By Rob Patrick
Just when it looked like the Bryant Hornets had snapped out of their hitting slump, along came right-hander Matt Evans and the Cabot Panthers to knock them back in it.
The Hornets and their fans just hope it’s a one-game aberration this time.
Evans came within a strike of a no-hitter at Bryant High School Field on Tuesday. He walked four, hit a batter and struck out six before Hunter Mayall cracked a 3-2 delivery with two out in the bottom of the seventh for a double into the left-field corner.
Evans then ended the game on a nifty play by first baseman Tyler Erickson on a grounder to his right by Garrett Bock. Evans covered the bag and took a throw from Erickson for the final out.
Bryant dropped to 16-6 overall and 2-4 in the 7A-South Conference with a trip to North Little Rock coming up on Thursday to finish out the first round of the league’s home-and-home schedule.[more]
Cabot improved to 11-5 overall and 3-3.
Elsewhere in the league, North Little Rock defeated Central, 3-0; Van Buren downed Conway, 9-5; and Russellville topped Little Rock Catholic 10-0.
Coming into the night, half of the league’s eight teams were tied at 3-2, the other half at 2-3. After Tuesday’s results, Russellville and Van Buren led with 4-2 marks. Cabot, Conway, Central and North Little Rock are 3-3 with the Hornets and Catholic tied at 2-4.
With each team having seven more games to play, the six State tournament bids are completely up for grabs.
All of which just adds to the Hornets’ frustrations.
Cabot finished with 11 hits in Tuesday’s game but all six runs were unearned. Bryant starter Caleb Milam was pretty much matching Evans, facing the minimum through seven batters — though he’d give up two hits, one was erased on a stolen base attempt on a throw from catcher Dylan Cross, the other on a doubleplay started by shortstop Jordan Taylor).
Milam issued a rare walk, something he hadn’t done in his last 14 2/3 innings. Ball three and ball four were close to strikes. An infield hit by Joe Bryant and a bloop single by Powell Bryant loaded the bases with one out but Milam proceeded to work out of the jam by striking out Andrew Reynolds and Evans.
Evans issued walks to Mayall and Taylor in the bottom of the inning but the Hornets were unable to take advantage.
Cabot’s six-run fourth began with a rocket double to the corner in left by Erickson, who had three hits in the game. He took third on an errant pickoff but Milam was, again, on his way to escaping. He struck out Brandon Surdam then got Ty Steele to tap back to the mound.
But, on a 1-1 count, Justin Tyler singled to left to plate the game’s first run.
Once again, Milam appeared to be out of the inning, however, when he got Cole Nicholson to pop up into shallow left. Taylor went out as Bock, from center, and Bullock, from left, rushed in. Taylor got under it but couldn’t hang on.
Tyler, running all the way with two down, made it to third. Nicholson held at first but, moments later, took second on a pitch in the dirt that Cross smothered.
Milam got a strike away from getting out of the jam at that point, trailing just 1-0, but his 1-2 pitch to Joe Bryant was grounded into left for an RBI single.
That brought around the top of the Cabot order and Powell Bryant drew a walk to load the bases for Reynolds whom Milam had fanned twice before. This time, however, Reynolds jumped on the first pitch and lined it down the left-field line. Bullock nearly got to it with a diving try but couldn’t come up with it. All three base-runners scored to make it 5-0.
Evans then singled in Reynolds.
Blake Davidson relieved for Bryant and struck out Erickson to end the rugged inning.
The Hornets got some help with a potential comeback in the bottom of the inning. Bullock drew a walk and, an out later, Brady Butler’s pop behind first was dropped by Erickson. Surdam, the right fielder, came up with the ball and fired toward third but well off target and Bullock was able to score. Butler wound up at second.
Caleb Garrett then reached on a throwing error by Steele at third. With runners at the corners, Cross bunted Garrett to second as Butler held at third. That brought up Mayall who popped out to third to end the inning.
That started a stretch in which Evans retired nine straight before Mayall’s double in the seventh.
Davidson retired all seven batters he faced then Taylor came on in the seventh and worked around a pair of singles. With runners at the corners and one out, he picked off the runner at third then got the final out on Surdam’s fly to left.