By Rob Patrick
PINE BLUFF — The Bryant Hornets came full circle in five days.
Baseball can be that way.
On Tuesday, the Hornets were riding high after a six-run rally in the bottom of the eighth to beat 7A-Central Conference rival Conway, 10-9. Five days later, they were themselves a victim of a five-run comeback in the bottom of the seventh by the Monticello Hillbillies. The result was a 9-8 loss in the fifth-place game of the Billy Bock Classic at Taylor Field in Pine Bluff. With one out and the bases full, Monticello's Hunter Lawson, who had donned the "golden sombrero" (for striking out four times), lined a single to left past the drawn-in infield to drive in the winning run.
Actually, the Hornets had led 8-2 going into the bottom of the sixth.
It was Monticello's second big rally in as many days. On Friday, they trailed Pine Bluff 8-0 then 11-4 but came back to win 16-11 to set up the game with Bryant.
"We're going to get right," declared Hornets coach Kirk Bock. "When is that going to happen? I don't know. But we're going to get right." [more]
"(We need to develop a) killer instinct," he asserted, "the dad-gum proper mindset. Go out and bury people. When you get them down, you've got to bury them. If you let people play with you, then they're going to play with you. And I think we have the type of ballclub that can bury somebody. We just don't have the right mindset to bury anybody."
Even after their debacle the night before, observers from Pine Bluff were talking about the game being a blowout in Bryant's favor early on. But, of course, that's why they play the games.
Monticello got a little help getting up off the deck at first. Trailing 8-2 in the bottom of the sixth, the Billies' first two batters drew walks from Bryant starter Ben Wells who came into the inning having retired seven of the last eight he faced. And, between the walks, Bryant catcher Kaleb Jobe threw out a would-be base-stealer. After the second pass, however, Hornets third baseman Hunter Alford couldn't come up with a slow roller and pinch-hitter T.J. Sanders reached. A wild pitch sent runners to second and third for Thomas Lafever who bounced one to Brady Butler at first. Butler fired home to nail Jordan Tilley, the lead runner, trying to score. So, Wells was an out away from getting out of the inning unscathed. And he promptly built a 1-2 count on the nine-hole hitter Zach Robinson.
But Robinson's swinging bunt on the next pitch drove in a run and Wells, right at 100 pitches in the game, gave way to Jobe. Brandon Matthews, the Monticello lead-off hitter, singled to right to make it 8-4 before Jobe struck out Lawson to end the inning.
In the top of the seventh, Butler was hit by a pitch but Monticello turned a nifty 3-6 doubleplay when Tyler Sawyer's shot to the right of the first baseman was speared by Taylor Smith. Brennan Bullock was hit by a pitch and stole second but was stranded when Kameron Smith, the third Billies pitcher, got Tyler Brown to bounce out to short.
Jobe retired the first batter in the bottom of the seventh on a fly to Garrett Bock in center. But then the hit parade began for the Billies. Caleb Bryant lined a single to right, James Jones doubled to right-center and Tilley singled up the middle to plate them both. Zach Crossett's single to left brought a pitching change with Caleb Milam taking the hill. But a bloop single to left by Lafever made it 8-7 and a single through the left side by Robinson loaded the bases.
With the Hornets defense in at the corners, Matthews hit a bouncer toward short that Sawyer had to charge. The tying run scored and when the throw to first pulled Butler off the bag, the sacks were still jammed with one out. The infield came in and, on an 0-1 count, Lawson won it.
"We just didn't do a very good job," Bock stated. "We let them crawl back into the game. A couple of errors cost us a couple of runs, then they strung five or six hits together. They didn't really hit stuff hard, they just strung them together and we didn't have the bulldog mentality as far as just getting them out.
"I made a huge mistake when I backed our infield up right there thinking that kid (Matthews) doesn't hit it very hard but I was thinking a blooper with the winning run at second base would end the game," he continued. "If we give up one then we can still fight right there. As it is, he just beat it into the ground to us."
