By Rob Patrick
RUSSELLVILLE — On most occasions, when a baseball team leaves 16 runners on base, it’s a bitter pill. A night of tossing and turning ensues, recalling missed opportunities and the one that got away.
But, for the streaking Bryant Hornets on Thursday against the Russellville Cyclones, 16 LOB’s wasn’t the difference between winning and losing. It wound up being the difference in a close win and what could’ve been a much easier time.
The main thing is, they found a way to capture their third straight victory, climbing over the Cyclones in the 7A-Central standings with 6-4 decision at Hickey Park.[more]
And because of the jumble that the league has been in all season, the Hornets have gone from last place all by themselves 10 days ago to a game out of second place, two off the pace of the first-place Conway Wampus Cats.
The Hornets host the Cats on Tuesday, May 4. In the interim, they’re scheduled to play a non-conference contest on Saturday at 1 p.m., hosting the rival Benton Panthers, weather permitting.
Bryant improved to 19-8 overall this season, 5-6 in league play, a half game ahead of Cabot and a half game behind North Little Rock, two teams that are scheduled to play on Friday, April 30. The Hornets are a game behind the three teams tied for second in the league, Catholic, Van Buren and Central after Catholic beat Van Buren, 8-7, and Conway blasted Central, 15-4, on Thursday.
Bryant finishes the regular season with games at Cabot and at home against North Little Rock next week.
Thursday’s win was the Hornets’ third in a row after a six-game skid.
Blake Davidson, who picked up the win against Russellville with seventh-inning relief from Ben Wells, allowed just one earned run, walked one and fanned nine. He said there’s a good feeling on the team right now.
“If things fall right, we can come back and get second or third place depending on who beats who,” he acknowledged. “We definitely think we can do it. We’ve got three games left and we’re going to win out and, hopefully, we’ll get a good seed and, if things fall right, get a bye.”
First-round byes at the Class 7A State tournament go to the top two teams from the conference.
Before the current win streak, during the Hornets’ slump, they went three or four games without even having 16 base-runners, let along 16 left on. They had eight hits Thursday to go with six Russellville walks, three hit batsmen and four Cyclone errors. The only inning the Hornets were retired in order was the seventh.
“I just told them right before the last inning,” quipped Hornets head coach Kirk Bock, “I said, ‘I’m applauding you for getting 16 guys on base but, you know, I’m going to pay you if you just get them in. But they decided not to put anybody on base the last inning.
“But, hey, I’m proud of them,” he added.
Chris Joiner, who snapped out of an 0-for-13 slump with two hits on Monday in a 2-1 win over Van Buren, had two more against Russellville, a pair of ringing doubles. He drove in two as well. Garrett Bock and B.J. Ellis had two hits each. Tyler Brown and Caleb Garrett accounted for the other two safeties.
Both teams were in a giving mood early. Russellville’s hard-throwing right-hander Derek Birginske struggled wit his control at the outside. He walked Hunter Mayall, Bock and Jordan Taylor to load the bases then hit Joiner with a 1-2 pitch to force in a run. With one out, he hit Brady Butler to force in another.
Ellis then blooped a single to right to make it 3-0. And, with two down and an 0-2 count, Garrett laced a single into the teeth of the high winds coming in from right field.That made it 4-0.
Davidson eased through a 1-2-3 home first and the Hornets made a bid to add on in the top of the second. Bock singled then Taylor got a bunt down that drew a bad throw to first that wound up in the dugout allowing runners to go to second and third.
Birginske was relieved by lefty Cody Jones at that point. Jones recorded a strikeout then got Brennan Bullock to hit a one-hopper to Birginske at third. Bock was caught in a rundown and nearly slid in under the eventual tag by Jones at the plate. Jones then fanned Butler to escape the threat.
Russellville’s Eric Sanchez, who had three of his team’s six hits when the Cyclones edged the Hornets, 2-1, at Bryant on April 6, slugged a 1-1 pitch for a solo homer to dead center to open the bottom of the second.
Davidson, however, came right back to retire the next two batters and appeared to be out of the inning when Matt Lutz hit a chopper to third. Brown made a nice play on the ball but his rushed throw pulled Butler off the bag at first. Eric Turner followed with a grounder to short that Taylor couldn’t handle cleanly and the inning continued.
Nine-hole hitter Jordan Barrett hit a fly to right-center that the wind knocked down. Bock, the Bryant centerfielder, made a bid at a circus catch but the ball got down and Lutz scored. But thanks to the hustle by Garrett backing up from right field, Turner had to hold at third.
But an infield hit by Frank Chiolino — the first of his three hits in the game — got Turner home moments later and, when Chiolino got in a hot-box between first and second, Barrett scored to tie the game.
An error allowed Chiolino to reach second then James Reasoner walked, but Davidson struck out Birginske after he had fouled off three two-strike pitches.
Asked what went through his mind after the home run, Davidson said with a laugh, “My first thought was, ‘Crap!’ But mainly, after home runs, my mindset is, I’ve got to get this next guy out because those are the biggest outs, those next outs after home runs. I got a couple of outs then they hit a couple of groundballs and we threw some around but, I mean, we ended up coming back and doing what we needed to do.”
