Tucked between two huge 7A conference games, the Bryant Hornets’ contest against former league rival, Sheridan, on Thursday looked, at the beginning of the season, like it might be a trap game, one in which it might be easy to take lightly even though the Yellowjackets are rarely an easy assignment.
But, as it turned out, it actually gave the Hornets a chance to regroup a bit after suffering a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss at Little Rock Catholic on Tuesday that snapped a record 42-game winning streak. Though they had to hang on at the end, the Hornets forged a 6-3 win over Sheridan, easing perhaps the unwanted additional pressure of going into a showdown with league rival Conway on Tuesday, April 7, coming off a loss.
Senior Drew Tipton sparked the team with a 3 for 4 day that included a pair of triples. Senior Brandan Warner drove in two runs and junior Evan Lee had two hits while senior Blake Patterson knocked in a run and pitched shutout ball for five innings.
“It’s good to get back and win,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. “It doesn’t matter how you do it — winning is winning. I’m very happy that we got back on the right track. But to continue on that track, we’re going to have to clean up some stuff. We’ve got to play with a little more intensity. I think we’re going to have to be a little bit more aggressive at the plate.”
Tipton was certainly aggressive at the plate and in the field. He singled in the first on a 1-0 count, tripled on the first pitch from Sheridan starter Hunter Strong in the third then tripled off reliever Brady Bibb on the first pitch in the sixth. When the count got long in the fourth, he was called out on a borderline 3-2 pitch.
Defensively, the centerfielder charged in to made a sprawling two-out catch on a sinking liner to center off the bat of David Vilches that saved a run in the top of the third. The Jackets had runners at first and third at the time.
The Hornets made plays all evening but, along with Tipton’s in the third, the most crucial came in the top of the seventh. Sheridan was in the midst of a rally. Trailing 6-3, the Jackets had the bases loaded with one out against Bryant reliever Alex Shurtleff. The junior right-hander fanned Vilches, the Sheridan clean-up hitter, then got a 1-2 count on designated hitter Hunter Hicks who chopped one toward shortstop Dylan Hurt. With the runner at second, Tyler Raney, making his way past him on the way to third, Hurt charged in, made the play and fired to first in time to retire Hicks by a couple of steps to end the game.
“I told the kids, I thought they did a tremendous job defensively,” Bock said. “We made some good plays. That’s a big play right there that Dylan made to end the game. With a guy in his face right there — that’s a big play. That could’ve given them more momentum (if he doesn’t make it).
“Defense has really, really come through for us this season,” he noted. “Now, if we can just get the offense — even though we scored six runs, we still didn’t have a good performance. Balls in the zone, we need to get on.”
After giving up the lead-off single to Tipton to start the home first, Strong retired the next eight batters. But Tipton plugged the gap in right center with two out in the third and Warner followed with a shot to deep center. Bibb, playing center at the time, froze for just a moment to gauge the ball, then had to sprint back toward the fence. He got a glove on it with a lunge, but it ticked off the webbing and Warner had an RBI double.
Warner hustled to third on a ball in the dirt that Sheridan catcher Evan Thompson blocked out in front of the plate. On the next pitch, Lee laced a double to right center to make it 2-0.
Patterson drew a walk then he and Lee pulled off a double steal to put both into scoring position. But Strong and the Yellowjackets got off the hook with a bouncer to second.
Meanwhile, Patterson had worked around a one-out walk to Hicks and a two-out single by Dustin Reid in the second. Tadd Daggett reached on a third-strike wild pitch to start the third. He stole second then advanced to third on Strong’s grounder to the right side. Raney hit a soft liner to Hurt at short and, after Thompson walked, Tipton robbed Vilches.
That started a stretch in which Patterson set down seven in a row, taking the shutout to the sixth.
Strong pitched around a walk to Trey Breeding and a two-out single by Jason Hastings in the fourth. In the fifth, however, Warner’s grounder to short got past Raney and the senior hustled to second. With one out, he stole third then scored on Patterson’s single to right to make it 3-0.
Seth Tucker, running for the pitcher, swiped second then Strong lost track of the strike zone. After having walked just one up to that point, the lefty issued passes to Garrett Misenheimer, Hurt and Breeding to force in a run.
Bibb relieved and faced pinch-hitter Jordan Gentry. With one out, Bock hoped to get a sacrifice fly from Gentry, who is known to hit the ball in the air. He didn’t get that but what he got worked just fine. Gentry got a piece of a 1-1 pitch and rolled it to Reid at first for an RBI groundout.
Raney opened the sixth with an infield hit. He stole second but Patterson retired Thompson and Vilches on flyballs to right. Vilches’ was deep enough for Raney to tag and take third.
Patterson then came within a strike of getting out of the inning unscathed but Hicks cracked a 1-2 delivery through the right side for an RBI single. Pinch-runner McKinley Williams then scored all the way from first on a long double by Lathan Wylie to make it 5-2.
Shurtleff relieved at that point and got Reid to bounce out to Connor Tatum at second to end the uprising.
The Hornets tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the inning when Tipton lashed his second triple into the left-field corner then scored on Warner’s sacrifice fly.
Pinch-hitter Reese Lisenbey cracked the first pitch of the seventh inning to right-center. Daggett, after fouling off a pair of two-strike deliveries, stroked a single to right.
With runners at the corners, Shurtleff got Strong to pop to Hurt but Raney pulled an RBI single to left to make it 6-3 then Thompson was struck by a pitch to load the bases for Vilches.
Shurtleff picked up a save as Patterson was credited with the win as the Hornets improved their overall record to 15-1.