By BOB FORREST
BYNG — Sulphur’s Bulldogs glimpsed the present and the future of Byng baseball in Saturday’s championship game of the Hill-Prescott Memorial Tournament. And it was like staring into the sun.
Chad Keefer, the Pirates’ senior clean-up hitter and one of the area’s toughest outs for the past two years, and sophomore pitcher Dakota Atkeson combined for six hits — including a home run and a double apiece — and seven RBIs, and Atkeson scattered six hits and worked out of huge jams in the fourth and sixth innings to lead the Pirates to a 12-2 victory and the first title in their own tournament for the current group of Byng seniors.
Saturday’s win capped a nearly flawless week for the Pirates, who outscored Coalgate, Prague and Sulphur by a combined 27-5 and didn’t commit an error in the three games.
“We played well,” Byng coach Kevin Wilson said after seeing his club — which could move into the No. 1 spot in Class 4A when the new rankings come out Monday — win its sixth game in a row to improve to 22-5 on the season. “We don’t want to peak too early, and we’re nowhere close to peaking, but we’re getting close to where we want to be at the right time. If we’re ranked No.1 and we don’t lose in the playoffs, we’ll be the top seed at the state tournament.”
Byng’s victory capped a tournament that didn’t have a lot of drama — especially for the Pirates, who never trailed all week — but did feature a scare for Class 2A No. 2 Latta in Saturday’s third-place game. The Panthers carried an 8-1 lead into the sixth inning but needed a defensive gem from third baseman Jay Husband on the final play of the game to preserve an 8-4 victory over Prague. In the consolation championship, Glenpool (which lost to Sulphur, 4-0, in the first round of the tournament) scored a run-rule 10-2 victory over Coalgate.
Byng 12, Sulphur 2
Atkeson surrendered a leadoff double to Mat Wolf (his fifth straight hit over two games) in the first inning but struck out Nathan Skaggs and clean-up hitter Tanner Chitwood looking to end the threat, and he had retired nine straight batters when losing pitcher Ryan Trussell led off the fourth with an infield hit to start a rally that threatened to wipe out an early 2-0 Byng lead.
Trussell was erased at second base on a fielder’s choice tapper back to the mound by Scaggs, but Chitwood lined a single off the wall in left and Atkeson hit Robert Thomas on a 1-2 pitch to load the bases and walked B. J. Howard on five pitches to force in the first Sulphur run.
After a visit to the mound by Wilson, however, the side-wheeling right-hander settled down and induced a grounder to first base by Chance Wallace that Keefer threw to catcher Wyatt Fisher to force Chitwood for the second out, and Lance Wallace grounded out to second to end the inning.
“I went out there and told (Atkeson) that this was the kind of pressure he was going to be facing if he pitches at the state tournament,” Wilson said of his visit in the third. “I told him to get out of it.
“Dakota’s one of those guys who’s going to keep you on edge, but he’s got so much movement on his fastball, and that makes himhard to hit.”
Atkeson and Keefer both cracked two-run homers to left in the fifth to give Byng a 6-1 lead, then Sulphur staged a rally in the bottom of the sixth that was almost a carbon copy of the outburst in the fourth.
Scaggs was again at first base (after leading off with a single) when Chitwood laced an opposite-field single to left for the second straight at-bat, and Atkeson again hit Thomas on a 1-2 pitch to load the bases and walked Howard (this time on a 3-2 pitch) to force in a run.
Wallace followed with a bizarre fielder’s choice, lifting a fly ball to right field that Nate Burris (who had a key outfield assist in Byng’s 7-0 victory over Prague Friday) dropped but picked up in time to make a perfect throw home to again force Chitwood. Lance Wallace then grounded into a 1-2-3 double play to end Sulphur’s final threat of the game.
