VAN BUREN — The Bryant Hornets held a 2-0 lead over the Van Buren Pointers Friday night in the[more] bottom of the third inning at Iverson Riggs Memorial Field at Field of Dreams Sports Complex. Van Buren’s nine-hole hitter Kyle Plunkett had cracked a one-out double and courtesy runner Ryan Pearson had taken third on a wild pitch as lead-off man Jonathan Haywood was working a walk.
Bryant starting pitcher Dylan Cross worked the fake-to-third, throw-to-first pickoff play to nail Haywood for the second out despite protests from the Van Buren coaches about the move.
Cross had an 0-1 count on the next batter Quinton Ray when he pulled the pickoff. With two down, he proceeded to get two more strikes past him but, somewhere along the way, the umpire lost track. He said it was an 0-2 count and Ray was still at the plate instead of the Hornets in the dugout with the 2-0 lead intact.
After the Hornets returned to the field defensively while head coach Kirk Bock argued the call, Cross’ extra delivery rolled into the hole at short. Bryant’s Tyler Nelson fielded the ball and fired to first only to have Ray beat the throw.
Pearson scored to make it 2-1.
Now, there was a time when something adverse like that would happen to Cross and he’d have trouble overcoming it. Things would invariably snowball on him.
But this time, he keep his cool. The next batter, Tyler Goodnight, lined out to right where sophomore Chase Tucker made a diving catch to end the inning.
Cross would go on to blank the Pointers on just two hits over the final four innings and the Hornets, sparked by a clutch three-run double by Josh Pultro in the sixth inning, pulled away for a 9-1 win, improving to 13-2 overall and 3-1 in 7A/6A-Central Conference play.
The Pointers fell to 8-4 and 2-2 as the six teams that were tied for the lead in the league became three as Russellville edged Little Rock Central and either North Little Rock or Conway won.
The Hornets are scheduled to host Texarkana today at 1 p.m., before hosting Russellville on Tuesday.
Bock acknowledged the difference in his senior hurler.
“He took it business-like,” the coach said. “He’s growing up. That’s the difference between Dylan Cross as a senior and Dylan Cross as a sophomore or even a junior.”
“I’ve talked to Coach (Mark) Cain and I’ve talked to Coach Bock and they’ve told me that an umpire’s going to react off whatever that pitcher’s reactions are,” said Cross. “So I have to watch what I do, watch my emotions, keep them inside.
“I’ve figured it out and I can see in games sometimes, like against Central,” he added, recalling his team’s 8-4 loss to the conference-rival Tigers on March 16. “A guy hits a home run. I was mad and I walked the next guy. That’s what it does, it carries over to the next pitches. And if I don’t want it carrying over, I’ve got to watch what I’m doing.
“It’s a big step for me,” Cross allowed. “I think before, I was a thrower but now I’m classified as a pitcher. And I knew I had a good defense behind me. I knew they were about to make a play, the next pitch. So I wasn’t really worried about it.”
He struck out seven, walked just one and gave up only five hits. Van Buren’s Cole Plunkett walked six and his three batters while unleashing four wild pitches that cost him. Cross completed the game with just 87 pitchers. Plunkett lasted 5 2/3 and needed 120.
“The guy’s zone was tight and it was tight both ways,” Bock said of the plate umpire. “I didn’t know if Cross was going to be able to fill it up enough and he did. Cross did a great job and (catcher Hayden) Lessenberry did a good job of handling the balls and keeping strikes strikes.
“The kids did well,” he added. “I’m proud of them.”
Bryant grabbed the 2-0 lead in the top of the first. The only hit of the frame was a double by Tyler Nelson on an opposite-field drive that turned the left-fielder around.
Lessenberry sacrificed Nelson to third then he scored on a wild pitch as Jordan Taylor drew a walk. Plunkett then hit Pultro with a 2-0 pitch to bring up Cross who dueled the Pointers’ righty, fouling off four two-strike pitches before being hit by the 10th toss of the at-bat.
Taylor scored the second run on a wild pitch then, with two down, Tucker walked to load the bags again. Hayden Daniel made a bid for a clutch hit throw the hole on the left-side of the infield but Goodnight, Van Buren’s third sacker, made a nice play and threw to second for an inning-ending force.
Haywood, who had two of Van Buren’s six hits, opened the bottom of the first with a single. He stole second but Cross struck out the side.
Both teams turned a doubleplay in the second. Taylor led off the top of the third with a double. Pultro sacrificed him to third but Plunkett came back with a pair of strikeouts to force the Hornets to strand another runner in scoring position.
