Hornets find a way, edge Conway to retain league lead

For more photos of this event by Rick Nation, go here

Zion Collins backhands a grounder into the hole at short. (Photo by Rick Nation)

The top-ranked Bryant Hornets managed just four hits, but it was enough to take advantage of nine walks, an error, and a hit batsman by the Conway Wampus Cats. Behind stellar pitching from Austin Ledbetter, Peyton Dillon and Coby Greiner, the Hornets eked out a 5-3 win at Bryant High School Field on Tuesday night.

The Hornets improved to 20-2 overall this season and 6-0 in the 6A-Central Conference. They lead Little Rock Catholic by two games, Conway, Cabot and Little Rock Central by three going into this Friday’s home doubleheader against Fort Smith Northside. Bryant and Catholic will play for the first time this season on Tuesday, April 16, at Bryant.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Hornets coach Travis Queck. “I don’t necessarily like the way we’re playing. 

“This senior class has been through a lot of one-run games, a lot of battles with this crew right here (Conway),” he noted. “For them to hang in there and get the win, it’s big. It is. We just keep plugging away.

Peyton Dillon takes a throw at first to double off Conway’s Reed Hughes. (Photo by Rick Nation)

“But we’ve got to fix our mentality,” the coach asserted. “We’ve got to fix our approach and focus, or it’s going to come back and get us when we least expect it. Hopefully, it’s not when it’s the last one.”

Ledbetter cruised through four innings with a two-hit shutout while he and his teammates built a 5-0 lead. He fanned five, walked one and only allowed singles by Carson Cahill, with two outs in the second, and Colby Cormell, with one out in the third. His walk came in the fourth with one out allowing Reed Hughes to reach base. But Hughes was doubled off first when he was off a running on a liner to Gage Stark in right. Stark came in to grab the drive and threw to Dillon at first for the doubleplay.

The Hornets struck for three runs in the second inning without a hit. Conway right-hander Ben Weese hit Jake Wright with a pitch and, an out later, walked Stark and Dillon. After a pitching change, Trevor Shelton unleashed a wild pitch allowing Wright to score as he walked Greiner.

Austin Ledbetter delivers a pitch. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Shelton then got Logan Chambers to grounder to second. The Cats got a force but the relay to first was wild allowing both Stark and Dillon to score.

With runners at second and third, Noah Davis made a bid for a hit but his shot to right was tracked down by Cormell.

In the third, Ledbetter led off with a single up the middle then Cade Drennan chopped one over the third baseman’s head for another knock. Wright beat out a bunt single when no one covered first, loading the bases.

Despite the fact that no one was out, when Logan Grant hit a comebacker to Shelton, he whirled and threw to second to try to start a conventional doubleplay as Lawson Speer, running for Ledbetter, scored. 

Wright was out but the relay to first was late as Grant picked up the RBI.

Stark worked a walk to fill the sacks again for Peyton, who delivered the fifth run with a sacrifice fly to left.

Logan Chambers take a cut. (Photo by Rick Nation)

Conway rallied in the top of the fifth. Cahill cracked his second single and, after Ledbetter struck out Weese, Joe Voss singled to center. Cormell walked on four pitches to load the bases and Dillon was called in to relieve.

With shortstop Zion Collins and second baseman Davis back looking for a doubleplay, Conway’s Cade Stuart hit a nubber between short and third that didn’t even reach the dirt of the infield. He beat it out for an RBI single.

James Hicks followed with a line drive to right that would’ve, no doubt, been a sacrifice fly but it ricocheted off the top of Stark’s glove for an error. Voss scored, and the Cats had runners at second and third with one out.

Dillon fanned White, but Reed Hughes singled to left to make it 5-3. With the potential lead run at the plate, Dillon induced a roller to his left that he was able to get to in time to throw out Clay Tollett at first.

“That’s huge,” said Queck of the miscue and the extra run. “That’d be one more run. You assume he tags up (at third) right there. So, it’d been two runs instead of three because the next guy struck out. When you’re talking about conference points and seedings, that’s huge — one more run. Then, in the sixth inning, we had two guys on and if we could get them in, now you’re back out to five (the maximum). 

“I know our kids aren’t thinking that way, but we need to start thinking that way and having that sense of urgency,” he asserted.

Austin Rainey had relieved for Conway in the bottom of the fourth and pitched around a two-out double by Ledbetter and a walk to Drennan. In the fifth, Jevin Womack took over on the mound for the Cats and walked Grant.

Grant stole second but then was thrown out trying to steal third. Womack retired the next two batters to send it to the sixth.

In the top half, Dillon needed just four pitches to retire the Cats in order. A splendid headlong dive at third to catch a liner of Cahill’s bat by Chambers on the second pitch of the inning, helped out.

In the home sixth, Greiner drew a walk but was out at second when Chambers grounded to short. Davis lined out to deep left but then Ledbetter worked a walk. On the first pitch to Drennan, Chambers and Ledbetter tried a double steal. Chambers made it easily to third but Cahill, the Conway catcher, alertly threw to second and nailed the trail runner to retire the side.

“I think we’ve got to be smarter on the base paths,” Queck said. “I think maybe I’ve given a little too much freedom. We’re going to talk about it, reign it back and talk about situations and execution. We’ve got to have the execution from the short game to stealing bags and all that, and then the focus; the focus and the details.

“There’s no way that’s a championship ballclub right there for us,” he stated. “We’ll get beat many times over if we keep playing like that.”

The pitching, however, remained tough. Greiner took over in the top of the seventh and set down the Wampus Cats 1-2-3 to pick up his fourth save of the season.

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