HAMBURG — It took eight innings, but Hamburg was finally able to put away a scrappy Pine Bluff Northern team.
A walkoff single by Hamburg’s Drew Johnston lifted his team to a 5-4 win in the 15-year-old Junior Babe Ruth state tournament Friday night at Hamburg City Park.
Hamburg took a 4-0 lead into the fourth inning, but Pine Bluff Northern clawed back to force extra innings.
“These guys fought back and never gave up,” Pine Bluff Northern head coach Stanley Harper said. “You just hate to lose games like that, but somebody’s got to lose.”
Pine Bluff Northern struggled to hit the ball, but its speed put a lot of pressure on the Hamburg defense.
“Our guys struggled seeing the ball for most of the game because of the sun’s position,” Harper said. “Typically, our speed is our biggest strength and that’s what helped us get back in the game.”
That speed resulted in all four of Pine Bluff Northern’s runs.
In the fourth inning, with Javion Stewart on second base and Davion White at first Brandon Lowe swung and missed at a high inside pitch. The pitch, which missed Lowe’s bat and the catcher’s mitt, struck the home-plate umpire in the left arm.
As the ball rolled away, Stewart and White took big leads but didn’t run. Hamburg catcher Dakotah Stafford picked the ball up and subsequently fell to the ground. After hopping up, Stafford fired the ball down to first base trying to catch White off the bag. Stafford’s throw, though, sailed into foul territory allowing Stewart to score and White to reach third base.
White later scored in the inning to pull Pine Bluff Northern within 4-2.
In the sixth inning, Stewart and White led off with back-to-back walks. A sacrifice bunt by Lowe advanced them to second and third base. Bernard Black was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Stewart got thrown out at home after trying to score on a wild pitch, but White and Black advanced on the play.
Trying to pick off White, Stafford threw down to third base but the return throw bounced away and into the Hamburg dugout allowing both runners to score and tie the game.
Pine Bluff Northern’s aggressive base running might have got them back into the game, but it also might have cost them the game, too.
With runners at second and third base and two outs in the top of the eighth inning, Harper called for a suicide squeeze. However, the runner on third Braylen Jones was tagged out by Stafford after Black missed the bunt attempt.
Black, who relieved starting pitcher RayShun Blake in the fifth inning, had been able to escape jams in the fifth and seventh innings, but couldn’t do it again in the eighth.
Nik Wood led off the inning for Hamburg with a single. A full-count walk to Chad Martin advanced Wood into scoring position, and set up Johnston for his game-winning hit.
Pine Bluff Northern will play at 1:30 p.m. today against Lake Village, who lost to White Hall on Friday. The loser of the game is eliminated and the winner advances to play the loser of Saturday’s Crossett-Brinkley game at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.