of fly balls — they have a lot of free swingers,” said Graham, who should have all 15 players on his roster available today for the first time in the postseason. “We thought it was a good match-up. Now Jake is the only pitcher who’s burned (unavailable) for tomorrow.”
The controversty in the second inning began after Maggia — whose three-run homer had given Ada the lead for good in Wednesday’s victory — followed a one-out walk to Blake Logan with a mammoth shot over the fence in right-center. Three Rivers coach Rusty Fulp immediately asked the umpiring crew to look at Maggia’s bat, and, after originally ruling the bat legal, home plate umpire Jim Perry finally informed Graham that Maggia was out.
Before Perry ruled, though, the inning had ended, and the discussion lasted another 20 minutes before Three Rivers batted in the top of the third. Because Maggia was called out, Matt Benedict, who started in right field because Robinson was out sick and who had grounded out for the final out in the second, was given another chance to hit and drew a leadoff walk to start the third.
Benedict moved to third on an opposite-field double into the right field corner by Dylan Johnson, who, along with Logan and Bell, had missed Wednesday’s game. Hunter Marcum walked to load the bases, then Sanders lined an 0-1 offering from Three Rivers starter Cody Medlin into right-center for a double to plate Benedict and Johnson with the game’s first two runs.
Matt Johnson, coming off a two-home run, six-RBI effort against Lawton, grounded Medlin’s next pitch up the middle and through a drawn-in infield for a two-run single to make it 4-0, and Dylan Tinkler walked to bring on reliever Brad Stevens. Logan — suspended, along with Graham, for Wednesday’s game after being ejected in Saturday’s regional championship game — ran the count to 2-1, then launched his 18th home run of the season far over the fence in left-center to extend the Ada lead to 7-0.
The Braves added a run in the fifth on Logan’s leadoff infield hit, Maggia’s single to right-center and Kade Curry’s sacrifice fly, but they managed just two hits — Benedict’s one-out single in the seventh and Tinkler’s one-out double in the eighth — in their final three at-bats.
Three Rivers (18-33) finally touched Sanders for a run in the sixth on John Singler’s RBI double and cut the lead to 8-3 in the seventh on Karter Woodruff’s RBI double and Jordan Pendergraft’s run-scoring single on consecutive pitches. Eric Kirkpatrick followed with a single to left, but Sanders came back to strike out Singler and retire Blake Dunn on a pop fly to short to avoid further damage.
Logan, who walked twice (once intentionally) and was also hit by a pitch, finished 2-for-2 with three runs scored and three RBIs, and Maggia and Dylan Johnson also had two hits apiece to pace Ada’s 11-hit attack. Pendergraft, who followed a double by Woodruff with an RBI triple in the ninth to plate the game’s final run, finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and Woodruff and Singler added two hits apiece for Three Rivers in the loss.
Ada Braves Box:
American Legion State Tournament
At Oklahoma City University
Ada Braves 8, Three Rivers 4
3 RIVERS 000 001 201 — 4 10 0
ADA 007 010 00x — 8 11 0
Cody Medlin, Brad Stevens (3) and Eric Kirkpatrick. Jake Sanders, Matt Johnson (8), Jordan Scott (9) and Dylan Tinkler, Dalton Pickering (8). WP-Sanders (1-1). LP-Medlin. HR-Blake Logan (A). 3B-Jordan Pendergraft (TR). 2B-Karter Woodruff 2, Pendergraft, John Singler (TR); Sanders, Tinkler, Dylan Johnson (A). HL-Woodruff 2-5, 2 RS, RBI; Pendergraft 3-5, 2 RBIs; Singler 2-3, RBI (TR); Brandon Maggia 2-4, Logan 2-2, 3 RS, 3 RBIs; D. Johnson 2-3, RS; Sanders 1-3, RS, 2 RBIs; Matt Benedict 2-4, RS (A).