School was back in session for Clark County School District students on Monday, but the Southern Nevada Blue Sox weren’t ready to let their summer end.
The Blue Sox escaped two late-inning jams and rallied with five runs in the ninth inning to beat Bryant (Arkansas) 7-3 in the semifinals of the American Legion World Series baseball tournament in Shelby, North Carolina. The game was scheduled for seven innings.
The Blue Sox (56-9) will play for the championship at 4 p.m. Tuesday on ESPNU. They will face either Creighton Prep (Nebraska) (57-5) or Randolph County (North Carolina) (40-9), which had their semifinal game Monday suspended by rain in the bottom of the first inning.
“It’s been a whirlwind; it’s been an emotional couple of days,” Blue Sox coach Scott Baker said. “We were giving the speech (Sunday) that we didn’t make it when the tournament directors came over and told us that we had won the tiebreaker, to now, playing for a national title.”
It looked for a while that the Blue Sox were going to need to rely on their pitching, as they have all tournament. After a 9-1 loss Thursday, the Blue Sox allowed just one run in their next two games to advance to the championship round on a runs-allowed tiebreaker despite going 1-2.
The pitching did its job Monday, but the bats finally arrived to Shelby.
The Blue Sox scored just twice in the first three games, and just twice more through eight innings Monday. Then Nick Thompson led off the ninth with a double, and scored two batters later on Roger Riley’s single, which opened the floodgates. Jesse Fontaboa singled to score Riley, Garrett Giles had an RBI and scored on an error, and before long the Blue Sox led 7-2.
The Blue Sox scored more runs in the ninth inning Monday than they had in the previous 31 innings combined.
“We weren’t running great but the at-bats were getting better as the tournament progressed,” Baker said. “We finally broke through and got some big hits.”
Thompson did more than just start the rally for the Blue Sox. He took over on the mound in the sixth inning, and in the seventh worked some magic. After retiring the leadoff hitter, the next three hitters reached to bring the winning run to third base with just one out. He recorded a strikeout on a filthy curveball, then induced a groundball out to give the fans in attendance free baseball.
The next inning, he did it again. An error and a sacrifice bunt again put the winning run in scoring position, but a flyout and a popup later, the Blue Sox took a tie game to the ninth and busted it open.
“He was our hero today,” Baker said of Thompson. “He wasn’t feeling great offensively confidence-wise and the way he had been swinging it and to be able to go out and pitch with the composure he had and to be able to come up there and get that gigantic double there in the ninth just says a lot about Nick as a player.”