According to Ernest Wooten, the naysayers predicted that his Pine Bluff Tigers would not win a game in the PRO-DAY John Gross Memorial Tournament.
The naysayers had no idea what the Tigers had in store.
Pine Bluff came all the way from a narrow defeat in its first game to winning the championship Sunday, capping the four-day tournament at Taylor Field with a 13-5, six-inning victory over PRO-DAY Elite, a collection of outstanding players from across the South headed by local native Jeff Gross. The second annual tournament was named in honor of his late brother, who co-founded the PRO-DAY baseball showcase company with Jeff.
“I am so proud with the way these guys fought,” Wooten said. “They never gave up and they rooted for each other. It’s an awesome feeling to come out and not have a chance and to come out on top in the end.”
The Senior Babe Ruth Tigers (9-3) have won four straight since a 7-6 loss to White Hall AA American Legion team Relyance Bank in which the Tigers erased a 6-0 deficit. Sunday, Pine Bluff stayed on a roll with the help of nine runs on eight PRO-DAY errors and eight hits.
“We won (Saturday) with one hit, so we beat the odds and didn’t go to church this morning and went to hit this morning at Sissy’s Log Cabin,” Wooten said. “So that was the goal, to come out and be aggressive and be fast.”
Jordan O’Guinn, the tournament MVP, went 1-for-1 with a walk and scored two runs. Adam Graham, Trevor Langford, Jaylen Jackson, Jamar Johnson, Braylen Jones, Tre Harris and Tyler Smith each had a hit for the Tigers.
“All the coaches are very positive with us, and we just push each other to do better,” the first baseman said. “It’s starting to work out for us.”
PRO-DAY fell behind 4-0 after one inning and pulled within 4-3 through the top of the third thanks to a balk and sacrifice bunt by Billy Kittrell. Reise Bell powered a double to left field, but the Tigers’ Kirel Young threw out Kittrell at the plate from the outfield.
The Tigers then doubled their scoring with four unearned runs in the bottom of the third, thanks to four PRO-DAY errors.
“The last three days, the guys had been making great defensive plays,” Gross said. “Today just wasn’t our day, and I told the guys just now we have days like that. I give all credit to the Tigers.”
Gross has only been able to work with his team – comprised of players who qualified through PRO-DAY’s regional showcases – for the past two to three weeks, and the team doesn’t get to practice until weekends. Some players are recent additions to the team, replacing those who advance to a higher level of baseball.
“We’ve had a new group for this team. We’ve had 12 guys from our initial team from three weeks ago that either received scholarships or got drafted,” Gross said, mentioning Cleveland Indians third-round draft pick Bobby Bradley of Harrison Central (Mississippi) High School as one of his products.
PRO-DAY tried to stage a comeback with two runs in the fifth by way of Josh Mathis and Keston Klimek sac grounders, but that was all it could muster. Pine Bluff ended the nearly 3-hour showdown with five runs in the sixth to enforce the mercy rule. Johnson, batting for O’Guinn in the cleanup spot, drove in two runs on a single, and the Tigers scored on a balk and two passed balls to win.
The win earned the Tigers an automatic berth into the PRO-DAY 18-under World Series, to be played in August at Taylor Field.