Pawhuska duo helping to fuel success of Braves team

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
Pawhuska duo helping to fuel success of Braves team

Pawhuska’s dynamic duo of Caleb Bruce and Colton Hindman has been providing prime-time performances this summer for the Bartlesville Braves American Legion baseball team.

Hindman and Bruce helped the 17-and-under squad to go unbeaten last week in a round-robin event at Ponca City. The B’ville-area all-stars whipped A-class state high school runner-up Pioneer, 6-4, in its opener at Ponca before sweeping a Friday twin-bill — 6-5 over arch-rival Enid and 7-1 against a not-so-scary Perry foe.

Enid had come back from four runs down to tie the Braves and send the game into extra innings. With no outs and opposing runners at first and second, Bruce ran down a popup in left field and then doubled a runner off second. Although Enid moved up a run, the Braves rallied in their final at-bat to win the contest.

The Braves stayed hotter than a $2 pistol on the Fourth of July when, in their Saturday finale, they left no questions unanswered in hammering out an 11-0 decision over the small-school force from Sharon-Mutual. That Independence Day triumph completed a perfect four-win week for the United Linen-sponsored team.

“Things just really came together in the last couple of weeks,” said McCarty, who coached several seasons at Pawhuska before going home to Barnsdall a year ago. “It started out kind of rough, which I figured it might.”

This is McCarty’s first season at the helm of the Braves, a AAA-division Legion team. Bartlesville also has the Majors-level, 18-and-under Doenges Ford Indians and a younger AA Legion squad, the Warriors.

A half dozen communities are represented on the Braves’ roster. In addition to the two Pawhuskans, Osage County membership includes James Cole, Joe Gott and Payton McCarty from Barnsdall, and Colt Wilson and Aaron Hollowell of Hominy. Other players are Oklahoma Union’s Dalton Lanning and Rylee Kyser of Caney, Kan., with the balance of the squad from Bartlesville.

“Our small-school guys were working together from the beginning, but it’s taken a while for them to jell with all the Bartlesville guys,” said the coach, whose first BHS campaign featured a highly successful run to the Regional tournament. (McCarty also noted that the Panthers compiled a cumulative grade-point average of 3.73 — second-best among all Class A schools.)

In addition to their diamond skills, Bruce and Hindman also are gridiron stars at Pawhuska High School. As sophomores last fall, Hindman won the starting quarterback’s job and Bruce was a full-service running back for the Huskies. (He also was the team’s placekicker, for a second straight year.) Bruce became the PHS signal-caller in the seventh game of the season after Hindman sustained a broken collarbone.

Hindman is a more-than-capable baseball infielder, but he has been used exclusively as a catcher for the B’ville team.

“He’s been hitting the ball really well for us all season,” McCarty said of Hindman, who — like Bruce — will be entering his junior year at PHS.

Bruce has settled in as the Braves’ regular shortstop and is forming a quality double-play combination with Wilson, the second baseman from Hominy. Early in the season, Bruce also saw action at first base, behind the plate and even as an emergency outfielder.

“Caleb’s throwing arm was hurting when the season started,” McCarty said.

Bruce developed a sore right arm following extended stints as a pitcher during the PHS spring season. He finished the year playing left handed in the outfield, but returned to the mound Saturday by throwing one scoreless inning at Ponca. According to the coach, Bruce also batted left-handed on his final time up in the tourney.

“It’s 290 feet down the right-field line, but there’s a high fence,” McCarty said. “He hit one about 25 or 30 feet up that screen.”

The Bartlesville team is set to play Enid this Friday, with a 6 p.m. start at Doenges Stadium. Later this month, the Braves may also compete in the Oklahoma American Legion AAA state championship tournament.

Earlier contests

In a game played Friday, June 26, at Bartlesville’s Doenges Memorial Stadium, the Pawhuska pair helped the Braves overcome a solid NOAH squad, 4-2.

The free-swinging home schoolers took a two-run advantage in the top of the first before Bruce put the Braves on the board in the bottom of the inning. From an early 0-2 pitch count, Bruce — the No. 3 batter in the lineup — drew a two-out walk and moved around to score on consecutive singles by Bryan Barnes and Riley Sizemore. With the score tied, 2-2, in the home half of the sixth, Bruce knocked home the winning tallies with a two-run single into left field.

In addition to serving as batterymate for Braves’ winning hurler Lucas Reitfors, Hindman contributed a single to load the bases in the first. Defensively, he made strong throws to second in the early part of the game convinced the NOAH runners to stay put. Hitting with two out in the fifth, Hindman drove a double over the center fielder’s head. The hosts went on to load the bases, but failed to score.

Right-hander Reitfors scattered three hits en route to picking up the mound victory. He struck out three, walked none and hit one batter with a pitch. After two B’ville errors gave NOAH both its runs in the first, Reitfors recorded whiffs for the last two outs.

A second Friday contest was rained out with the NOAH-scotians leading, 3-2, in the third frame. Again, the Braves had generously spotted their guests a lead and then plated a pair of their own before the skies opened and brought things to a close. The Bartlesville team was back in action the next day, however, after travelling to Enid for a doubleheader on the state’s other premiere baseball stadiums — David Allen Memorial Ball Park. Following an opening-game loss, 7-1, the road-warrior Braves hammered their way to an 11-5 triumph in the evening finale at Enid. Both the Pawhuskans hit safely, with Hindman collecting another extra-base hit.

Earlier in the summer, the Braves showed plenty of heart in losing a home doubleheader to Vinita. The Hornets won an extra-innin battle in the nightcap, 7-6. After falling behind 3-0 lead in the opener, Bartlesville rallied back within one — with both Pawhuska players rapping singles. Bruce’s hit knocked home Hindman with the first Braves’ run. In game two, Bruce smacked a triple and Hindman had a ground-rule double.