By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — With the fourth day of the Jr. Sunbelt Classic baseball tournament finishing Monday, Texas clearly looked like the team to beat. The boys in black and white run-ruled Georgia to improve to 5-0 and stay perfect in the tournament.
“This is a great baseball atmosphere,” Texas coach Lou Kosanovich said. “You can’t help but play well. ... This town is, in my estimation, second only to Cooperstown.”
Cooperstown, N.Y., is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Georgia kept its hopes of playing for a championship alive with a run-rule win against Oklahoma Gold. Georgia led Tennessee by half a game Monday, but Tennessee holds the tiebreaker over Georgia and has one more game than Georgia left during pool play.
Who’ll grab that second spot in the championship remains unknown. But whoever it’ll be, to win a championship that team will most likely have to go through the very dominant team from Texas.
Texas 13, Georgia 5
Texas and Georgia traded high-scoring innings early, but Texas’ pitchers eventually found a way to quiet Georgia’s bats.
Georgia’s pitchers couldn’t do the same, and a two-run game midway through the second inning turned into a blowout just three innings later.
Jake Edwards’ grand slam home run in the first inning highlighted a hard-hitting day for Team Texas, which run-ruled Georgia 13-5 in five innings Monday at Mike Deak Field in McAlester.
Texas outscored its first five Sunbelt opponents by a combined score of 39-14, with five-run average margin of victory.
“Individually, they’re a good bunch of guys,” Kosanovich said. “And as a team, they’re gelling a little bit, as you can see. So that’s all I can ask.”
Georgia’s bats struck first Monday, with Braden Zarbnisky singling to lead off the game and scoring three batters later on Adam Sasser’s two-run home run. But Michael Smith answered with a leadoff bunt single for Texas in the bottom of the first, then stole second and beat the tag at third on a grounder by Nate Miranda to put runners at the corners.
Kyle Finkenstadt singled to left to drive in Smith. Luken Baker walked, then Tanner Schuetz singled to left to tie the game 2-2 and keep the bases loaded with no outs.
Georgia starting pitcher Austin Krzeminski got to two strikes on Edwards, but Edwards crushed a 1-2 offering over the wall in center field for a grand slam and a 6-2 lead.
“I’d been fighting off a couple of curveballs, off-speed, and I felt like I didn’t have my timing right,” Edwards said. “He gave me a fastball up, so I just took advantage of that and took it out of the park.”
James Nelson’s home run for Georgia in the top of the second also drove in Jake Franklin and cut Texas’ lead to 2. But Baker got one run back for Texas with a single to center in the bottom of the second, then got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run in the third.
Schuetz followed Baker with a sacrifice fly that made it 9-4 Texas.
Franklin’s sacrifice fly gave Georgia another run in the top of the fifth, then Texas’ Ivan Vera walked with one out in the bottom of the fifth. Josh Van Gelder beat out a bunt single, Smith singled to left-center to plate courtesy runner Reagan Forrest, then Finkenstadt reached on a hit-by-pitch to load the bases.
That set the stage for Baker, who pulled one just inside the third base line. The ball rolled far to the right of left fielder Zarbnisky, giving all three Texas runners enough time to score for a 13-5 lead that activated the run rule.
Baker, who got to second on the game-ending hit, finished 2-for-2 with five RBIs and a run scored.
“I didn’t get too many strikes in this game, so I was looking for that one I could turn on, and luckily it stayed inside the line,” Baker said.
“We’re just going after anything, being aggressive, going after the first-pitch strike. It’s really helped us, because a lot of pitchers try to get ahead, and they leave stuff over the plate and we take advantage.”
Georgia had more chances to score against Texas starter Chris Paddack and reliever Dillen Duarte, but Texas backed up its pitchers with solid defense. Georgia had two runners on with two outs in the third and fourth, but Texas center fielder Colton Neel twice tracked down hard-hit liners for inning-ending catches.
With Georgia’s Connor Stutts on with a single and one out in the top of the fifth, Nelson lined out to second baseman Edwards. With Stutts having left early on what he thought was a sure hit, Edwards threw to shortstop Miranda covering second base for the inning-ending double play.
