McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 11, 2014

Big and bright: Texas wins 2014 Jr. Sunbelt

Beats Tennessee 2-0 in championship; Georgia finishes third

By Matt Goisman
Sports Writer

McALESTER — Throughout the Jr. Sunbelt Classic round robin, Texas showed itself over and over again to be the best team in the tournament.

Texas put the finishing touches on a perfect tournament Wednesday night with its first championship since 2006.

Texas starting pitcher Luken Baker struck out 10 in a complete-game two-hitter, leading his team to a 2-0 win against Tennessee in Wednesday's Sunbelt championship at Mike Deak Field in McAlester.

Texas finished the tournament 9-0. Tennessee finished 6-3.

“We had a great bunch of kids,” Texas coach Lou Kosanovich said. “They got along together. That’s the thing: Individually they’re great, but it’s, ‘do they gel as a team?’ And we were able to get them to gel as a team.”

In the third-place game, Georgia beat Oklahoma Gold 9-1. In the fifth-place game, Arizona beat Mississippi 8-5.

Colorado beat Oklahoma Blue 6-3 for seventh place. Canada beat Missouri 3-1 for ninth.

Texas 2, Tennessee 0

Both Baker and Tennessee starting pitcher Donny Everett routinely hit the mid 90s with their fastballs, leaving neither team more than a couple chances to put runs on the board. All of Texas’ runs came in the top of the second inning, when Tanner Schuetz doubled to the center field wall with one out.

Ivan Vera followed Schuetz with a single to left, and Schuetz beat the throw home to give Texas a 1-0 lead. Vera advanced to second on the throw, then scored two batters later when Josh Van Gelder laced a single to right field.

“Both pitchers were out there dominating, and whenever we got those two runs, I wasn’t going to let them go to waste,” Baker said. “I had to pitch with that lead.”

Schuetz got his second hit of the game in the top of the fourth, singling to left with one out. Everett tried four times to pick off Schuetz at first base, but the fifth attempt got away from first baseman Parker Phillips, allowing Schuetz to get to second base.

Schuetz couldn’t score, however, as Everett came back to strike out Vera and Cade Edwards looking to end the inning. Schuetz also drew an intentional walk in the bottom of the sixth, finishing 2-for-2 with a run scored and earning All Tournament honors.

“I was just seeing the ball well tonight,” Schuetz said. “I saw some good pitches, got ahead in the count and just let one go.”

Those two runs would be plenty for Baker, who struck out at least one batter in all seven innings. He three times retired Tennessee 1-2-3, with Texas’ infield playing error-free defense behind him.

That allowed Baker to mix up his fastball with off-speed pitches such as his curveball, slider and change-up. His mid-70s off-speed pitches came in nearly 20 miles per hour slower than his fastball.

With Alex Webb at the plate and in an 0-2 count in the top of the seventh, Baker painted the outside corner of the strike zone with an off-speed pitch at 80 miles per hour for the game-ending strikeout.

“I tried to start them off with a fastball, honestly, to get ahead,” Baker said. “And then once I got them 1-2, 0-2 (in the count), I was able to use my slider to get them chasing.”

Baker was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Tennessee only managed three baserunners in seven innings. Webb hit a one-out single up the middle in the top of the second, then was replaced by courtesy runner Ayrton Schafer.

Phillips tried to sacrifice Schafer to second, but Phillips couldn’t get the bunt down. Texas catcher Vera quickly snapped the ball over to Chris Paddack at first, and Paddack caught it and tagged Schafer for the second out of the inning.

Phillips reached on a two-out hit-by-pitch in the top of the fifth, but Baker struck out Alex Brewer to end the inning. Deon Sanders singled up the middle to start the top of the seventh, but Baker’s 3-2 pitch grabbed the inside corner against Walker Grisanti for a strikeout and the first out of the inning.

Blake Benefield then bounced a grounder to Baker’s right. Baker hopped off the mound, grabbed the ball barehanded and through to first for the second out the inning.

Sanders got to second on the play, but Baker then struck out Webb to end the game.

“They just hit a few more harder than we did and came out on top,” Tennessee coach Chris Parker said.

"We just couldn’t get the barrel on as many as we’d like to.”

Of Everett and Baker, Parker said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you see those two guys lock horns in (the College World Series in) Omaha one day.”

Everett gave up two runs on just five hits, an intentional walk and eight strikeouts in the six-inning loss. Texas had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the sixth, but Everett struck out Vera looking and then got Edwards to pop out to shortstop to strand all three runners.

Georgia 9, Oklahoma Gold 1

Tying Tennessee with a 6-2 record during the round robin, Georgia didn’t qualify for the championship only because Tennessee had beaten Georgia earlier in the tournament.

Relegated to the third-place, Georgia proved its place among the Sunbelt’s elite with a dominating win against Oklahoma Gold.

Georgia scored six runs in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back, run-ruling Oklahoma Gold 9-1 in six innings at Mike Deak Field in McAlester.

“We won it back-to-back a couple years (ago), and we’re trying to get there again,” Georgia coach David McDonald said. “It’s always a challenge. I enjoy coming out here. It’s great baseball, great hospitality.”

