Nick Ward earned his first nine-inning pitching victory and big David Chester slugged his eighth home run of the season Thursday night as the Rogers County Rangers upended the Oklahoma Bandits of Tahlequah, 8-3, at Legion Field.
The Rangers won the first-round game of the American Legion baseball Zone Tournament. The second round of games will start 5 p.m. today with the Claremore-based Rangers facing Bartlesville. The loser will then meet Tahlequah at 7 p.m. in an elimination contest.
Ward spread out three hits over the first six innings while improving his record to 4-1. The Bandits finished with eight hits, including two towering home runs by Jeremy Hamby.
Ron Bradley, head baseball coach at Rogers State University, witnessed the game. At the conclusion, he announced that Hamby earlier in the day had signed a letter of intent to play for the Hillcats this school year.
The Rangers answered Hamby's home runs with three runs in each of the second and seventh innings and a pair of runs in the fifth.
Chester, fresh from doubling home two runs to win the Oklahoma All-State game Monday in Oklahoma City, started the second with his eighth homer. Two more runs followed as Daniel Smith reached on an error and Dakota James added the first of two singles.
Caleb Worley doubled home Smith, and James scored on a fielder's choice off the bat of Chris Kennedy.
A two-run double by Jerod Peper in the fifth made it 5-1 for the Rangers who were the visiting team on the scoreboard. A pre-game coin flip determined home team status.
Tahlequah starter Jason Travis put himself in trouble after getting two quick outs. He walked Cade McKeon and then loaded the bases by hitting Justin Edwards and Chester. Peper's sixth double for the year followed with McKeon and Edwards coming home.
The three Ranger runs in the seventh came on three hits and two defensive errors.
Rogers County finished with 10 hits as Chester, James and Kennedy each had a pair. Chester reached base the first four times he batted. He joined Peper with two RBIs.
Following Hamby's leadoff blast to center field to open the game, Ward came back strong. He didn't allow another hit until J.D. Harris singled in the fifth. Travis, hitting in the No. 3 slot, singled to start the Bandit sixth and was cut down by catcher Kennedy trying to steal second base.
James, playing left field, was involved in all three Bandit outs in the seventh. The first batter, Detzer Gibson, singled to left and attempted to take second. James fired the ball to shortstop Vincent Pironti who turned and threw a strike to McKeon at second base.
After making the second out with a routine fly ball catch, James repeated his throwing act. Nate Linch sent a hard liner down the line for an apparent standup two-base hit. Instead of stopping, however, Linch never slowed. This time, Pironti's relay from James went to Edwards at third. Linch was out by two steps.
Tahlequah also had a pair of eye-catching outfield catches. In back-to-back plays in the fourth inning, right fielder Wes Newman and Harris, in center, prevented a Ranger run with diving shoe-top grabs.
The Bandits' final two runs came in the eighth. With one out, Hamby teed off again, this time going over the left field corner.
Ward then walked Brandon Espinal and he scored on a Josh Linn double. Linn moved to third, but remained there as Ward ended the threat with a strikeout.
A Ranger double play ended the game. Newman was on first with one out when Linch hit a hard grounder to Edwards at third. Edwards went to McKeon who stepped on second base while firing on to Chester at first.
Coach Todd Bingham's Rangers are 22-11 despite having 20 games cancelled by bad weather. The latest rainout was Monday at Oklahoma City.
RANGERS 8, BANDITS 3
Rogers County 030 020 300 — 8 10 2
Oklahoma Bandits 100 000 020 — 3 8 3
Ward and Kennedy. Travis, Harris (8) and Shankle. W — Ward (4-1)
L — Travis (5-3). HR — Bandits, Hamby 2. Rogers, Chester (8)