Hornets answer Cabot rally for 7-5 win at State
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be 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
FORT SMITH — Two years ago, the Bryant Hornets came into the Class 7A State Tournament in Springdale as the No. 1 seed from[more] the 7A-Central Conference, winning their first conference championship under head coach Kirk Bock.
That same year, the Cabot Panthers came in as the No. 5 seed from the Central. Due to rainy weather, the first two days of the tournament were limited to one game. So some of the teams had to double up when it resumed on a Monday. Cabot managed an 8-6 win over Rogers early then came back to play the Hornets that afternoon. And the Panthers stunned the champs, 7-4.
This season, the Hornets again captured the conference title and the league’s No. 1 seed and Cabot, as the No. 5 seed once more, knocked off its first-round opponent, Springdale Har-Ber, 8-7, on Friday to get another shot at the Hornets on Saturday. And there were moments when it looked like history might repeat.
Only the Bryant seniors would remember that 2009 experience but, nonetheless, the Hornets refused to let history repeat, scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth to snap a 5-5 tie and, behind tough, efficient work on the mound by Jordan Taylor and some solid defense, they earned a 7-5 win at Forsgren Field at the Fort Smith Evans Boys and Girls Club.
As a result, the Hornets take on another league rival, the Little Rock Catholic Rockets, who ousted Bentonville Saturday, also by a 7-5 score. The semifinal game will be played at Crowder Field at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith on Monday at 4 p.m. It’s a rematch of the 2010 semifinal which Bryant won 1-0 on its way to its first State championship.
In the other semifinal, Central runner-up Conway, a 12-3 winner over North Little Rock on Saturday, will take on Rogers Heritage, the champion and lone surviving member of the 7A-West. Heritage advanced past Little Rock Central, 14-4.
Taylor went the distance on the mound for Bryant on Saturday. Though he surrendered nine hits, he walked just two and needed just 78 pitches. Only three of the five Cabot runs were earned.
“The plan was to just work low and get ahead and throw off-speed for strikes,” Taylor said afterwards. “We’ve been talking about how, if we don’t get any walks or any errors, then there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to win.”
And free passes made a difference. The Hornets benefitted from seven walks and two hit batsman with five key hits including two by sophomore catcher Hayden Lessenberry who drove in three runs as well from the nine hole in the lineup.
Senior Chris Joiner had a key triple and a sacrifice fly to drive in the final run. He also walked twice. Senior Tyler Brown started the sixth-inning uprising with a single. Senior Landon Pickett not only smacked a solo homer and placed a perfect sacrifice bunt, he made a big play defensively to save a run and contributed a chunk of his chin.
“We didn’t compete real well the first two times,” Bock said, referring to the regular-season twinbill. “And we did today. We competed. We knew we could beat them because we have. On the backside of that, we knew that they could beat us because they have. The kids played well. They played loose. They did a good job. J.T. did an excellent job.”
Bryant had overcome a 3-2 deficit and led 5-3 going into the sixth. Taylor had retired seven in a row and had an 0-2 count on Justin Goff who poked a double down the right field line. After Taylor fanned Cole Nicholson, he hit Tyler Cole to put runners at second and third. Casey Vaughn struck out then the count went to 0-2 on Daniel Fox, the ninth man in the Panthers’ order.
Like Goff, Fox slapped Taylor’s 0-2 pitch to right for a base hit. And when the ball took a bad hop past right-fielder Evan Jobe, both Goff and Cole scored while Fox wound up at third, tying the game.
Taylor got lead-off man Bryson Morris to bounce out to Ozzie Hurt at second to force the Panthers to leave the go-ahead run at third.
“We talked to them about it before hand as far as it being real rough out there,” Bock mentioned, regarding the field’s rugged terrain which benefitted the Hornets earlier. “We wanted to just make sure you body-up. And (Jobe) did. He tried. It just came up. It was one of those things. It was ruled an error but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. He tried to body-up on it.”
“I really wasn’t too worried,” Taylor said of the situation. “I had confidence that the guys would come in and we’d get some runs back. It was just my job to hold it there and keep it there until we were able to get something going. And when we got something to continue to keep them there.”Sure enough, the Hornets got the two runs back to provide the winning margin.
“The guys responded,” Bock acknowledged. “We knew we could hit them if we were just patient enough and let the ball get deep.”
Brown’s lead-off single came against right-hander Dustin Morris, the third Cabot pitcher. Moments later, Taylor was attempting to sacrifice but was hit by a pitch, putting runners at second and third. Pickett, the Hornets’ clean-up batter, came through with a bunt that got the runners to second and third.
With the infield in, Dylan Cross hit a grounder to Nicholson at short. With Hayden Daniel, running for Brown, breaking to the plate on contact, Nicholson came up with the ball and fired home. But his throw short-hopped his catcher Tyler Carter and Daniel slid in safely with the go-ahead run.
With Trent Rivers, running for Taylor, at third, Joiner delivered the sacrifice fly to right to make it 7-5.
In the top of the seventh, Jason Kimbrell led off with a perfect bunt up the third-base line for a base hit to give the Panthers hope with the middle of their lineup set to bat. Carter hit a pop behind short that the wind nearly blew beyond the reach of junior Tyler Nelson. But Nelson stayed with it and made the catch despite having to reach back so far he fell.
