By Rich Polikoff
Special to the Commercial
FAYETTEVILLE — For Zach Bradford, the big stage was a rather familiar place.
Bradford pitched two shutout innings to earn a save in Game 1 of the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Baseball All-Star Game on Monday, clinching a 4-1 victory by the East over the West. In Game 2, the East won 8-7 in eight innings. The All-Star Games are scheduled for seven innings.
The games were held at Baum Stadium, the home of the Arkansas Razorbacks and a venue where Bradford was comfortable even before he took the mound. He had pitched seven innings there in the Class 5A state championship game on May 18, giving up two runs on six hits for Watson Chapel.
“It reminded me of pitching in the state championship,” Bradford said. “It felt good. It’s a good mound, and a good place to play.”
The previous time Bradford pitched at Baum, the result was ultimately an unhappy one. He got a no-decision in the 5A championship game, and Watson Chapel wound up falling 4-2 to White Hall in 10 innings.
Monday’s All-Star Game turned out a lot happier. Bradford pinch-hit in the top of the sixth inning of Game 1 and hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Marked Tree’s Bryant Anderson and pushing the East’s lead to 3-1.
“It was nice (to be here) again,” Bradford said. “It helps with the confidence (to have played here previously).”
The West jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Garrett Rucker singled and scored on a double by catcher Joseph Paulino. That was all the scoring they wound up doing.
Starter Taylor Wallace pitched three innings, Daniel Imbro followed with two shutout innings — earning the victory when the East scored two runs in the fourth — and Bradford blanked the West in the sixth and seventh for the save.
Bradford gave up two hits, both singles, and struck out two while walking none in his two innings on the mound.
“He located well,” West coach Randy Loyd of Magazine said. “The balls we put in play weren’t hit hard. He kept it away from the fat part of the bat.”
The East went ahead in the fourth, getting a pair of runs off losing pitcher Austin Suter. A single by Landon Bradley brought in Luke Nannemann with the East’s first run, and Hunter Smith followed with a sacrifice fly, making it 2-1. A sacrifice fly by Bradley in the seventh inning scored Collin Campbell, adding an insurance run.
“The kids did a great job,” said East coach Kirk Bock of Bryant. “They threw strikes, and when we had some opportunities to get some hits, we scored some runs. … Bradford did a great job.”
Bradford flew out on a line drive to right field in the top of the seventh, then got his first base hit in the second game. Playing in the nightcap as a first baseman, he led off the second inning with a single and wound up scoring the first run of Game 2 on a single by Collin Campbell.
An error on the play allowed Anderson to streak home, putting the East up 2-0. Michael Mendez followed with a two-RBI single, pushing the East’s lead to 4-0.
It was 5-0 after three when Rison’s Will Jacobs made his first appearance, taking the mound in relief of starter Trey Killian. Jacobs gave up a double to the first batter he faced, Matt Burgess of Greenbrier.
He was a bit sharper after that, and although the West scored two runs, neither was earned due to a pair of East errors. Jacobs wound up allowing three runs, one earned, on three hits over two innings.
The West wiped out the early five-run deficit when it scored four runs in the top of the sixth, taking a 7-5 lead, but they couldn’t hold on.
The East scored a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh, then completed the sweep with an eighth-inning run.
Matt Morris game-winning hit off losing pitcher Blake Sullivan, bringing home Nannemann on a two-out single. Campbell pitched a shutout eighth to get the win for the East.