BYNG — The second time is becoming the charm for the Byng Pirates.
In a three-game stretch that included Friday night’s 7-0 victory over Prague in the semifinals of Byng’s Hill-Prescott Memorial Tournament, the Pirate starters were 6-for-24 and managed just one run in their initial at-bats. But the second time through the order was another story — a horror story, in fact — for opposing pitchers.
Monday at Sulpur, Byng managed four hits (including two infield singles) but just one unearned run in the first two innings against Bulldog freshman right-hander Thomas Parks, then the Pirates exploded for six hits and nine runs in the third and fourth innings en route to a 12-4 run-rule victory.
In Thursday’s 8-3 win over Coalgate to open the Hill-Prescott Memorial, Byng didn’t have a hit against Wildcat starter Thomas Madden in the first two innings, then had two runs on two hits and a walk in the third and three runs on three hits (including two home runs) in the fourth.
Friday night, the trend continued, with Byng’s starters scoring five runs on five hits in their second at-bats to break up a duel between Prague starter Brandon Adams and Pirate ace Cody Wheeler and lift Kevin Wilson’s veteran club (ranked No. 3 in Class 4A) into the tournament title game for the third straight year.
The Pirates, who lost to Latta, 6-5, last spring, moved on to a rematch with Sulphur — a 10-4 winner over Latta in Friday’s other semifinal behind the hitting and pitching of Mat Wolf — Saturday for the tournament crown (a game Byng won, 12-2).
Byng 7, Prague 0
“I feel like we’re wasting at-bats,” Wilson said when asked about his team’s recent trend. “We haven’t been hitting well the first time through the order. We’ve been pounding the ball the second time through, but as a coach I look at as we’re wasting three innings.
“We have to get started earlier,” he added. “I don’t think we’re having as good an approach at the plate the first time through the order as we are later in the game.”
Wheeler, the No. 1 starter in a suddenly potent Byng pitching rotation with Nate Burris (who beat Coalgate Thursday) and sophomore Dakota Atkeson (the winning pitcher in Saturday’s title showdown with Sulphur), struggled early against Prague but settled down after a defensive gem by Burris bailed him out of a potential jackpot in the first inning.
Adams singled with two outs in the first and moved to second on a wild pitch, then Prague clean-up hitter D. J. Warden ran the count to 2-2 and fouled off a couple of pitches before grounding a single to left field. Adams tried to score on the hit, but Burris charged the ball and threw a perfect strike to catcher Wyatt Fisher, who applied the tag for the final out of the inning.
“That was a big play,” Wilson said of the Burris-to-Fisher connection to nail Adams. “It got the momentum back on our side.”
The play was also part of another outstanding defensive effort for the Pirates (who didn't commit an error in the tournament) and seemed to jump-start Wheeler, who allowed just three hits over the final six innings. He struck out 10 and walked just one to earn his fourth win in six decisions this spring.
Byng (21-5) used a couple of Prague defensive lapses to score twice in the third, but the Pirates’ second baserunning mistake in as many games cost Wilson’s club a chance for an even bigger inning.
Ryan Estes, who was 3-for-8 with four RBIs in Byng’s first two tournament games, started the rally with a one-out bloop single that glanced off the glove of diving Red Devil second baseman Caleb Dan in shallow right field, then Adams hit Heath Wall with an 0-1 pitch.
Byng clean-up hitter Chad Estes followed with a fly ball to deep right field that Prague’s Chase Krauter misplayed into a double to score Estes, and Wall came home when Krauter dropped Preston Petty’s drive to almost the same spot just in front of the right field fence. Wall scored on the error, but Petty — apparently thinking the ball was caught — headed back to the dugout and was retired on a 9-3 putout at first base. Burris then grounded out to second base on a ball that could have scored Keefer if there had been only one out.
“I don’t know what (Petty) was thinking, but that’s the kind of bonehead play that we can’t afford to make,” Wilson said. “We’ve pitched well and our defense has been great, but you never want to be satisfied.
“We didn’t get a safety squeeze down and lost two runners on the bases (Friday), and in a big game those things will be magnified,” he added. “I’m pleased with the way we’re playing, but I’m not satisfied. We have to keep getting better.”
Byng added three runs in the fourth inning, loading the bases on a leadoff single by Glenn Mitchell, a walk to Atkeson and a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Haynes that Adams misplayed into the third Prague error in as many innings when he threw low to third base. Wheeler followed with a sacrifice fly (two pitches after Red Devil third baseman Alex Simpson misjudged his pop foul), and Estes drove home the final two runs in the inning with a double to the wall in left-center.
The Pirates scored their final two runs in the fifth on a one-out double by Burris and Mitchell’s line-drive homer that curved around the right-field foul pole.
Prague managed to get just two runners in scoring position after the play by Burris in the first, but each time Wheeler got a strikeout to end the threat.
Dan reached third with two outs in the third after drawing a one-out walk, but Wheeler struck out Adams looking at an 86-mile-per-hour fastball to end the inning. In the fourth, Warden led off with a double down the left field line, but Wheeler struck out Simpson, Warden was retired at third on a nice play by Estes on Noel Franco’s grounder to short, and Wheeler struck out Dakota Harris on three pitches for the final out.
Prague then managed just one baserunner over the final three innings — Chris Lindsey, who reached on an infield hit in the fifth and was thrown out by Fisher attempting to steal second one pitch later.
Sulphur 10, Latta 4
One of the area’s top shortstops the past two seasons and No. 2 in Sulphur’s starting rotation this spring behind all-state candidate Tanner Chitwood, Mat Wolf turned in a solid effort on the mound and snapped out of a slump with four hits as the Bulldogs (18-9) handed Latta (No. 2 in Class 2A) its 10th loss in 19 games.
Wolf, who reached base five times in the game, singled and scored in a four-run third inning that featured a two-run double by Nathan Scaggs and a two-run single by Robert Thomas; he walked and scored in Sulphur’s three-run fourth; he singled leading off the sixth and scored on Chitwood’s two-out double to right-center; and he doubled to drive in one run and scored the other on an error in the Bulldogs’ two-run seventh.
“He really threw well,” Latta coach Eddie Collins said of Wolf. “And we didn’t show up.”
BYNG — The second time is becoming the charm for the Byng Pirates.