Luke Maddox led off the bottom of the first with a single to right, then Braden Zarbnisky also singled to right to put two runners on. Gold pitcher Shawn Treat got Austin Pharr to hit a grounder towards first, but first baseman Trenton Long overthrew second base trying for a double play, allowing Maddox to score for a quick 1-0 lead.

Connor Stutts sacrificed Zarbnisky and Pharr into scoring position, then Zarbnisky scored and Pharr took third on a passed ball. James Nelson’s single up the middle scored Pharr for a 3-0 lead, but Long picked off Nelson at first for the second out of the inning.

Jake Franklin singled up the middle, took second on a balk and third on a passed ball, then scored when Patrick Sullivan’s grounder resulted in another Gold defensive error. Tyler Daughtry walked, then Mason LeBlanc skied one into shallow left field.

Gold left fielder Drake Norton overran the popup, and the ball hit the grass. Both Sullivan and Daughtry scored on Gold’s third error of the inning for a 6-0 lead.

“In this environment, it’s OK to give up a run or two,” Gold coach Clint Littlejim said. “What you can’t do is give up five or six, and that’s what we did that first inning. We just made some critical errors.”

Franklin  also reached on an error in the third, taking third on Sullivan’s double and scoring on Daughtry’s sacrifice fly. Franklin finished 1-for-3 with two runs scored.

While Gold dug itself a deep hole with all those errors, four Georgia pitchers made it even worse. The quartet of starter Kevin Smith and relievers Nick Sandlin, Connor Bennett and Nick Bush combined to pitch a six-inning no-hitter.

“Losing a game off the schedule, we had a little pitching left, which was unusual,” McDonald said.

Smith struck out six without allowing a baserunner through the first two innings, then Sandlin pitched a scoreless third and Bennett pitched a perfect fourth. Bennett walked Cal Castle and beaned Gabe Littlejim to put two runners on with no outs in the fifth, then a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position.

Long’s sacrifice fly gave Gold its only run of the game, but Bennett retired Zach Baugh on a groundout to shortstop and Hunter Newkirk on a strikeout to end the inning.

Bush then pitched a perfect top of the sixth, striking out Brady Kulbreth for the second out of the inning. Overall, the four Georgia pitchers allowed one run on no hits, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and eight strikeouts in six innings.

“We just couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Coach Littlejim said. “We couldn’t get runners on, and we couldn’t get any hits.”

Gold reliever Jason Long pitched a scoreless bottom of the fifth, but Georgia scored two more runs an inning later to force the run rule. Daughtry doubled to right to lead off the bottom of the sixth, then Sean Fitzpatrick drew a full-count walk two batters later.

Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, then Daughtry scored on Zarbnisky’s grounder to second, and an error at second base allowed Zarbnisky to reach and Fitzpatrick to get to third.

Pharr drew a walk and stole second, then Stutts singled to deep center to drive in Fitzpatrick and end the game.

“I was out in front of everything in the beginning, and so I was just looking for a nice fastball down the middle,” Stutts said. “Of course, I got to two strikes, so it was a little tougher. I couldn’t just look out for one pitch, but once I got that fastball down the middle, I just kind of reacted to it.”

Trenton Long took the loss for Gold, giving up six runs on four hits, a walk and no strikeouts in 2/3 of an inning.

Georgia finished the Sunbelt 7-2. Gold finished 4-5.

Day 6 medal round scores:

Ninth-place game: Canada 3, Missouri 1 (at Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton)

Canada All Tournament player: Elliott Curtis

Missouri All Tournament player: Collin Fraley

Seventh-place game: Colorado 6, Oklahoma Blue 3 (at EOSC)

Colorado All Tournament player: Cole Anderson

Oklahoma Blue All Tournament player: Aiden Doherty

Fifth-place game: Arizona 8, Mississippi 5 (at Mike Deak Field)

Arizona All Tournament players: Devin Foyle, Matt Kroon

Mississippi All Tournament players: Keegan James, Austin Riley

Third-place game: Georgia 9, Oklahoma Gold 1 (6 innings, at Mike Deak Field)

Georgia All Tournament players: James Nelson, Austin Pharr, Braden Zarbnisky

Oklahoma Gold All Tournament players: Collin Morris, Ricky Ramirez, Hunter Southerland

Championship: Texas 2, Tennessee 0

Texas All Tournament players: Kyle Finkenstadt, Tanner Schuetz, Michael Smith, Ivan Vera

Most Valuable Pitchers (Texas): Jackson Parthasarathy, Beau Ridgeway

Most Valuable Player (Texas): Luken Baker

Day 6 round robin games:

Tennessee 9, Oklahoma Gold 4 (at EOSC)

Arizona 3, Mississippi 2 (at Mike Deak Field)

Colorado 8, Canada 1 (at EOSC)

Texas 9, Missouri 6 (at Mike Deak Field)

Final standings (medal round included):

1) Texas 9-0
2) Tennessee 6-3
3) Georgia 7-2
4) Oklahoma Gold 4-5
5) Arizona 5-4
6) Mississippi 4-5
7) Colorado 4-5
8) Oklahoma Blue 2-7
9) Canada 2-7
10) Missouri 2-7

Contact Matt Goisman at mgoisman@mcalesternews.com.