Brandon Surdam flew out to Jobe in right then Goff hit a pop into shallow right-center that Hurt hustled back to catch to end the game.
A cold wind was blasting out to center as the game commenced. The flag beyond the outfield fence was starched out most of the day. Taylor worked a 1-2-3 first but the Hornets were unable to take advantage of Nelson being hit a pitch and Pickett drawing a two-out walk in the bottom of the frame.
Cabot started sophomore Ryan Logan, who had shackled Bryant after a rough start in one of the regular-season games. He gave up three in the first but shut out the Hornets the rest of the way. Logan, a soft-tossing lefty, had worked three innings of relief to get the win Friday against Har-Ber. He wound up working into the third against the Hornets.
In the top of the second, Surdam singled but the Hornets efficiently turned a 5-4-3 doubleplay.
Nicholson followed and got the ball up into the wind, nearly driving a 1-1 pitch out. But it hit off the wall. The Hornets worked the relay nicely and almost got Nicholson at second with Pickett hustling from first to cover the second-base bag. When the throw came in, however, he tumbled over Nicholson and suffered a gash on his chin.
After he was tended to by athletic trainer Christa Finney, Pickett returned.Cole then cracked a hard grounder toward Nelson at short. He made a nice sliding stab to his right, bounced up and fired to first. The ball, however, skipped in to Pickett who made a difficult scoop for the out that ended the threat.
Joiner then opened the bottom of the second with a shot to right for a triple. An out later, Jobe hit a grounder to second that stayed down and threw the wickets of Cole at second. Joiner, off with contact, scored the game’s first run.
And, after Jobe moved up on a wild pitch, Lessenberry went oppo with a shot between Kimbrell at first and the bag. The result was an RBI double and a 2-0 Bryant lead.
Cabot answered, however, with a three-run uprising, starting with a scratch hit by Vaughn that appeared to be headed up the middle only to have Nelson make a spectacular diving stab. He was unable to right himself in time to make a strong throw and Vaughn reached.
Fox sacrificed him to second then Bryson Morris walked. Kimbrell flew out to right to get Taylor and the Hornets within an out of escaping unscathed. On the next delivery, however, Carter pulled an RBI single to left. Surdam’s single up the middle tied the game then Goff doubled inside the line at third to plate the go-ahead run.
Nicholson was given an intentional walk to load the bases then Taylor got Cole to fly to left to end the uprising.
Trailing 3-2, the Hornets responded immediately. With one out in the bottom of the inning, Pickett smacked his fourth home run of the season over the fence in right to tie it. Logan ran out of gas at that point and issued consecutive walks to Cross, Joiner and Josh Pultro to load the bags. Jeffery Brown was called in to relieve but, with two down, issued a walk to Lessenberry to force in a run that put the Hornets back in front.
With Taylor mowing down the Panthers, the Hornets tacked on a run in the fifth. Brown, who had worked a 1-2-3 fourth, walked Cross to start the fifth. Pinch-runner Tyler Green was picked off first but took off for second and slid in safely, beating the relay from Kimbrell. Joiner drew another walk and Dustin Morris relieved. He recorded a pair of outs and was a strike away from keeping it 4-3 when Lessenberry muscled a flair into shallow left center. Green came flying home and Bryant led by two going into the tell-tale sixth.
BRYANT 7, CABOT 5
Class 7A State Tournament, Fort Smith
Panthers ab r h bi Hornets ab r h bi
B.Morris, lf 3 1 0 0 Nelson, ss 3 0 0 0
Kimbrell, 1b 4 0 1 0 T.Brown, 3b 3 0 1 0
Carter, c 4 0 1 1 Daniel, pr 0 1 0 0
Thomas, cr 0 1 0 0 Taylor, p 3 0 0 0
Surdam, cf 4 0 2 1 Rivers, cr 0 1 0 0
Goff, 3b 4 1 2 1 Pickett, 1b 2 1 1 1
Burnett, pr 0 0 0 0 Cross, dh 2 1 0 0
Nicholson, ss 2 0 1 0 Green, pr 0 1 0 0
Cole, 2b 2 1 0 0 Jones, pr 0 0 0 0
Vaughn, dh 3 1 1 0 Joiner, lf 1 1 1 1
Fox, rf 2 0 1 1 Pultro, cf 3 0 0 0
Logan, p 0 0 0 0 Jobe, rf 3 1 0 1
J.Brown, p 0 0 0 0 Lessenberry, c 2 0 2 3
D.Morris, p 0 0 0 0 Wilson, cr 0 0 0 0
Totals 28 5 9 4 Totals 22 7 5 6
Cabot 003 002 0 — 5
BRYANT 022 012 x — 7
E—Cole, Jobe, Nicholson. DP—Bryant 1. LOB—Cabot 6, Bryant 9. 2B—Nicholson, Lessenberry, Goff 2. 3B—Joiner. HR—Pickett. SB—Green. S—T.Brown, Fox, Pickett. SF—Joiner.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Logan 2.1 4 3 3 4 3
J.Brown 1.2 1 1 0 3 4
D.Morris (L) 2 2 0 2 0 2
Taylor (W, 6-2) 7 5 3 9 2 2
HBP—Nelson (by Logan), Cole (by Taylor), Taylor (by D.Morris). WP—Logan.