By Rob Patrick
Most of the time, both a high fastball and a high change-up look like a basketball or the proverbial beach ball to[more] a batter. And both will disappear if that batter swings at them.
Now, while a fastball up in the zone usually disappears into the catcher’s mitt, a change-up that’s up tends to disappear into the night somewhere into the far reaches of the outfield or beyond.
On Friday night, Bryant Hornets’ right-hander Dylan Cross was cruising through three innings, dueling with Little Rock Central’s four-year starter Daniel Imbro. The Bryant right-hander had given up a pair of scratch singles in the first inning but got out of the jam by starting a doubleplay. That, in turn, started a string of seven in a row he retired.
Imbro had made a memorable debut against Bryant as a freshman on March 3, 2009 shutting the Hornets out, 1-0. Though they have picked up wins against the right-hander since them, the Hornets have been blanked just twice since then.
On Friday, he worked around a walk in the first, retiring six of the first seven he faced.
But, in the bottom of the third, Imbro ran into a wild streak. He walked Hayden Daniel, hit Tyler Green then walked Hayden Lessenberry to load the bases with one out. He came back to get Jordan Taylor to line out to first but Josh Pultro bounced a single up the middle that plated Daniel. Green tried to score and, on a bang-bang play, was called out at the plate to end the inning.
In the top of the fourth, Cross underwent a fit of wildness as well. It appeared that the bottom of the strike zone had moved up for both pitchers and, after Imbro drew a walk only to be forced out at second on a grounder to Ozzie Hurt by Kevin Garner, Cross appeared to get a little frustrated as Brandon Schmidt drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch that was down then Tray Bell drew a free pass on another 3-2 delivery.
So Cross and the Hornets were in the same bind that Imbro and the Tigers had been the inning before. But, instead of a base hit like Pultro got, the next Central batter, Joey Abraham (whom Cross had carved up for his first strikeout in the second) lit up a high change as the Bryant pitcher tried to adjust to the zone. Joey Abraham’s resulting drive cleared the fence in left for a grand slam that sparked the Tigers to an 8-4 win.
It was not only a stunner for the Hornets as their first 7A/6A-Central Conference loss, it was the team’s first setback overall this season. The eight runs were more than any other team had managed against them.
Central improved to 2-0 in conference play (7-2 overall) and, as a visiting coach from a rival league team surmised as he left, “They may have beaten the two toughest teams in the conference.”
On Wednesday, the Tigers had defeated Little Rock Catholic, 3-0.
The Hornets will take on the Rockets in their next league tilt on Tuesday, March 27. In the interim, they will compete in the annual Florida High School Invitational Tournament in Sanford, Fla., during spring break. In pool play, they’ll take on American Heritage of Delray Beach, Fla., on Monday, play Seminole, Fla., on Wednesday then Palm Beach, Fla., Central on Thursday. The event will conclude Friday with the winners of each pool playing for the championship. All the other teams will play a final game against the team from the opposite pool with the same final seeding.
As they had in each of their two previous games — against North Little Rock and White Hall — the Hornets tried to come from behind but the hole was too deep as Central added on in each of the final three innings.
Cross got out of the fourth with no further damage despite an error. And the Hornets got one of the runs back in the home half, sparked by Cross, who singled to lead-off the inning. Courtesy runner Austin Caldwell stole second and wound up scoring when Imbro unleashed a wild pitch that ricocheted off the shinguard of his catcher, Bell, who couldn’t find the ball.
But Imbro retired the next three batters to keep it 4-2.
Clayton Booth doubled to lead off the Central fifth then Imbro singled him home as the Tigers countered. Cross gave way to junior right-hander Nate Rutherford. He was helped when courtesy runner Theo Mitchell stole second and drew a wild throw. Mitchell headed for third but Pultro charged in from center to back up the play and gunned a throw to Taylor at third who applied the tag in time despite getting spiked.
That proved to be a big play when, an out later, Schmidt drilled a double to left-center.
Hurt singled to start the bottom of the fifth. Green bunted him to second then he advanced on a groundout by Lessenberrry. He was stranded at third, however, when Schmidt ranged far to his right to field a grounder by Taylor that initially looked like it was headed to right. Schmidt’s toss to Imbro covering first was in time to end the inning.
The Tigers hit five doubles in the game and three of those started run-scoring innings. In the sixth, it was Abraham. Though a pinch-runner came in and tried to advance on a ball in the dirt, Lessenberry made nice pick on the ball and threw him out.
