For more photos from this event by Kevin Nagle, go here
At the plate and on the mound, the time to grind arrived for the Bryant Hornets after a disappointing 1-0 loss at Cabot earlier this week.
And the Hornets responded Thursday by grinding out a 5-1 win over the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats at Bryant High School Field.
At the plate, the Hornets used three sacrifice bunts — and another that went for a single — a pair of sacrifice flies and a couple of North Little Rock errors with five other timely hits to produce the five runs.
On the mound, Will McEntire grinded through 87 pitches in seven innings and worked around six hits by not allowing a walk and striking out nine in going the route for the win, which improved the Hornets to 13-4-1 overall and 5-1 in the 7A-Central Conference.
The victory set up a first-place showdown on the road against the Conway Wampus Cats on Tuesday, April 10.
Bryant freshman Austin Ledbetter, fresh from making a verbal commitment to accept a scholarship offer for college (already) with the University of Arkansas, doubled, walked and was hit by a pitch, driving in two runs and scoring another. Senior Matthew Sandidge beat out a bunt single, contributed a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly while senior Brandon Hoover, who grinded out at-bats as much as anyone, had a sacrifice fly, a walk on which he fouled off a pair of 3-2 pitches, and reached on an error by hustling to first when his grounder to short was merely bobbled to get the Hornets’ fifth run home.
Logan Chambers, Logan Catton, Scott Schmidt and Myers Buck each had hits as well for the Hornets.
“We played a little small ball and tried to manufacture some stuff,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Travis Queck. “They gave us one with the wild pitch. At this juncture in the year, you take whatever they give you.
“But we found a way to start driving in runs for ourselves,” he noted. “Now, we didn’t do it all the time and it wasn’t perfect. The guys are still working the process.”
Regarding the process, Queck explained, “We always revert back to timing. Everything we’re doing is based on timing. What we’re trying to do is focus more on that, while spending a little bit of time working on mechanical mistakes. If we square it up, we know we’re on time, based on the situation. If we’re hitting underneath the baseball but we were on time, that’s a mechanical error. It’s things we’re having conversations about. And, you know, I’m not so sure we’re not thinking a little bit too much.”
Coming into the game, the Hornets had scored three runs total in three of their last four games.
“We’ve got to be a little more athletic,” Queck asserted. “We’ve got to be more confident in our abilities. Some of us did it (tonight) and some are still hesitant.”
McEntire started the game by hitting Desmond Cordova and surrendering a single to Weston McGhee. But he got out of the inning unscathed by getting Alex Cauley to fly to Ledbetter in left, then striking out the next two batters.
He worked around a two-out error in the second.
The Hornets broke out on top in the home second when Ledbetter hustled for a double off a liner to right-center. Sandidge followed with his perfect bunt towards third that went for a hit. Hoover made a bid for extra bases with a drive down the right-field line but a sprawling catch by North Little Rock’s John Henry Maloch robbed him. It was, however, good enough for his sacrifice fly.
In the third, Cordova singled and McGhee sacrificed courtesy runner Deshaun Cordova to second. He then stole third and, after McEntire fanned Cauley, he got the first two pitches in for strikes against Christian Litton. But the secnd strike was foul tip that dinged his catcher, Wright.
He was able to walk it off but when play resumed, McEntire’s 0-2 delivery was smacked into the left-field corner for an RBI double that tied the game 1-1.
McEntire came back to strike out Grant Shahan to keep it deadlocked.
“I didn’t think he was as sharp as I’ve seen him,” Queck said of McEntire. “But he battled. He had some short innings toward the end of the game which allowed him to complete the whole thing. And we really needed that.”
Indeed, the third was the last time North Little Rock was able to get more than one runner on base in an inning.
And Bryant regained the lead in the bottom of the third. Buck lashed a single to left, was sacrificed to second by Chambers, took third on Coby Greiner’s grounder to the right side and scored on a wild pitch.
McEntire fanned two more in the top of the fourth after an infield hit by Maloch. Trying to steal, Maloch was thrown out by Wright with second baseman Scott Schmidt making a tremendous tag on the play.
In the top of the fifth, Dezmond Cordova singled with one out but McEntire fanned McGhee and Cauley.
The Hornets broke the game open a bit in the bottom of the fifth, chasing deliberate North Little Rock starter Trent Bunting. Chambers got the inning started with a one-out drive to the base of the wall in right for a double. Greiner’s grounder to short was booted then Schmidt came through with a sharp single to left to load the bases.
Side-winder Hudson Hart was called in to relieve at that point and issued an RBI walk to Ledbetter and a sacrifice fly to deep right by Sandidge. Schmidt scored when Hoover’s grounder to short was slightly bobbled and Hoover beat the late throw to first.
With a 5-1 lead, McEntire continued to pound the strike zone. He allowed a lead-off single to Litton in the top of the sixth but then retired the last six batters he faced to finish the game with the help of his defense.