Clutch hits, pitching lift Hornets past resurgent Zebras

PINE BLUFF — The last time the Bryant Hornets faced the Pine Bluff Zebras, it was a conference game and they buried them, 12-0.

That was on April 26, 2014, at venerable old Taylor Field in Pine Bluff.

The Hornets returned there on Monday night and found a Zebra team that was much better, much more competitive.

In fact, through four innings, the Z’s had a 1-0 lead on Bryant. But behind the three-hit pitching of Blake Patterson, who needed just 76 pitches to go the distance, and clutch hits by Evan Lee and Drew Tipton, the Hornets claimed a 5-1 win.

Now 21-2 on the season, Bryant prepares for a 7A Central Conference showdown with the Little Rock Catholic Rockets on Friday, one of the teams that provided a blemish on that record, a 3-2 game March 31 that ended the Hornets’ state record 42-game win streak.

Pine Bluff got its run in the bottom of the second after Bryant had come up empty in scoring situations in each of the first two frames. In the first, Brandan Warner singled but was forced at second on a grounder by Trey Breeding. Jake East, in to run for Breeding the Bryant catcher, stole second then Lee drew a walk. A wild pitch put both of them in scoring position but they wound up being stranded.

In the second, Garrett Misenheimer drew a lead-off walk then advanced on sacrifice bunts from Dylan Hurt and Connor Tatum. Jason Hastings drew a walk to put runners at first and third with two down but they too were left on.

Patterson, meanwhile, had worked a 1-2-3 first and struck out the first batter in the second. Brandon Lowe managed to bloop a single into shallow right, however. He was sacrificed to second by Blake Hence and scored when Floyd Allen III, the Zebras’ pitcher, stroked a 3-2 delivery up the middle for an RBI single.

But Patterson then retired 16 of the next 18 batters to close out the game. The lone base-runners came on an error in the fifth and an infield hit in the sixth.

“Pat did a good job of making them put it in play then we did a good job of making plays,” noted Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. His right-hander walked no one and struck out seven.

Allen continued to frustrate the Hornets through four innings.

“Getting in rhythm with that arm was just tough for us,” Bock mentioned. “We had some miscues offensively as far as reads, missing in the right place. We don’t ever want to miss back to the pitcher. But those are things — you just keep plugging away.”

In the fifth, Allen got the first out but then Tipton beat out a bunt single. That seemed to frazzle the Pine Bluff hurler. He proceeded to walk Warner with four of the off-target pitches getting past catcher Gealander Harris III including ball four, which allowed Tipton to score the tying run.

Warner stole second and, after Breeding was hit by a pitch, another errant delivery allowed the runners to move up, setting the table for Lee who rocketed a 2-1 pitch high off the wall in right-center, just missing a three-run homer by half a foot. That gave Bryant a 3-1 lead.

“That was huge,” Bock said. “I was thinking right there I wished we would’ve had about six more inches because I was thinking we might need another run right there. That was big for Evan. He came through for us.”

Lefty Kenneth Gatewood relieved for the Zebras and got out of the inning but, in the sixth, ran into his own trouble. Hurt walked but was thrown out trying to advance to second on a ball in the dirt that Harris pounced on in time. But a walk to Connor Tatum and a passed ball put him in scoring position. Hastings grounded to the right side to get Tatum to third and, on the very next pitch, Tipton came through with a shot up the middle to make it 4-1.

Tatum then stole second and third. A wild throw to third allowed him to score the fifth run.

Patterson and the defense did the rest.

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