A walk to Jace Alexander, however, then a wild pitch and a single by Alex Morgan added to the Central lead. Tryce Schalchlin became the third Bryant pitcher at that point and he fanned Will Crossland for the second out.
With Booth at the plate, the count ran to 3-0 but, instead of the Tigers’ batter taking a strike, he tore into the next delivery for an RBI double that made it 7-2.
Schalchlin struck out Imbro but, in the seventh, he was greeted by Garner who tomahawked a drive to center. The ball got over Pultro's head for a double after he initially misjudged it and took one false step in.
In the meantime, the Hornets were thwarted again in the bottom of the sixth. Pultro singled up the middle and, an out later, Tyler Nelson dumped a base hit into shallow right-center. After Trevor Ezell’s liner up the middle was flagged down by Morgan at short, Daniel worked a walk to load the bags for Hurt. Imbro and Hurt battled to a 2-2 count before the Central right-hander got him on a big breaking pitch, his 101st delivery of the game to end the uprising.
In the top of the seventh, Garner’s double produced another pitching change. Wesley Akers took the bump and struck out Schmidt and got Bell to fly to center. But, a stike away from ending the inning, he hit Abraham with a pitch. That brought up Alexander, who fouled off three 3-2 pitches before drilling his team’s fifth double into the left-field corner to make it 8-2.
Morgan walked to load the bags then pinch-hitter Michael McMurray made a bid to clear them with a looping fly down the left-field line. But Green raced to the ball and made a sliding catch to end the inning.
Down to their last three outs, the Hornets made some noise against Booth, who had come in to relieve. Though Green was called out on a 3-2 pitch that looked wide, Lessenberry was hit by a pitch and Taylor walked on four pitches. Both moved up a base when Pultro grounded out.
With Cross at the plate, the count went to 0-2. But Cross kept the Hornets alive with a looper down the left-field line that fell in for a two-run double.
Tyler Nelson came up and hit a roller to Imbro at short but the ball came up and he couldn’t make the play. The Hornets had runners at the corners and the potential tying run in the hole. But Booth fanned Ezell to end the game.
LITTLE ROCK CENTRAL 8, BRYANT 4
Tigers ab r h bi Hornets ab r h bi
Booth, cf-p 4 1 2 1 Green, lf 2 0 0 0
Imbro, p-ss 3 0 2 1 Lessenberry, c 2 0 0 0
Mitchell, cr 0 0 0 0 Wilson, cr 0 1 0 0
Garner, rf 4 2 2 0 Taylor, 3b 2 1 0 0
Schmidt, 1b 3 1 1 0 Pultro, 1b-cf 4 0 2 1
Bell, c 3 0 0 0 Cross, p-1b 4 0 2 2
Harvey, cr 0 1 0 0 Caldwell, cr 0 1 0 0
Abraham, 3b 3 1 2 4 Nelson, ss 4 0 1 0
Johnson, pr 0 0 0 0 Ezell, dh 4 0 0 0
Alexander, dh 3 1 1 1 Daniel, cf-rf 1 1 0 0
Morgan, ss-2b 3 1 1 1 Hurt, 2b 2 0 1 0
Crossland, lf 3 0 0 0 Tucker, rf 0 0 0 0
McMurray, ph 1 0 0 0 Rutherford, p 0 0 0 0
Thompson, 2b 0 0 0 0 Schalchlin, p 0 0 0 0
Mitchell, cf 0 0 0 0 Akers, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 30 8 11 8 Totals 25 4 6 3
Central 000 412 1 — 8
BRYANT 001 100 2 — 4
E—Nelson, Imbro. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Central 7, Bryant 8. 2B—Booth 2, Schmidt, Abraham, Garner, Cross. HR—Abraham. S—Hut, Green. SB—Caldwell, Mitchell.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Imbro (W) 6 2 1 5 4 3
Booth 1 2 2 1 1 2
Cross (L) 4 5 5 5 3 1
Rutherford 1.1 2 2 3 1 0
Schalchlin 0.2 1 1 2 0 2
Akers 1 0 0 1 1 1
Cross faced two batters in the fifth.
Schalchlin faced one batter in the seventh.
HBP—Green (by Imbro), Abraham (by Akers), Lessenberry (by Booth). WP—Imbro 2, Rutherford, Schalchlin.