Photos courtesy of Crissy McEntire
CABOT — A win away from clinching the outright 6A-Central Conference championship, the Bryant Hornets fell victim to a five-run rally in the bottom of the sixth by the Cabot Panthers that turned a 1-0 lead into a 5-1 loss on Friday.
It was just the fourth loss of the season and first league setback for Bryant, to go with 24 wins. It was the first time they’ve lost back-to-back games as Friday’s final followed on the heels of a 4-3 loss on Thursday at Benton.
Certainly, if the Hornets were going to have a slump, now is a better time than in a couple of weeks when the State tournament begins. The Hornets have clinched a first-round bye at State but need a win to clinch the league title and number one seed. They’ll hope to get that victory on Saturday at noon with a make-up game against second-place Little Rock Catholic at Lamar Porter Field.
Much like Thurday’s setback, the Hornets had lots of baserunners on Friday. Against Benton, they walked seven times and benefitted from two errors but only came up with four hits. They stranded nine.
Against Cabot, they waited out nine walks and had a hit batsman but managed just three hits against University of Arkansas commit Zack Morris and a pair of relievers. The Hornets stranded 12.
Bryant right-hander Will McEntire, who will be a teammate of Morris’ next fall at the U of A, out-dueled him over the first five innings, scattering four singles without a walk and fanning four.
The Hornets gave him a lead in the second inning when Cade Drennan singled and Logan Wright walked. Peyton Dillon sacrificed the runners to second and third then Gage Stark grounded out to short to bring home Lawson Speer, the courtesy runner for Drennan the Bryant catcher.
In each of the next five innings, Bryant had runners in scoring position but could not come up with the big hit.
In the third, two were out when Austin Ledbetter was hit by a pitch and Morris issued one of his six walks to Drennan. But a strikeout ended the threat.
In the fourth, Logan Grant drew a two-out walks and stole second but was stranded when Morris again picked up one of his eight strikeouts.
Bryant batters struck out 12 times in the game.
Logan Chambers led off the fifth with a double to right-center. Noah Davis nearly got a perfect sacrifice bunt down but it hit the lip of the grass down the third-base line and ticked foul. Morris fanned him and Ledbetter and got the third out on a long fly to center by Drennan.
Meanwhile, McEntire worked around a one-out single in the second by Jackson Olivi and a one-out single to Clayton Gray in the fourth. Gray was thrown out by Drennan trying to steal second.
In the bottom of the fifth, Olivi singled again and so did Zach Slunder. Kyler Carmack made a bid for a hit, but his liner deflected off of McEntire, who hustled after the ball and threw to first in time for the out to end the inning.
The Hornets loaded the bases in the top of the sixth and, with his pitch count approaching 100, chased Morris. Jake Wright was robbed of a hit by Scritchfield at third to open the inning but then Dillon singled to left and Morris walked Gage Stark and Grant. Justin Graham, another lefty, relieved and got out of the jam by striking out Coby Greiner and getting Chambers to fly to center.
McEntire, who entered the bottom of the sixth having thrown just 62 pitches, issued his first walk to start the inning. Scritchfield came up to try to sacrifice Houston King to second and got the bunt down up the first-base line. McEntire got to the ball in time but his under-hand toss to Dillon at first sailed over his head. King raced to third and Scritchfield was safe at first.
Hornets head coach Travis Queck then turned to his closer Greiner, who had finished off several wins for the team this season earning five saves. But Cabot, loaded with left-handed hitters, which partly negates Greiner’s side-winding style, erupted to score five times.
A walk to Gray loaded the bases then a single by Blaise Quarnstrom tied the game. Greiner got Olivi to tap back to the mound. A throw home got the first out but Drennan didn’t throw to first perhaps because Olivi was running inside the line. If Drennan had thrown it and had hit Olivi in the back, the runner could’ve been out for interference. But the umpire would have had to make that call. Otherwise, it may have led to another run.
So, Drennan played it safe and held the ball. Greiner went to work on the next batter, Morris, re-entering to bat for Graham. He walked on a borderline 3-2 pitch, forcing in the go-ahead run.
That brought up Logan Bell, who fouled off a pitch then sliced a double inside the left-field line that cleared the bases. Bell, trying to take third on the throw to the plate, was thrown out by Greiner, who was in position, backing up the plate at home.
Will Hathcote relieved Greiner and gave up a single before getting Carmack to pop out to Chambers to end the inning.
The Hornets did not go quietly in the seventh. Mason Griffin relieved for Cabot and walked Ryan Riggs to open the inning. He struck out the next two but walked Wright and Dillon to load the bases. But he ended the game there by striking out Stark.