Catholic holds on to end Bryant’s record winning streak

LITTLE ROCK — The longest winning streak in Arkansas high school baseball history and, apparently, the longest current run of consecutive wins in the nation by a high school baseball team came to an end on Tuesday night at 42. The Bryant Hornets suffered their first loss since March 18, 2014 when their seventh inning rally was stunningly cut short by a game-ending doubleplay turned niftily by the Little Rock Catholic Rockets at Lamar Porter Field.

The Hornets, who won the last 28 games of 2014 including their third Class 7A State championship in five years then the first 14 games of 2015, trailed 3-0 through six innings but pushed two runs home in the top of the seventh and had the potential tying and lead runs on base with one out.

Hard-throwing junior lefty Dylan Thompson’s 108th pitch of the day induced the doubleplay that quashed the comeback as the Rockets improved to 3-0 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference but, more importantly, won against a 7A team in the league. (Only games against 7A teams count toward qualifying for the Class 7A State Tournament.)

The Hornets are 2-1 in the league but 0-1 against 7A foes this season. The 42-game winning streak eclipsed the state record of 41 set by Class 1A Concord in 2003-04.

“Obviously, this isn’t going to define our season but this was one of those important games,” said Bryant head coach Kirk Bock. “These are the ones you’ve got to win. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.

“(Catholic) played well enough to win and we didn’t,” he stated. “It’s as simple as that. Not that we didn’t play hard. We played hard. We just didn’t play very well offensively.

“(Thompson) did a great job,” the coach continued. “He did a really, really good job against us. I don’t think we were aggressive enough at the plate early and that was the difference. We had a good approach. We were just a little too, I guess, timid, for lack of a better term. We took some pitches that we didn’t need to.

“Now the zone was expanded but the thing is, he missed and when he misses over the dish, we can’t miss. And we were missing. We can’t do anything about an expanded zone but when the guy does make a mistake then we can’t miss it. I thought we did today.”

Senior right-hander Blaine Knight absorbed just the second loss of his high school career. His only other one came in his very first varsity start as a sophomore. Since then he’d won 17 straight decisions including in the State tournament last year and his first four this year.

He came in with a string of 21 consecutive scoreless innings and added three to that before a rugged fourth in which he came within a strike of escaping unscathed after the Rockets loaded the bases with no one out.

“It wasn’t one of Blaine’s best outings but we should’ve covered him up offensively and we just didn’t,” Bock said.

Knight, who struck out nine without a walk in six innings, hadn’t allowed a hit over the first three frames but Catholic’s Joe Myers bounced a single up the middle to open the fourth. William Hancock followed with a bloop that fell in down the line in shallow left. On a two-strike count, Harper Vondran parachuted one into shallow center to load the bases.

But Knight got Lance Harville-Thomas to fly to Drew Tipton in shallow center. Chris Musteen followed with a liner to left that Evan Lee flagged down before Myers could even tag at third.

That brought up Zack Walker. Quickly, Knight got him down in the count 0-2 but Walker pulled the next pitch inside the line at third for a two-run double.

Will Dickinson flew out to Lee in left to end the inning.

Knight allowed a single in the fifth to Zack Sakora but, with two down, picked him off first to send it to the sixth.

In the home sixth, Hancock belted a solo homer to make it 3-0.

The Hornets had been shut out on four hits to that point, though they got runners to third in three innings. To lead off the seventh, Garrett Misenheimer shot a single up the middle. It was his second hit of the game.

Seth Tucker came on to run for Misenheimer and, with one out, sprinted to third on a shot to right-center, a double by Trey Breeding. Logan Allen came on as a courtesy runner for Breeding, the Bryant catcher as Dylan Hurt came to the plate.

Hurt, who had singled in the fifth, bounced one to the left of Myers, the Rockets shortstop. Tucker scored and Hurt reached when Myers couldn’t handle the ball cleanly.

With Jake East in to run for Hurt, Drew Tipton singled in Allen to make it 3-2.

A Rockets coach came to the mound for the second time in the inning to talk to Thompson at that point. (In high school, coaches came make three trips to the mound to visit a pitcher before they had to replace them.)

When play resumed, the lefty’s first pitch resulted in the game-ending doubleplay.

“The only thing that could’ve killed us right there was a doubleplay,” acknowledged Bock. “I wish we would’ve had one more pitch.”

The Hornets’ first scoring chance came in the opening at-bat when Tipton cracked a double to left-center to start the game. Connor Tatum sacrificed him to third but Thompson retired the next two to escape.

In the top of the fourth, the Hornets threatened again. With one out, Blake Patterson worked the only walk that was issued in the game. Brandan Warner slapped a single to right then both moved up on a wild pitch. But, again, Thompson wriggled off the hook.

Hurt’s single came with one out in the fifth. He took second on a wild pitch and third on a groundout but was stranded as well.

Bryant will try to start another winning streak this Thursday with a non-conference game at home against Sheridan. They take on another 7A rival in the Central Conference on Tuesday when they host Conway.

Catholic visits Bryant on April 24.

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