Some good, some bad at Conway
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
CONWAY — On this particular bright and sunny day, the Bryant Hornets were better than the third-ranked Conway Wampus Cats. Unfortunately, there was this other dark and stormy day. . .
The Hornets whipped Conway 6-2 in the AAAAA-Central Conference game scheduled for Thursday, April 17. And, in a second game — the completion of the March 18 contest that was called off then suspended due to thunderstorms in Bryant — the Hornets outscored the Cats 6-1.
If that had been all there was to it, the Hornets would’ve moved into a tie for second place in the conference with Conway, and the inside track for the league’s No. 2 seed for the Class AAAAA State Tournament with the tiebreaker over the Cats.
But that wasn’t all there was to it. The second game began in the bottom of the fourth inning, picking up where it had been stopped back in March. And Conway had a 7-0 lead.
So, the Wampus Cats escaped with an 8-6 win in the second contest, retaining sole possession of second and dropping Bryant into fourth, a game behind third-place Little Rock Catholic (the Hornets’ next opponent. See related story.)
If nothing else, however, any doubts about the way the Bryant team would finish the season may have been dispelled by their performance on Thursday. A three-game losing streak had ended with a 17-4 romp over the hapless Parkview Patriots on Tuesday, but concerns remained.
In one of his best performances of the season, sophomore left-hander Travis Wood limited the Wampus Cats to four hits in the 6-2 win. The loss dropped Conway to 17-4 on the season with Bryant providing two of those losses. (The other, a 4-2 win early in the season at a tournament in Sheridan.)
The Hornets still needed a five-run rally in the top of the fifth to extract the victory. The key hit of the inning came from the team’s emerging pinch-hitter extraordinaire, Morgan Garner. The junior came through with a key two-out, two-run double that turned the Hornets’ 3-2 lead into a 5-2 edge.
Bryant’s other top pinch-hitter Zack Young followed Garner’s drive with an RBI single to cap the inning.
Wood made the lead stand up, pitching around a two-out double by Scott Coulter in the sixth and a lead-off double by Peyton Hillis in the seventh.
The Hornets took the lead initially when Wood, who had two hits in the game, singled up the middle with one out. Courtesy runner Richie Wood swiped second then raced home on a double by B.J. Wood who, like his younger brother, had two hits.
Some early wildness by Travis Wood helped Conway gain the lead. In the first, a walk, a single by Hillis and a hit batsman loaded the bases. With two down, Nate Caldwell drew a free pass to force in a run.
In the second, a pair of errors led to a second Cats run.
After that, Wood and Conway’s sophomore lefty Brandon Solberg dueled. In the tell-tale fifth, Korey Hunter slapped the first of his two hits through the hole into left then A.J. Nixon, after showing bunt on the first pitch to him, ripped a double to left-center. Hunter scored the tying run on a grounder to short by Travis Wood.
With two down and a runner at third, Conway issued an intentional walk to Scott Peeler but when Solberg walked Daniel Minton to load the bases, Pat Stacks came on to relieve. But Stacks hit Andrew Norman with a pitch to force in the tie-breaker and Garner cracked his pinch double into the left field corner.
Back in March, Bryant had stalled as the storms gathered and perhaps gave up a run or two in the first three innings, thinking that the game would be wiped out and played over from the start. It was what, according to head coach Terry Harper, the coaches of the league had agreed to before the season. But Conway coach Noel Boucher appealed the decision to the Arkansas Activities Association and the ruling was reversed. The game would be picked up where it left off with Bryant coming to back in the bottom of the fourth, trailing 7-0.
Buoyed by their first-game win, however, the Hornets went right to work on erasing that deficit. Peeler started the bottom of the fourth against Conway reliever Carter Lance (Solberg had been pitching when the game was suspended). An out later, B.J. Wood unloaded on an 0-2 mistake by Lance and drilled his first home run of the season. An out later, it appeared that Bryant’s sophomore shortstop Justin Wells had added to the Hornets’ fire (and score) with his second homer of the year, a shot over the center field fence.
But, on appeal, Wells was called out for missing first base by the field umpire. Despite vehement protests, the call stood and the inning ended with the Hornets trailing 7-2 instead of 7-3 or better.
Daniel Price, the third Bryant pitcher during the 3 1/2 innings in March, returned to the mound as the game continued on Thursday and worked around a lead-off walk thanks in part to a splendid play at third by B.J. Wood on a roller off Matt Hall’s bat.
And, in the bottom of the fifth, the Hornets’ offense continued its onslaught. Travis Wood walked, Dustin Easterly beat out an infield hit and Nixon drove in a run with his second hit of the game. Hunter got a sacrifice bunt down but McClain, the Conway first baseman, made an ill-advised throw to try to get a force at third. Bryan Griffith, running for Easterly came home when the throw was wild.
Peeler walked to load the bases and, with one out, B.J. Wood was hit by a pitch to force in a run. A sacrifice fly by Price made it 7-6.
But Conway eked out a crucial run in the top of the sixth. Scott Coulter doubled, swiped third and scored on a balk. It was the second Conway run to score that way. The Cats’ seventh run, a single tally in the fourth, was balked home with two out.
Stacks returned to the mound for Conway in the bottom of the sixth and issued two-out walks to Nixon and Hunter but fanned Peeler to get out of the jam.
Wells, on in relief of Price, retired all five of the batters he faced including those in the top of the seventh to keep it a two-run game.
In the bottom of the seventh, however, Stacks retired the first two before giving up a single to Young. But that was all the noise the Hornets would make as Stacks closed out the game by fanning Wells.