By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — It wasn’t really so long ago that the diamond at Little Rock J.A. Fair[more] High School was the site of some darn good high school baseball games between good, solid teams.
The J.A. Fair War Eagles have struggled mightily in recent years, sometimes even to the point of not having nine players to take the field. Lopsided losses occur more often than not and Tuesday was another case in point as the Bryant Hornets, literally, walked away with a 23-0 win in just three innings after waiting an hour past the original start time because no umpires had been scheduled for the game. A pair had to be tracked down by phone and asked to come officiate the game.
The win improved the Hornets to 14-5 overall and 2-1 in the South Conference going into Thursday’s game at home against Class 6A State runner-up Sheridan.
Fair batters were overmatched by a trio of the Hornets’ stellar young arms. Freshmen Zach Jackson, Evan Lee and sophomore Blaine Knight each tossed an inning as they combined on a no-hitter, facing the minimum nine batters. The only Fair base-runner came on a lead-off walk to Ja’Quan Smith as Jackson got accustomed to the far-too-high mound and the sharp dropoff towards the plate.
Smith stole second but was rundown between second and third as he tried to advance when the ball got away momentarily on the throw-down.
Jackson retired the next two then Lee worked a 1-2-3 second and Knight set them down in order in the third to close out the game. The last five Fair batters fanned.
Meanwhile, the Hornets were waiting out a whopping 17 walks, which, combined with three hit batsmen and three War Eagles errors, put the Hornets in position to score 23 with just eight hits.
The Bryant starters batted through the order twice then the junior varsity took over from there.
In the first, Smith, the War Eagles’ starter, set down two of the first three he faced. Trevor Ezell drew a walk between the outs, took second on a wild pitch and third on a stolen base. Marcus Wilson slapped a single to right to start a six-run inning.
Wilson stole second and scored on Hayden Daniel’s single to left. Daniel swiped second then, on consecutive wild pitches, crossed the plate, which, as it turned out, was not secured in the ground.
Two or three times during the game, the homeplate umpire had to check with the field umpire to get the plate lined up with the pitching rubber.
The first continued with a walk to Ty Harris. Brandan Warner smacked a single to right then walks were issued to Trey Breeding and Korey Thompson to force in a run. Tyler Green yanked an RBI single to left and, when the ball was kicked, Chase Tucker, running for Breeding, followed Warner across the plate to make it 6-0.
The debacle continued in the second when the Hornets scored eight runs on just one hit. Nick Kehrees smacked a two-run single to center against Fair reliever Antwon Gayden to cap off the inning. Harris picked up an RBI when he was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Warner and Thompson walked to force in runs, Breeding got a ribbie when his grounder to short drew a bad throw to first and Austin Caldwell knocked in run with a groundout to second.
In the third, Will Anderson took over on the hill (or cliff) for the War Eagles and promptly gave up nine runs on three hits with seven walks and a hit batsman. To start the inning, Breeding was robbed of an extra-base it to center when Fair’s Isiah Harris made a leaping catch.
Needing at least one run to put the run-rule in effect, Drew Tipton stole his way to third after being issued a walk. Caldwell walked then Connor Tatum drove in the needed run with an infield hit.
Jason Hastings singled to load the bases and, after Kehrees was robbed of a hit on a liner to Smith at short, Anderson lost the strike zone. Walks to Dalton Holt, Justin Emmerling and Warner forced in runs before Tucker ripped a 2-1 pitch into the gap in left-center for a two-run double.
Warner scored when Tipton reached on an error then walks to Caldwell and Tatum made it 22-0. Hastings was hit by a pitch to force in the final run.
In the bottom of the third, Fair skipped the ninth batter in their order to give Smith a second chance to bat but Knight fanned him to end the game.