Bryce Kincaid of White Hall tries to turn a double play against Malvern on Tuesday at Dickie Lunsford Field in White Hall. (Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers)
Ryan Ruff of White Hall fires the first pitch against Malvern on Tuesday. (Special to The Commercial/Bo Rogers)
WHITE HALL — White Hall earned its way into the championship series of the 12-year-old Little League state tournament Tuesday evening with a 14-0 win over Malvern at White Hall City Park’s Dickie Lunsford Field.
White Hall’s Layne Hartsfield went 3 for 3 and drove in four runs with a two-run homer, double and single and Ryan Ruff pitched four scoreless innings to set up yet another showdown with rival Pine Bluff Western at 6 p.m. today.
“Ryan Ruff is the only 11-year old on this team,” White Hall coach Sheldon Pratt said. “And his three pitches controlled them all night. He had a lot of command. Tonight he was comfortable from the bullpen to the time we shook hands.”
White Hall will have to win twice to return to the regionals in Waco, Texas, beginning Aug. 3. Western needs just one win. The two teams have split the four-game series since starting district play last week. Western won the last meeting 6-3 in Sunday’s winners’ bracket semifinal round.
White Hall was forced to play an extra game after the loss but handled Malvern with ease Tuesday, scoring nine times in the first inning and cruising to victory.
“That was good for us. We needed this game,” Pratt said. “I think we had a good scrimmage tonight against the third-best team in this tournament. And we did it against a good team.”
Hartsfield’s two-run bomb over the scoreboard in center field jumpstarted the offense against Malvern starter Gabe O’Briant, who was lifted after six batters and five runs.
Dutton Day went 2 for 3 with three RBIs and Garrett Dennis singled and doubled and drove in a run.
Ruff’s performance allows White Hall to have a full compliment of pitchers to throw against Pine Bluff, starting with Hartsfield, who is expected to get the start against Western’s Aaron Frazier. Frazier outdueled Hartsfield and White Hall in the previous meeting, striking out 10 of 12 batters faced. White Hall struck out 15 times in the game against three Western hurlers, including JaKobi Jackson and Kaleb Hill. White Hall didn’t strike out against Malvern.
“That is a first for this team,” Pratt said. “We took practice very seriously yesterday. We had a tough batting practice and focused on the two-strike pitch. I think they grasped that and showed it in their performance tonight.”
White Hall leadoff hitter and table setter Bryce Kincaid picked up one of only two hits against the Pine Bluff trio, a run-producing double in the three-run fifth. He reached base and scored all three times against Malvern on Tuesday.
Kincaid said he is just doing his job at the top of the lineup and that White Hall needs to come together if they want to pack their bags to cross the state line.
“I have to get on base so I can set my team up to score some runs,” Kincaid said. “But we are going to have to play as a team (against Western). And we have to swing the bat. We can’t stand there and look at pitches come by and strike out. We have to hit the ball and score some runs.”
Pratt said getting to a second game would level the playing field.
“It’s anybody’s ballgame,” he said. “If we can win the first one it’s up for grabs after that. They did it to us in district and we came back and won it 1-0. Anything can happen. We just have to put ourselves in position to play the second one.”