Blake Hence of Pine Bluff Western touches home plate after his home run against White Hall on Sunday. (Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers)
WHITE HALL — Pine Bluff Western is one win away from Waco, Texas.
Western evened its postseason record against rival White Hall at 2-2 with a 6-3 win Sunday afternoon in the 12-year-old Little League state tournament at White Hall City Park’s Dickie Lunsford Field.
Aaron Frazier dominated on the mound and Blake Hence belted a three-run home run in the fifth to catapult Pine Bluff into the championship round. White Hall dropped to the losers’ bracket and will have to win three times to make it to next week’s regional play in Waco.
“That’s one down,” Western coach Marvin Hence said. “I said it was going to take a team effort. We were going to have to hit the ball in spots and (Frazier) was going to have to pitch lights out.”
Frazier did pitch lights out, shutting down White Hall’s explosive offense through the first 3 2/3 ininngs. Frazier struck out the side in the first and fanned 10 of 12 batters faced before surrendering the mound to JaKobi Jackson after throwing 50 pitches. Frazier was spotted a one-run advantage in the first when Pine Bluff touched White Hall starter Layne Hartsfield for a run off one hit, a walk and an error.
“That was pretty big,” Frazier said. “It gave me a cushion and I knew a hit or a walk wasn’t going to hurt me. I knew I could keep throwing strikes and it wasn’t going to hurt.”
Western added another run in the third when Jackson doubled with one out. He advanced to second on a passed ball and scored two pitches later on a wild pitch from Garrett Dennis, who relieved Hartsfield after two-plus innings.
“That was even a bigger cushion,” Frazier said. “There was no more pressure. You knew when you came back in that people were going to hit and score more runs and that’s a good feeling.”
Western added even more of a cushion one inning later.
After striking out the side in the fourth, Dennis ran into trouble in the fifth when Braelin Hence doubled with one out and White Hall coach Sheldon Pratt elected to intentionally walk Jackson to set up a force out. But just like the night before when Malvern issued Jackson a free pass and Frazier hit a grand slam, the decision backfired as Hence blasted a 2-2 pitch over the left-field fence to put Western up 6-0.
“I was just trying to hit the ball and make good contact,” Hence said. “I didn’t care where it went. I just wanted to put the ball in play.”
Hence said he knew the result when the ball left the bat.
“I knew it was gone,” he said. “I can’t even explain it right now. I was so, so happy. I was excited. I heard the fans hollering and screaming and I got really pumped.”
Hence, whose long ball turned out to be the difference in the game, said he felt the six-run lead was enough to earn the win. White Hall had better ideas, scoring three times in the fith to cut the margin to 6-3. But White Hall’s usual run producers failed to plate runs with one on and one out and the top of the lineup ensuing.
Ryan Ruff started the rally with a pinch-hit walk and Ruston Smith scored White Hall’s first run as a pinch runner on a single by Carson Alexander. Nick Roper also walked and scored on a throwing error by Pine Bluff center fielder Drew Raines. Bryce Kincaid doubled to chase Alexander home but failed to score when Jackson got Hartsfield swinging and caught Zac Harbison looking for two of his four strikeout victims.
“I think that put a lot more energy in everbody in the dugout,” Ruff said of the three-run burst. “We started hitting a little more and had enough to come back. We just didn’t. They gave us enough innings it just wasn’t enough.”
Dutton Day reached on an error in the bottom of the sixth and advanced to third but was stranded as Jackson fanned Smith and Alexander to finish the game.
“You have to just tip your cap to the Frazier kid,” Pratt said. “The kid that can throw the fastball past us and throw the curve for a strike is going to beat us. He threw the fast ball past us all day. Through the first four innings, we looked silly. He threw a perfect game through the first four innings.”
White Hall will now await the winner out of the losers’ bracket in a Tuesday showdown to determine who will play Western for the title. The championship game is slated for Wednesday. Western could solidify a berth into the regional with one win while whoever makes it out of the losers bracket will have to win twice.
White Hall opened the season series with an 8-4 win in the District 3 tournament while Western bounced back with a 10-0 mercy-rule win. White Hall clipped Western 1-0 in the district title game.