By Rob Patrick
LITTLE ROCK — The Bryant Hornets had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take a 6-3 lead. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Little Rock Central Tigers had put the first two batters on. Joe Ramm had been hit by a pitch and Will Parham’s grounder to short had drawn a throw in the dirt to first.
The potential tying run was coming to the plate and Bryant head coach Kirk Bock headed to the mound to talk to his senior right-hander Ben Wells who had started the game.
“I went to take him out really,” Bock recounted after the game. “But he said, ‘I can get it done,’ and he got it done.”
Wells struck out Brandon Schmidt then got Macon Speed to tap to first. The runners moved up to second and third for Josh Hale. But Wells fanned him on three pitches.
Between innings, Bock pulled Wells aside.
“I talked to him about the seventh,” the coach mentioned. “He goes, ‘Coach, you can’t take me out.’ I said, ‘I’m going to let you go until somebody gets on.’ It was going to be tough to pull him off that mound. He felt like he had their number.”
And sure enough, Wells went back out and retired the side on 11 pitches, fanning two and getting the final out on a roller in front of the mound.[more]
Two-out, two-run doubles by Garrett Bock and Hunter Mayall in the fifth and a two-out, two-run single by Caleb Garrett in the sixth fueled Bryant’s comeback.
“We’ve got good chemistry,” Bock said of his team. “The kids like each other, they play hard. They just give everything they’ve got. I’ve had teams that had a lot more talent but not the chemistry and we didn’t do very well. I think we’re going to be okay.”
It was Bryant’s first 7A-Central Conference victory. The team improved to 8-0 overall going into the Billy Bock Classic in Pine Bluff and White Hall this weekend. They’ll open against White Hall at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
“Last year, he didn’t do that all the time,” Bock said of Wells’ closing out the win.
Wells finished with nine strikeouts to go with three walks and two hit batsmen. All three Central runs were unearned. The Tigers only managed two hits but they were opportunistic.
“The thing about Central is, they’ve won a bunch of games,” Bock commented. “They let everybody beat themselves. They played a good solid game. They weren’t going to beat themselves. You’re going to have to beat them or you’re going to beat yourself. And that’s what we were doing.”
The Tigers broke up a scoreless game in the third inning when Hale walked and Clay Matheson singled to left. Jack Gresham sacrificed them to second and third then a passed ball allowed Hale to score. Wells fanned Ivan Tate. Bock put on a pickoff play at third but Wells’ throw was wide and got past the lunging Castleberry and Matheson scored.
“I had just made the comment, ‘You know, he’s out if we just don’t throw it up the line,’” the coach mentioned later. “I shouldn’t have said that because what did we do? We threw it up the line. But that’s what we’re going to do and we’re going to keep doing it. And sometimes you’re going to throw it up the line. That was a tight situation but we’re going to have to be able to perform in tight situations. That one just kind of got away from us a little bit.”
Booth battled Wells, fouling off five 3-2 pitches before drawing a walk. Courtesy runner Will Andress stole second but Wells then picked him off to end the inning.
In the fourth, Will Parham singled up the middle with one out. Schmidt was hit by a pitch and a passed ball allowed the runners to get to second and third. Speed tapped a slow roller up the third-base line. Castleberry, already playing in with the rest of the infield, charged but Parham had too good a jump and slid under the third baseman’s throw to the plate, making it 3-0.
A similar play, with a ball hit just a bit more firmly, resulted in Castleberry throwing out Schmidt. And when Matheson bounced out to Chris Joiner at second, the inning was over.
The Hornets were shackled initially by right-hander Clayton Booth who, after surrendering a lead-off single to Joiner, retired 14 of the next 15 batters to take a shutout into the fifth. He worked around a two-out walk to Landon Pickett in the second then surrendered a one-out single to Landon Bullock in the fourth only to pick him off to end the inning. The fifth started with a walk to Brady Butler but courtesy runner Hayden Daniel was thrown out trying to steal by Ramm, the Tigers catcher.
“We were putting the ball in play but right at them, not real hard,” Coach Bock said. “But (Booth) did a good job and had us kind of off balance.”
Moments later, though, a two-strike, two-out single to right by Lucas Castleberry sparked the initial Bryant rally. Garrett drew a four-pitch walk then a passed ball put the runners at second and third. Joiner worked a walk and, a pitch later, Garrett Bock pulled a hard grounder just inside the bag at third for a two-run double to get the Hornets on the board. On the next pitch, Mayall hit a drive to left that fell for a wind-blown two-run double.
Wells walked Tate with one out in the bottom of the fifth but Jordan Taylor, the Hornets shortstop started a 6-4-3 doubleplay to end the inning.
Taylor then led off the sixth with a blast to deep left-center for a double which spelled the end of the day for Booth. Daniel Imbro, who pitched the Tigers past the Hornets last year as a freshman, relieved and was greeted by Butler with a single to center. And when the throw from the outfield missed the cut-off man, Butler hoofed it into second as Taylor held at third.
Imbro came back to retire the next two and was on the verge of working out of the inning when Garrett lined a single down the right-field line to make it 6-3.
Wells worked out of the jam in the bottom of the inning and retired the last six batters he faced to finish.
“His pitch count was up around 100 and he ended up with 116 pitchers which is not bad for Ben," Bock mentioned. "When you strike guys out and he goes deep in the count, you’re going to have a high pitch count."
HORNETS 6, TIGERS 3
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Joiner, 2b 3 1 1 0 Tate, cf-lf 3 0 0 0
Bock, cf 3 1 1 2 Booth, p-cf 2 0 0 0
Mayall, dh 4 0 1 2 Andress, cr 0 0 0 0
Bullock, lf 3 0 1 0 Ramm, c 2 0 0 0
Taylor, ss 3 1 1 0 Meeks, cr 0 0 0 0
Butler, c-1b 3 1 1 0 Parham, 3b 3 1 1 0
Daniel, cr 0 0 0 0 Schmidt, dh 2 0 0 0
Pickett, 1b 1 0 0 0 Speed, ss 3 0 0 1
Ellis, c 1 0 0 0 Hale, rf 2 1 0 0
Castleberry, 3b 3 1 1 0 Matheson, 1b 3 1 1 0
Garrett, rf 2 1 1 2 Gresham, lf 1 0 0 0
Wells, p 0 0 0 0 Andress, 2b 1 0 0 0
Imbro, 2b-p 0 0 0 0
Totals 25 6 8 6 Totals 22 3 2 1
BRYANT 000 042 0 — 6
LR Central 002 100 0 — 3
E—Wells 2, Taylor. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Bryant 3, Little Rock Central 4. 2B—Bock, Mayall, Taylor. S—Bock, Gresham. SB—Andress, Garrett.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Wells (W, 4-0) 7 3 0 2 3 9
Booth (L) 5 5 5 6 4 1
Imbro 2 1 1 2 0 1
Booth faced one batter in the sixth.
HBP—Schmidt, Ramm (by Wells). PB—Butler 2, Ramm.