Hornets’ 7-run seventh produces win over Fair
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continue posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
LITTLE ROCK — Sophomore outfielder A.J. Nixon didn’t start for the Bryant Hornets Monday in their first round game against the hosts of the J.A. Fair Invitational Tournament, but he had a big part in finishing.
Nixon, who subbed for starter Matt Nugent in right field after Nugent suffered a leg injury running the bases in the second inning, came to bat with one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Hornets trailing Fair’s War Eagles 9-7. He was the first to face Brian Johnson, the third Fair pitcher of the inning.
Johnson’s first delivery missed the strike zone. His second, Nixon sliced into the right-field corner to drive in two runs that tied the game and sparked the Hornets’ seven-run rally which produced a 13-9 victory.
Dustin Morris, who had three hits in the game, provided the winning stroke. With Nixon at second and Zach Martin, who had walked, at third, Johnson walked Matt White to load the bases for Morris. On a 1-1 delivery, Morris ripped a single to left that Fair outfielder Kelvin Robinson misplayed.
Martin and Nixon scored easily and when Robinson loafed after the ball, so did White. Morris, hustling all the way, rounded third and beat a throw to the plate as well.
Senior left-hander Brad Chism, after struggling through a five-run third inning in relief of starter Kevin Littleton, worked his fourth scoreless inning in the bottom of the seventh to nail down the victory, the Hornets’ second in as many games.
It wasn’t an easy bottom of the seventh, however, as Kasey Ott and Paul Heer led off the inning with back-to-back singles. But Chism fanned James Johnson on a pitch in the dirt. Bryant catcher Cody Graddy blocked the pitch then, with Ott trying to take third, pounced on the ball which had ricocheted in front of the plate and gunned him down for a doubleplay.
Chism then had to face Fair lead-off hitter Zac Bradley who had homered in his first three times at bat, driving in seven of his team’s runs. Chism, who gave up the third of those blasts, had fanned Bradley in the fifth. He worked the count to 3-2 then got him on a bouncer to Beau Hamblin at third to end the game.
“I just came out and tried to do my job,” Chism said. “I got the chance and did what I was supposed to. My change-up was working a lot. My curveball wasn’t really doing anything. I was hitting my spots with my fastball but my change-up had them off balance.”
“I knew that I messed up when I threw (the home run pitch to Bradley),” he added. “But you’ve got to put every pitch behind you after it’s thrown. It’s done, you’ve got to go on to the next guy. I just tried to make the next one count. I had my teammates behind me making plays and the sticks came along finally and we got back up on top.”
The Hornets jumped on Bradley, the Fair starter for six runs in the first three innings. In the first, Morris ripped a one-out double then advanced to third on a passed ball. Brandon Nichols singled him home. Nichols then swiped second and took third on an errant throw. He scored when Hamblin fought off a 2-2 delivery and rolled out to first.
Bradley’s first homer led off the bottom of the inning and cut the lead to 2-1. Littleton hit a batter and walked a couple later in the inning, but got out of the scrape by fanning Ott.
In the second, Bradley walked Luke Brown. Martin singled and Nugent walked to load the bases. A run scored when White grounded to first then two more raced home on Morris’ second double of the game.
But Fair got those runs back in the bottom of the inning when Bradley smacked a three-run dinger. After a walk to Randall Lee, Chism was brought in to pitch. He got Zack Davis to ground into a force at second and Brian Johnson to fly to right. Andy Ross reached base on an error but Graddy picked Davis off second to retire the side.
Graddy then made it 6-4 with a solo home run with one out in the top of the third.
Chism gave up a single to Chris Butler to start the bottom of the inning but then struck out Ott. He walked Heer. James Johnson followed with a grounder towards third that might’ve been good for an inning-ending doubleplay. But the ball was booted and Butler scored. With two on, Bradley then cracked his third home run to give his team an 8-6 lead.
Lee singled and later made it 9-6 on a bloop hit by Brian Johnson.
Both Bradley and Chism settled in after that. Bryant got a runner to third in the fourth then left two on in the sixth. Chism pitched a 1-2-3 fourth then got around a lead-off single in the fifth when Graddy threw out the would-be stealer. In the sixth, a single and an error had two on with one out, but the Hornets turned a doubleplay to keep it 9-6.
Bryant’s tell-tale seventh began when Hamblin reached safely on an error. Matt Brown, who had three hits in the game, followed with an RBI double.
Bradley gave way to Davis who retired Graddy but walked Luke Brown and Martin to set up Nixon.
The Hornets were supposed to play again on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s Russellville-Little Rock Central game, but rains prevented Tuesday’s contests, so the game figured to be re-scheduled.