Byng blew it open in the seventh, using a leadoff double by Keefer, two Sulphur errors, three walks by Trussell and reliever Thomas Parks and RBI singles by Glenn Mitchell and Ryan Estes to score six runs (two earned), and Atkeson pitched around a one-out single by Wolf and benefited from a sparkling play by third baseman Preston Petty on a slow roller to third by leadoff hitter Tanner Rowe to pitch a scoreless bottom of the seventh.
The Pirates — who struggled early finding the range against Trussell and his sinker — took a 1-0 lead in the second on a leadoff infield hit by Burris and Atkeson’s two-out RBI double, and Byng made it 2-0 in the third on one-out singles by Heath Wall and Keefer and a two-out single to left by Burris. Atkeson, meanwhile, struck out five (including two on called third strikes in both the first and second innings) and issued only the two walks to force in the Sulphur runs.
Byng, which has a bye into the regional round of the playoffs, returns to action Monday, visiting Latta for a rematch of last year’s post-tournament thriller (which saw the Pirates rally from seven runs down for an 11-9 victory).
Latta 8, Prague 4
The Panthers led 8-1 after five innings, but the Red Devils scored three times in the sixth — on a leadoff walk to Caleb Dan, a two-out double by losing pitcher D. J.Warden (his second of the game), a wild pitch and a two-run homer by Alex Simpson — and threatened to snatch the victory away in the top of the seventh, when they loaded the bases on a walk and the only two errors of the game.
Dakota Harris led off the inning with a grounder to short that Dude Brown fielded cleanly, but he made a high throw to pull Roy Terry off the bag at first. Latta starter Dalton Brown — who surrendered just three hits, struck out seven and walked two — then walked pinch hitter Craig Hall and struck out Prague nine-hole hitter Chris Lindsey for the first out.
The game should have ended six pitches later, when Dan grounded a 3-2 pitch to Dude Brown for a tailor-made double play ball. But Kolbie Brown dropped Brown’s short throw, and everybody was safe, setting the stage for the defensive play of the tournament.
“Dalton threw strikes, and that’s good to see,” Latta coach Eddie Collins said after seeing his club climb back to the .500 mark heading into Monday’s game with Byng and Thursday’s district tournament at home against Vanoss. “We just needed to make plays behind him, and we’re still leaving too many men on base (the Panthers left the bases loaded in the third and fourth innings).”
Two pitches after Kolbie Brown’s error at second, Creston Moon ripped a 1-0 pitch down the left-field line, and the ball appeared headed for the left field corner and extra bases when Husband dove to his right, speared the ball (which was already past him) with his glove and tagged the base to force Hall. He then got to his feet and threw to Terry, who dug out the low throw to complete a bang-bang play at first and end the game.
“That was a huge play by Jay,” Latta coach Eddie Collins said after seeing his club climb back to the .500 mark at 10-10 heading into Monday’s game with Byng and Thursday’s district tournament at home against Vanoss. “It probably saved the game.”
Prague took a 1-0 lead in the first on a one-out walk to Moon and Warden’s two-out double, but Latta took advantage of wildness by Warden to score seven times in the third on just three hits. Dalton Brown’s two-run double and a two-run single by Zac Fidler were the big blows in the inning.
Latta added another run in the fourth off Simpson (who relieved Warden with two outs in the fourth after he had hit Taylor Whitis to force in the final run in the inning) on one-out walks to Dalton Brown and Kory Hayes, a two-out pass to Fidler and Nick Flower’s infield single.
Glenpool 10, Coalgate 2
Glenpool’s Zurrard Murray had a career afternoon, slugging a two-run homer in the third inning to give the Warriors a 5-2 lead and a grand slam to highlight a five-run fourth.
Losing pitcher Mitchell Loudermilk singled home Thomas Madden (who had doubled) and scored on a double by Tagus Horton in the bottom of the first to trim Glenpool’s early 3-0 lead to a single run, but the Wildcats (No. 9 in Class 2A) couldn’t do further damage against winning pitcher Richard Waldrop.
Loudermilk had two of Coalgate’s five hits, and Dakota Hedgecock also doubled for the Wildcats in the loss.
By BOB FORREST