Monticello's first two runs were unearned. They came in the second when the contest was scoreless. Bryant singled but reached second when Jones tapped back to the mound and Wells' throw to try to get the lead runner was off the mark. Tilley beat out a bunt single to load the bases. The Hornets appeared to have Jones picked off second but, again, an errant throw cost them, allowing Bryant to score and Jones to take third. Sam Cason delivered a sacrifice fly and it was 2-0.
Hunter Mayall, who along with Justin Blankenship, was named to the all-tournament team, had Bryant's lone hit through three innings. He'd led off the game with a solid single to right. So, it was 2-0 until the top of the fourth when the Hornets finally got to Caleb Bryant, Monticello's right-hander.
Mayall, by the way, was 5 of 9 in the tournament, Blankenship was 5 of 8.
A bloop single by Jobe got the inning started. Jonathan Wade, the courtesy runner for the catcher, swiped second. Butler singled sharply to third and Sawyer was hit by a pitch to load the bases. With one out, Brown picked up an RBI with a sac-fly before Alford came through with an opposite-field double to put the Hornets ahead. Blankenship sliced one down the left-field line for a two-bagger to drive in Alford. He scored on a single to center by Mayall, making it 5-2.
Wells worked a 1-2-3 fourth and the Hornets got some more in the top of the fifth against Cason, who had come on to relieve for the Billies. With one out, Jobe hit a sharp one-hopper off the chest of Matthews at short. Wade came on and swiped second and, with two down, scored when Sawyer's grounder to second drew a wild throw to first. With Sawyer at second, Brennan Bullock pulled a single to left to chase him home, making it 7-2.
A lead-off walk to Matthews in the bottom of the inning came to nothing as Wells continued to set the Billies down. In the sixth, the Hornets added what appeared to be another insurance run. Blankenship walked with one down, stole second and scored on a two-out double by Bock, making it 8-2.
The loss dropped the Hornets to 7-3 overall. They were set to travel to Lake Hamilton on Monday, March 23.
Prior to the game, it was poignant moments when Coach Kirk Bock, his sister, his nephew and his son Garrett joined his mother Joe Ann for the ceremonial first pitch in the tournament named for his late father.
BILLIES 9, HORNETS 8
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Mayall, dh 4 0 2 2 Matthews, ss 4 0 1 2
Bock, cf 3 0 1 1 Lawson, 2b 5 0 1 1
Clark, pr 0 0 0 0 K.Smith, 3b-p 4 0 0 0
Jobe, c-p 4 0 2 0 Bryant, p-rf-3b 4 2 3 0
Wade, cr 0 2 0 0 Jones, dh 3 2 2 0
Butler, 1b 2 1 1 0 Tilley, cf 3 1 2 2
Sawyer, ss 3 2 0 0 Cason, rf-p 2 0 0 1
Bullock, lf 3 0 1 1 Sanders, ph 1 0 0 0
Brown, 2b 3 0 0 1 Green, pr 0 1 0 0
Alford, 3b 2 1 1 2 Crossett, rf 1 1 1 0
Blankenship, rf 2 2 1 0 Lafever, lf 4 2 1 1
Wells, p 0 0 0 0 Robinson, c 3 0 2 1
Ellis, c 0 0 0 0 Clifton, cr 0 0 0 0
Milam, p 0 0 0 0 T.Smith, 1b 0 0 0 0
Totals 26 8 9 7 Totals 33 9 13 8
BRYANT 000 521 0 — 8
Monticello 020 002 5 — 9
One out when winning run scored.
E—Wells 2, Lawson, Alford, Sawyer. DP—Monticello 1. LOB—Bryant 5, Monticello 10. 2B—Alford, Blankenship, Bock, Jones. SB—Wade 2, Blankenship, Bullock. S—Bock. SF— Cason, Brown.
ip r er h bb so
Wells 5.2 4 1 5 4 6
Jobe 0.2 4 4 5 0 1
Milam (L, 0-1) 0 1 1 3 0 0
Bryant 4 5 5 6 0 4
Cason 2 3 1 2 3 0
K.Smith (W) 1 0 0 0 0 0
HBP—Butler, Sawyer (by Bryant), Butler, Bullock (by K.Smith). WP—Wells 4, Jobe.