In the Newport American Legion’s best showing since winning back-to-back state championships in 1996-97, George Kell Motors advanced to the second week of the 2012 AA State Tournament in Bryant needing two wins to secure the crown.
Unfortunately for the large number of fans who traveled to Saline County - and those 16 young men - those victories never came. “I’m just so proud of those guys,” Coach Michael Long said after reflecting on his team’s run. “I was upset after Sunday’s loss because I felt like we lost focus, but after having a few days to look back, we had a great year and I’m extremely proud of this year’s squad.” Kell Motors finished 21-6 and their only two losses to fellow AA teams were the final weekend of the season. Of their other losses, one was to the AAA Jonesboro Ricemen, one was to Texarkana’s AAA squad, which is the defending AAA State Champion, and Texarkana’s Junior team which played in the Jr. State Finals. The other loss came at AAA Marion in their final regular season road game. In the winner’s bracket final, Pine Bluff National Bank took advantage of five Newport errors, their first defensive breakdown of the tournament, to pull away for a 5-2 win. The explosive Kell Motors offense was held in check as they managed only four hits. Newport broke through first with a run in the top of the third inning as Devante Neal walked and stole second with one out. Grant Black delivered a two-out run-scoring double to plate Neal and give Kell Motors a 1-0 lead. However, the lead was short-lived as Pine Bluff took advantage of two hits, two walks and two Newport errors to grab a 3-1 advantage. Pine Bluff pushed across an insurance run in both the fourth and sixth innings for a 5-1 lead as Kell Motors came to the plate in the top of the seventh. Cade Niswonger reached on a one-out error and moved to second. Colton Willis followed with a run-scoring single before the rally ended. Black had a double and an RBI, Willis had a single and an RBI while Wil Hubbard and Matthew Duvall had the other hits for Kell Motors. Michael Reynolds suffered the loss on the mound as he allowed four runs - two earned - on three hits in four innings. He struck out two and walked three. Neal allowed one run on three hits in two innings of relief. He fanned four. The loss sent Kell Motors to the loser’s bracket finals Sunday, July 22 at 4:30 p.m. where they met the hosts, Bryant, for the second time in the tournament. Emotions ran as hot as the temperature, spilling over after the home half of the third inning leading to the ejection of two coaches, one from each team. Trailing 1-0 at the time, Kell Motors answered immediately with a run to tie the score in the top of the fourth inning. Gunnar Bullard was hit-by-a-pitch and stole second. A Bryant throwing error allowed him to race home from second base to knot the score at 1-1. Kell Motors took their first lead of the game in the top of the fifth inning when Duvall drew a two-out walk. A.J. McCoy delivered a double off the wall in left-centerfield to score Duvall from first base and five Newport a 2-1 lead. A Newport error to start the home half of the fifth led to a rally for the home team, tying the game at 2-2. Bryant scored three more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning for a 5-2 lead with the Kell Motors season down to its final three outs. Neal lead off by reaching on an error and stealing second base. After moving to third on a ground out, Neal scored on a ground ball RBI out by Black, but the rally again ended. For Kell Motors, Black suffered his first loss of the season (9-1) as he allowed five runs on seven hits in six innings. He struck out seven and walked two. Offensively, he also led the way at the dish with two hits and an RBI. McCoy had a hit and RBI while Neal, Spencer Shannon, Bullard and Reynolds had a hit each for Kell Motors. “I have never been more proud of a group of guys than this,” Long reiterated.