“We couldn’t get a couple hits back-to-back,” Georgia coach David McDonald said.
“Down four (runs), you can’t trade outs for runs. We ran out of outs pretty quick.”
Smith, Finkenstadt, Baker and Van Gelder all finished with two-hit games for Texas. Georgia managed just five hits total, with no player getting more than one.
Georgia 11, Oklahoma Gold 3
Through its first five games of the tournament, Georgia had given up more runs than it had scored, and three times it had scored five runs or fewer.
Perhaps Georgia’s hitters were due for a big game.
Georgia banged out 14 hits and scored in every inning, run-ruling Oklahoma Gold 11-3 on Monday at Mike Deak Field in McAlester.
“Losing to Texas the way we did, they just kind of made up their mind, ‘Well, we have to come out and win this one,’” McDonald said.
“They took it to heart, and they played well.”
Up just 1-0 heading into the bottom of the second inning, Franklin drew a one out walk, then Stutts grounded into a fielder’s choice at second base. Austin Pharr doubled to deep right field to put runners at second and third, then Stutts scored on Tyler Daughtry’s ground out.
Nick Bush and Zarbnisky drew back-to-back two-out walks to load the bases, ending the night for Gold starting pitcher Cal Castle. Trenton Long came on in relief, but one pitch into his outing beaned Patrick Sullivan to force in another run.
Long had no more success with Sasser, who doubled to right to drive in two runs for a 5-0 Georgia lead.
Sullivan was thrown out trying to score from first on Sasser’s hit, but Nelson doubled and later scored on a Gold throwing error in the third, then Georgia put together another big inning in the fourth. Sullivan and Nelson sandwiched singles around a strikeout, then Stutts singled to load the bases with two outs.
Pharr then deposited the first pitch he saw from Long over the right field wall for a grand slam and a 10-1 lead. Pharr finished 3-for-3 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
“I figured it was going to be an off-speed pitch, but he left it over the plate,” Pharr said of his homer. “Fastball, right down the middle. You have to get your foot down and turn on it.”
While early on Gold’s hitters could do nothing but walk, strikeout and get hit by pitches from Georgia starting pitcher Zarbnisky, Collin Morris finally ended Zarbnisky’s no-hit bid with a bunt single to lead off the top of the fifth. Zarbnisky hit Caleb Littlejim, then both batters moved up on a wild pitch.
Hunter Southerland’s groundout scored Morris, then Gage Wall’s single to right scored Littlejim to cut the lead to 10-3 and turn off the run rule. But Zarbnisky bunted his way to first to start the bottom of the fifth, then Luke Maddox courtesy ran for Zarbnisky, took second on a passed ball and third on a sacrifice fly.
Nelson then knocked a pitch up the middle to drive in Maddox and end the game. Nelson finished 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored.
“I was just looking for a fastball,” Nelson said.
“He gave me a curveball that hung, and I drove it.”
Zarbnisky breezed through the first three innings of the game, at one point retiring eight consecutive Gold hitters. Gold finally started getting to him in the fourth and fifth innings, sending seven to the plate both times, but by that point Gold was so far behind it could do little more than delay the run rule.
With two runners on in the top of the fifth, Bush chased down a deep shot from Gold’s Shawn Treat in center field, falling backwards but still securing the catch to end the inning.
“We let them get too far ahead,” Gold coach Randy Smith said of Zarbnisky.
“You can’t take anything away — they swung the bats very well. Every fastball we threw in there, they hit.”
Sullivan also had a three-hit game for Georgia, and Zarbnisky and Sullivan both had two-hit games. Morris and Wall had Gold’s only hits, and Southerland, Wall and Gabe Littlejim all got on base twice.
All Day 4 scores, at Mike Deak Field in McAlester:
Mississippi 6, Tennessee 3
Texas 13, Georgia 5
Georgia 11, Oklahoma Gold 3
Missouri 17, Canada 12
Current standings (tiebreakers based on head-to-head records and total runs allowed):
|4) Oklahoma Gold||3-2|
|7) Oklahoma Blue||2-3|
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.