File photos by Kevin Nagle
LITTLE ROCK — Through four innings, the Bryant Hornets had established a 4-0 lead and right-hander Will McEntire had just set down six batters in a row, including four on strikes.
It looked like the Bryant Hornets were cruising.
In the fifth, Gage Stark tripled but was stranded for the Hornets then, in the home half, a two-out error on a routine infield grounder opened a door for the Little Rock Central Tigers at Buddy Coleman Field.
Back-to-back hits produced a run then a double steal made it 4-2. A walk and a steal of third had runners at the corners with Central clean-up hitter Mason Gresham at the plate. McEntire struck him out to keep it 4-2.
The Hornets tacked on an insurance run in the top of the seventh and the Hornets earned a 5-2 victory to improve to 17-6-1 overall and 7-3 in 7A-Central Conference play. Central, fresh from a win on Thursday over a good Sylvan Hills team, dropped to 5-17 overall and 0-10 in league play, though you would hardly realize that from watching them play the Hornets tough on Friday.
Bryant pulled into a tie for second in the 7A-Central with the Cabot Panthers, who lost 2-0 to Conway, the unbeaten league leader. The Hornets travel to play Fort Smith Southside on Tuesday, April 24, then host Cabot in a showdown on Friday, April 27.
McEntire allowed five hits, walked three and struck out nine. He allowed a two-out single on his 104thpitch to C.J. Price in the bottom of the seventh and Coby Greiner came on to retire Javii Goins Jr., to end the game.
“We cannot be giving people things this time of year because they’ve cleaned up throughout the year and fixed their mistakes that maybe got them earlier in the year,” said Hornets head coach Travis Queck regarding the two-out error that led to Central’s runs in the fifth. “It could’ve very easily turned on us. I mean, they had the tying run of first base.
“They were up there swinging,” he noted. “They were hacking. It gave them a little momentum and it was just a simple ground ball. We’ve got to have that.”
The Hornets grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning and might’ve blown the game up early. Logan Chambers led off the game with a single to right. He took second on a wild pitch. With one out, Scott Schmidt knocked one off the wall in left-center for an RBI double. Austin Ledbetter drew a walk and Jake Wright burned the left-fielder for an RBI double.
Though the Hornets had runners at second and third and one out, they were unable to add on. Brandon Hoover drew a two-out walk to load the bases but Paden Christman, the Central starter on the mound, recorded his third strikeout of the inning to end the uprising, forcing the Hornets to strand three.
It kept his team in the game.
“I thought we had something going,” Queck said. “We struck out three times that first inning. That’s the fourth time in the last eight innings where we had three K’s to get the three outs. “There’s just no productivity in that,” he asserted. “And you can get a productive out by striking out but you better battle to eight or nine pitches. We’ve got to start focusing on having productive at-bats and stop looking at the results because it sometimes beats you down. Just compete, be a tough out.
“We’re going to address it,” he pledged. “We’re going to work on it and we’re going to move forward. Those guys weren’t going to beat us with the fastball. There’s no reason to get amped up. Just see it out of the hand and let’s meet the baseball.”
Christman pitched around a one-out error in the second then retired the Hornets in order in the third.
Meanwhile, McEntire worked around a pair of walks and a single in the bottom of the first, aided by a doubleplay started by Scott Schmidt. He finished the inning with a strikeout to start a stretch in which he retired 12 of 13 batters, interrupted only by a lead-off single by Ty Barrett in the third.
In Bryant’s fourth, Hoover whacked a single to right and Logan Catton got a sacrifice bunt down that not only moved Hoover to second successfully but, when Christman misplayed it, it allowed Catton to reach safely.
Myers Buck then came through with an RBI single up the middle to extend a hitting streak to six games.
With one out, Greiner got a bunt down on a safety squeeze. Gresham the Central catcher pounced on the bunt, looked at Catton, who froze on his way down the line from third, then threw to first to retire Greiner.
Catton, meanwhile, was already a third of the way home and as soon as Gresham released his throw to first, he came charging down the line. He scored and when a rushed return throw from Joey McCracken at first got away, Buck wound up at third.
Though Buck was stranded, the Hornets held a 4-0 lead.
McEntire struck out the side in the bottom of the fourth. That set up the fifth. McEntire got the first two outs on grounders to second. A third grounder was booted. Price followed with an infield hit and Goins Jr., ripped an RBI single to right-center. Price wound up at third and when Goins Jr., took off on a steal of second, drawing a throw, Price sprinted home just beating the return throw from Greiner at short.
Christman walked and represented the tying run when McEntire fanned Gresham.
McCracken, on in relief of Christman, pitched around a one-out walk in the top of the sixth and, in the home half, McEntire struck out the side.
In the top of the seventh, Ledbetter drew a free pass and, on a wild pitch that Gresham couldn’t find, he sprinted to third. Wright drew a walk then Stark made a bid for another extra-base hit only to be robbed at the base of the fence in right-center by Central centerfielder K.J. Richardson.
Still, Ledbetter tagged and scored to make it 5-2.
McEntire got the first two outs of the home seventh. Peyton Perry bunted but the Bryant pitcher got off the mound, got to the ball and threw him out at first. Barrett flew out to Buck in right.
Back at the top of the order, Price singled to right and Queck turned to Greiner whose fifth pitch was bounced to Schmidt at second for the final out.