The junior wound up giving up just three more hits through the sixth inning. Brandon Turner singled with one out in the third but was doubled up when Brown snagged a liner off the bat of Hayden Hipps. Eric Turner singled and, with two down, Chiolino doubled in the fourth but a nice play by Joiner on a slow roller to second retired Reasoner and ended the inning.
That started a string of seven in a row that Davidson set down. He fanned five of the last six he faced and got some defensive help from Bock in center who tracked down another drive by Sanchez.
“He did a great job after that (homer),” Coach Bock stated. “I think he just kept them off balance. Once we figured out where the strike zone was, that we had to keep it down, I think the hits they got were when he got it up. He just stepped up. I can’t remember the last time he had a bad outing. He’s had a bad inning or so but he hasn’t had a bad game and he didn’t have a bad inning here. We just didn’t play defense behind him.”
“I just started getting down the mound and just throwing it instead of trying to over-throw,” Davidson explained. “I was getting down and throwing the ball and trying to spot up.”
In his last seven outings covering 35 innings, the right-hander has allowed just eight earned runs, an ERA of 1.60.
“I think it’s just that I’ve relaxed a lot more,” he explained. “I’ve settled down. At the beginning of the season, I was amped up. It was my first high school she-bang. Now, I’ve finally realized that I can actually do this and I’m settling down and just throwing my game. I’m a lot more confident.”
The Hornets threatened to score again in the third. Ellis’ wind-blown pop fell for a single then Brown, trying to sacrifice, reached when Jones’ throw to second was wild. Garrett sacrificed the runners to second and third then Mayall reached on an error as Reasoner, the Russellville shortstop, threw errantly to the plate as Hayden Daniel, running for Ellis, broke from third. Daniel went back to third on the play as Mayall reached safely to load the bases.
But Bock’s two-hopper to third resulted in a force at the plate and, after a seven-pitch battle, Jones got Taylor on a hard shot to Sanchez at second to force the Hornets to strand three.
In the fourth, however, Joiner pluggled the gap in left-center for a double, advanced to third when Bullock reached on an error and scored when Butler grounded into a force at second.
Bock shot a single to right with one down in the fifth. Taylor was hit by a pitch and Joiner roped one into the left-field corner for an RBI double to make it 6-4. Bullock reached on a third-strike in the dirt to load the bases for Butler. With the infield in, Butler smashed a liner right at Reasoner who knocked it down and threw home for a force. Ellis then lofted a shallow fly down the right-field line that looked like another bloop hit but Chiolino robbed him with a diving catch to end the inning with three more Hornets stranded.
Russellville had the heart of its lineup due in the bottom of the fifth but Davidson waded through them, fanning two.
Brown doubled to open the sixth and Jones gave way to another left, Lutz. Two-out walks to Bock and Taylor loaded the bases again but Lutz got Joiner to ground out to second as the Cyclones escaped further damage.
Davidson, however, struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth then gave way to Wells who needed just 11 pitches to get the save.
“He’s a typical pitcher right there at the end,” Coach Bock related. “He wanted to close it out but we had a fresh arm. And he understands that.”
Chiolino’s third hit, a single, came with one out in the bottom of the seventh, giving the Cylcones hope. They needed one more baserunner to ensure that Sanchez would get a chance to hit again. But Wells got pinch-hitter Cody Campbell to hit one back to the box. Wells reached up and stabbed it, whirled and threw to Taylor at second to start a game-ending doubleplay.
BRYANT 6, RUSSELLVILLE 4
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Mayall, dh 4 1 0 0 Chiolino, 2b-rf 4 0 3 1
Bock, cf 3 2 2 0 Reasoner, ss 3 0 0 0
Taylor, ss 1 1 0 0 Campbell, ph 1 0 0 0
Wilson, pr 0 0 0 0 Birginske, p-3b 3 0 0 0
Joiner, 2b 4 1 2 2 Sanchez, 3b-2b 3 1 1 1
Bullock, lf 5 0 0 0 B.Turner, dh 3 0 1 0
Butler, 1b 4 1 0 2 Mizes, pr 0 0 0 0
Ellis, c 5 0 2 1 Hipps, rf-c 3 0 0 0
Daniel, cr 0 0 0 0 Lutz, lf-p 3 1 0 0
Brown, 3b 3 0 1 0 E.Turner, 1b 3 1 1 0
Jobe, pr 0 0 0 0 Barrett, cf-lf 3 1 1 1
Garrett, rf 3 0 1 1 Dove, c 0 0 0 0
Davidson, p 0 0 0 0 Jones, p-cf 0 0 0 0
Wells, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 32 6 8 6 Totals 28 4 7 3
BRYANT 400 110 0 — 6
Russellville 040 000 0 — 4
E—Burginske, Brown, Taylor, Butler, Jones, Reasoner, E.Turner. DP—Bryant 2. LOB—Bryant 16, Russellville 4. 2B—Barrett, Joiner 2, Chiolino, Brown. HR—Sanchez. S—Taylor, Garrett. SB—Butler.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Davidson (W, 4-2) 6 4 1 6 1 9
Wells (S, 2) 1 0 0 1 0 0
Birginske 1 4 4 3 3 1
Jones (L) 4 2 1 5 1 3
Lutz 2 0 0 0 2 2
HBP—Joiner, Butler (by Birginske), Taylor (by Jones). WP—Jones.