FS Sportsman wins state championship, plays in Mid-South Regional – Southwest Times Record


The Fort Smith Sportsman 19U American Legion baseball team’s loss to Texarkana in the first round of Arkansas state tournament left the team one game away from elimination. While the team was upset, it wasn’t broken, having bonded over Omaha, Nebraska this summer.
Instead, it won six straight games on the way to its ninth state title going back to 1954. On Wednesday, the Sportsman (23-16-1) play its first game of the Mid-South Regional at 10 a.m. vs. Jefferson City, Missouri at Bobby Hayes Stadium in Pelham, Alabama.
The Sportsman won eight of its 11 games to start the season, evidence of a cohesive team of players comprised of high school graduates and others who had just finished their freshman year of college. According to Ben Brooks, who played high school ball at Poteau, it was a welcoming environment for players on both sides of the border.
“The being from different states thing, you come in and you kind of think that, ‘Alright, well, these guys don’t really want you being on their turf and stealing the show from them,’ but these guys are not like that,” Brooks said. “These guys are always nice, have always been nice to me and accepted me coming from Oklahoma. They weren’t rude or anything. I think when you have kids coming from all over, especially from different states, and you can connect like that, I think you get a pretty strong bond.”
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According to Brooks, that camaraderie grew with a trip to Omaha in late June.
During the trip, many of them packed in tight on a Boys & Girls Club van over to the home of the Men’s College World Series. In addition to baseball, the occasion included late-night pranks on each other in the hotel. On a day at Dave & Busters, the team used tickets to buy a mini ping-pong table, a mini cornhole set and a small hang-up basketball hoop.
Throughout the season, a variety of players have stepped up.
Alma 2022 graduate Logan Taylor leads the team with a .391 batting average while also sporting a 2.79 ERA as the second-most used pitcher. Meanwhile, Carl Albert State player Paxton Pitts, a 2021 Roland graduate, has been the leadoff batter with a Sportsman-best 1.030 OPS.
His college teammate and former Greenwood player Reed Carroll leads in RBIs (29) and home runs (7).
Former Northside standout Steffan Fak was awarded the state tournament’s Outstanding Pitcher, after allowing two runs in 6.2 innings of relief during the 6-4 win over Paragould in the finals’ first game.
After the loss to Texarkana, 11th-year coach Trey Prieur talked to the team and set up a pitching strategy for the remainder of the tournament rather than an approach to win solely the next game. With that came players changing positions, including Van Buren grad Eli Gilreath moving from customary third to second base and Northside grad Jett Frazier playing third, after Brooks injured his shoulder sliding home.
In the deciding of the finals, Frazier was at shortstop but shifted behind second base. With a hard ground ball hit right to him, the Arkansas Tech signee got the out unassisted at second and then threw over to Northside senior Eli Caldarera to convert the game-ending double play.
It had won 8-7 in eight innings at the University of Central Arkansas to clinch its advancement to the regional round.
“I was playing third when I saw the final out being made and the whole entire play felt like it was in slow motion,” said state tournament MVP Brooks. “It’s just one of the best feelings that you could ever feel  and the dog pile at the end when we all came together because we had just been together and played hard and worked so hard to get there and just the feeling of taking it all home was just unbelievable.”
You can follow Bryant Roche on Twitter @BRocheSports and you can email him at BRoche@gannett.com


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