CONWAY, Ark. — Retif Oil rallied from a four-run deficit after four innings to shut down the Bryant (Ark.) Black Sox 11-6 in Saturday’s semifinal and advance to Sunday’s 2 p.m. championship of the Mid-South Region American Legion Tournament.
The Oilers (30-6-1) will face the Southwest (Okla.) Shockers at Hendrix College’s Warrior Field for a berth in the World Series in Shelby, N.C., next week. Retif, still undefeated in this tournament, has a loss to give. Should the Shockers win at 2 p.m., the teams would play a second game. Retif knocked off the Shockers 9-2 on Friday.
“We were challenged early,” Retif coach Joey Latino said. “That’s a very good Bryant club, well-coached. Getting behind 6-2 in the fourth inning is certainly not where you want to be.”
Bryant took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Drew Tipton led off with a walk, stole second, went to third on a groundout and scored on a wild pitch. The Black Sox got to Retif starter Todd Crabtree for three consecutive singles in the top of the second and increased their lead when he walked Seth Tucker. A groundout scored one more. Crabtree struck out the final batter to leave the bases loaded and Bryant up 3-0.
With one out in the bottom of the second, Retif got back-to-back singles to left by Jake Licciardi and Josh Schmidt. Both advanced on a passed ball, and Harrison Daste’s single down the first-base line scored Licciardi. Nick Ray’s sacrifice fly to center field scored Schmidt and Retif close the deficit to 3-2.
In the fourth, Crabtree walked leadoff batter Conner Tatum, surrendered a single up the middle to Drew Tipton and overthrew Licciardi at first while fielding Brandon Warner’s bunt. With another run in, he walked Blake Patterson to load the bases with no outs. Hayden Fuentes relieved him. Fuentes gave up a sacrifice fly and an RBI single before getting out the inning, but the Black Sox led 6-2.
“Hayden pitched awesome to let us get in the groove,” said Trent Forshag, Retif’s designated hitter, who is headed to LSU. “We had confidence. We never felt like we’d lost control of the game.”
Instead, they seized control in the bottom of the fifth, batting around for five runs on six hits. Brandon Briuglio and Ben Hess started the rally with singles. Forshag’s single scored Briuglio; Scott Crabtree’s fielder’s choice scored Hess. With one out, Stephen Sepcich walked and Licciardi singled to load the bases. After a Bryant pitching change, Schmidt’s single scored Crabtree and kept the bases loaded. After a pop-out, Ray delivered a two-run single, but the inning ended when Schmidt was caught stealing.
After five, Retif led 7-6.
Bryant stranded runners at second and third in the top of the seventh, and Retif took advantage in the bottom of the inning with four runs on five hits. Licciardi led off with a double. After a pair of groundouts, Ray singled him home and then scored on Briuglio’s single. Hess delivered his fourth hit of the game, and Forshag recorded a two-run single to Retif an 11-6 lead.
“Hayden came in and stopped the bleeding and put up goose eggs the rest of the way,” Latino said. “A lot of different guys contributed, up and down the lineup. Licciardi, Hess — I could name several. We had a lot of contributors, and that’s the way it should be. We need everybody.”
“As a whole, we hit extremely well, and our defense was extremely good,” Forshag said.
Ray finished with two hits and four RBIs. Briuglio had three singles and one RBI; Hess was 4-for-5. Forshag went 4-for-5 with three RBIs. Licciardi delivered three hits.
Retif will play an afternoon game for the first time since Wednesday’s opener. The forecast is for triple-digit heat again.
“If it’s 150,000 degrees like it was (Friday), it could be a problem, but that’s why it’s important to practice hard all summer,” Latino said. “We’ve had the 10 a.m. practices, the 1 p.m. practices. Those help you prepare.”
Forshag said Retif was focused on knocking off the Shockers for the second time in three days.
“It’s always difficult to beat a team twice, but we’re treating this as a championship game,” he said. “No mulligans for losing the first one.”
The Shockers knocked off the host Conway Cougars 5-3 in Saturday’s first semifinal.