Three innings into Thursday night’s winner’s bracket semifinal showdown with Muskogee Three Rivers at the American Legion State Tournament, the Ada Post 72 Braves appeared ready to cruise into a winner’s bracket championship battle with the top-seeded Oklahoma Outlaws for the second straight year.
But Ada’s cruise took a Titanic-like turn, and Three Rivers rallied from a 6-0 deficit for a 10-8 victory that pushed the Braves to within a game of elimination.
With the win, Three Rivers moved on to face the Outlaws — a 6-0 winner over the Edmond Stars in Thursday’s first winner’s bracket contest — at 8 p.m. tonight for the right to advance to Saturday’s championship game.
Ada, meanwhile, will face an Ardmore team the Braves have beaten four straight times this season at 1 p.m. today in an elimination game, with the winner to meet the survivor of a 10 a.m. game between Edmond and host Bartlesville in a 5 p.m. contest for the right to advance to the tournament’s final three.
Ardmore stayed alive with a 13-0 shutout of Dewey Thursday, while Bartlesville eliminated the OKC Ruf-Neks, 13-8.
Three Rivers had battled back from an early 5-2 deficit to beat Bartlesville, 8-5, Wednesday, but the Muskogee club faced an even tougher task Thursday. Ada had ace Jon Gray on the mound, and the big righty from Chandler carried a six-run cushion in the bottom of the fourth inning. That’s when an old nemesis of the Ada pitching staff — control — fueled the Three Rivers comeback.
Gray walked four batters and hit another in a nightmare fourth inning in which Three Rivers tied the game.
The first three of the six runs he allowed in the frame scored on just one hit (a single by Devin Rineheart), and Korey Keith’s infield single was the only other hit for Three Rivers in the fourth. Erick Kirkpatrick drew Gray’s fifth walk of the game to force in the tying run and bring on David Cagle (2-5), who got the final out in the fourth but would eventually take the loss.
A double by Matt Johnson, singles by Les Wesberry and Nolan Fanning and a Three Rivers error gave the Braves the lead again at 8-6 in the top of the fifth, but Three Rivers tied it off Cagle in the bottom of the inning on RBI singles by Jordan Pendergrast and Matt Oberste.
Cagle pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth, striking out Oberste for the final out, but Three Rivers took the lead for the first — and last — time in the seventh with the help of two Ada errors.
Bixby’s Taylor Tryon, who settled down after a rocky start to pitch a complete game, took over from there, shutting out the Braves — who had rallied from an 11-4 deficit to beat the Ruf-Neks, 21-15, on Wednesday — over the final four innings to preserve the lead.
Early, though, the Braves appeared to be in complete control. Les Wesberry’s three-run double was the big blow in a four-run third-inning outburst that gave Ada the lead, and the Braves added two more runs in the top of the fourth, with Nolan Fanning scoring the first on a passed ball and Saulyer Saxon scoring the second on an error.
Although Gray, Cagle and Ada’s third pitcher of the night, Blake Logan, combined to strike out 15 and strand 14 baserunners, they also walked 10 and surrendered a total of 11 hits, including two apiece from Pendergraft, Rineheart and Cam’ron Summers.