“We can’t leave those guys stranded,” Bock stated. “We got them on. We got them over. We just couldn’t get them in. (Plunkett) did a good job. But that’s kind of been us all year. We’re stranding a lot of runners. Somebody’s got to come through. Then Pultro did.”
First, the Hornets flashed some leather in the bottom of the fourth. Colton Tucker beat out a bad-hop single on the infield to start the frame but Parker Johnson’s sacrifice attempt came back to Cross, who whirled and threw to second to try to get a force. The throw sailed a bit but second baseman Ozzie Hurt stretched out and nabbed it while keeping a toe on the bag for a force.
Aaron Jones followed with a comebacker. This time, Nelson covered and did a splendid job of coming off the bag to make the catch then rifling to first to get one out if not two. A nice play by Taylor coming in on a slow roller to third retired Caleb Bauman to end the inning.
The Hornets tacked on a run in the top of the fifth when Lessenberry reached on an error and courtesy runner Trevor Ezell took second then third on wild pitches. The first of those came after Pultro walked. With runners at second and third, Cross came through with a long fly to center to bring Ezell home.
Up 3-1, Cross worked around a two-out single by Haywood in the bottom of the fifth to set up the Hornets’ game-breaking sixth.
Chase Tucker drew a walk to start the uprising. Daniel got a sacrifice bunt down and when Plunkett fielded and threw wildly to second, he reached base as well.
A sacrifice by Hurt put runners at second and third for Nelson. With the infield hit, Nelson hit a bouncer to the right of Ray, the Pointers’ second baseman. He tried to throw home to nab Tucker but the Bryant base-runner had gotten too good a jump and slid home safely.
Nelson reached on the play and moved to second on a bouncer to third by Lessenberry. Goodnight made the play, looked Daniel back to third and threw for the out.
With two down, Taylor worked a walk to load the bags for Pultro who just missed getting a liner down the left-field line to fall in. On the next pitch, however, he lashed a liner between the outfielder and the left-field line for a three-run double. When a later relay throw came to the plate too late, Pultro hustled into third. After Cross was hit by a pitch again, a passed ball allowed Pultro to score, making it 8-1.
While Cross was in the process of retiring the last seven batters he faced, the Hornets got a bonus when designated hitter Blain Jackson unloaded on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Bradley Ebersole. His drive went out over the center field fence, for his first varsity hit.
It was an important moment for Jackson’s confidence after he had been unable to break through with a hit with runners in scoring position each of his first three times at the plate.
Ebersole worked around Hurt’s second single and Nelson’s second double to keep it 9-1 but Cross eased through the bottom of the seventh, fanning the last two batters he faced.
BRYANT 9, VAN BUREN 1
Hornets ab r h bi Pointers ab r h bi
Nelson, ss 4 2 2 1 Haywood, rf 2 0 2 0
Lessenberry, c 3 0 0 0 Ray, 2b 3 0 1 1
Ezell, cr 0 1 0 0 Goodnight,3b-ss 3 0 0 0
Taylor, 3b 2 2 1 0 Co.Tucker, lf 3 0 1 0
Pultro, 1b 1 1 1 3 Johnson, 1b 3 0 0 0
Cross, p 1 0 0 1 Jones, dh 3 0 1 0
Wilson, cr 0 0 0 0 Bauman, cf 3 0 0 0
Jackson, dh 4 1 1 1 C.Plunkett, p 3 0 0 0
Ch.Tucker, rf 2 1 0 0 Froud, 3b 0 0 0 0
Daniel, cf 3 1 0 0 K.Plunkett, c 2 0 1 0
Hurt, 2b 3 0 2 0 Pearson, cr 0 1 0 0
Caldwell, pr 0 0 0 0 Ebersole, ss-p 0 0 0 0
Green, lf 0 0 0 0
Total 23 9 7 6 Total 25 1 6 1
E—Ebersole, C.Plunkett. DP—Bryant 1, Van Buren 1. LOB—Bryant 8, Van Buren 4. 2B—Nelson 2, Taylor, K.Plunkett, Pultro. HR—Jackson. S—Lessenberry, Pultro, Daniel, Hurt. SF—Cross. SB—Haywood 2.
BRYANT 200 015 1 — 9
Van Buren 001 000 0 — 1
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Cross (W) 7 1 1 6 1 7
C.Plunkett (L) 5.2 7 2 4 6 4
Ebersole 1.1 1 1 3 0 1
HBP—Pultro, Cross 2 (by C.Plunkett). WP—C.Plunkett 4, Cross. PB—K.Plunkett