WARNER- When the bats go cold, good teams find other ways to win.
So the Three Rivers Bandits American Legion team used good pitching, a pinch of defense, and a bunch of what the opposition gave them Saturday night. The result: an 8-1 win over Oklahoma Baseball at Biff Thompson Field on the campus of Connors State College in the Connors State July Showcase.
With a place in today’s finals already secured, Bandits coach Rusty Fulps gave the ball to McAlester’s Grant Sontag to make his first start of the summer. And the southpaw was up to the challenge, keeping OKBB off balance with curves and change-ups to limit them to just three hits in five innings.
“It was fun,” said Sontag. “I had good defense behind me and my curveball was working pretty well and it helped me get ahead in the count. I give a lot of credit to my catcher (Oktaha’s Dalton Martin) who called a great game.”
The Bandits, who had only six hits on the night, got things rolling in the first inning as Wagoner’s Preston Whitten, who was 2-for-3 in the game, drew a walk. Two batters later, he scored on a double off the left field wall by Checotah’s Caleb Knight to make it 1-0.
Oklahoma Baseball touched Sontag for a run to even things in the first. With one out, Sontag hit Corbin Osborn with a pitch. A double by Cale Keith put runners at second and third and clean-up hitter Ryan Wieligman plated Osborn with a single. But now for that pinch of defense, as Sontag escaped further damage with the help of a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
The Bandits added two more in the third inning thanks to a OKBB miscue. McKaine Foster started it off with a walk. A single to center by Whtten went through the centerfielder all the way to the wall, allowing Foster to score and Whitten ended up at third. He then scored on a sacrifice fly by Stilwell’s AJ Deason.
Things were quiet until the sixth inning when the Bandits again took advantage of OKBB mistakes. Madison Watkins came in to pitch for them and had an inning he would probably like to forget. After walking the first two batters, Fort Gibson’s Boo Seward pinch-hit for the Three Rivers and laid down a sacrifice bunt between first and the mound. Watkins bobbled the ball, allowing Seward to reach and load the bases.
Another walk and two wild pitches gave the Bandits three runs. A fourth run scored on a fielder’s choice and the final Three Rivers came in on an RBI single by Knight. Dillon Guffey relived Sontag and retired OKBB in order the last two innings to sew up the win.
“They gave us a little advantage with some walks, but we also had a couple of timely hits early in the game that helped us out,” said Fulps. “Grant Sontag gave us five strong innings on the mound against a pretty good ball club. Like we’ve talked about earlier, we’ve been kind of playing in peaks and valleys and right now we’re back on a peak because we’re executing in the field and getting timely hits.”
In Three Rivers first game of the day, Stilwell’s Ryan Collins scattered six hits and struck out six as the Bandits run-ruled Tulsa Tide 9-1. Knight was the hot hitter for the Bandits, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs.
The Bandits (29-6) will play for the championship today at 12:15 against Oklahoma Sandlot on the same field where they lost two weeks ago in the finals of the Connors Classic.
“We’ve just got to come out and execute tomorrow,” said Fulps. “In that earlier championship game we just gave up four hits but we only had two and things just didn’t bounce our way. We can’t worry about the past couple of weeks, we just have to come out and do what we always do.”
Connors July Showcase
Ellis County (18U) 13, Titans 1
Ardmore 5, Sandlot 2
Sandlot 18, Ellis County (16U) 0
Three Rivers 9, Tide 1
Ellis County (18U) 6, Tide 2
Titans 15, Ellis County (16U) 0
OK Baseball 5, Ardmore 2
Three Rivers 8, OK Baseball 1
Tide vs. Ardmore, 10 a.m.
Championship, Three Rivers vs. Sandlot, 12:15 p.m.
Titans vs. Ellis County (16U), 10 a.m.