Moments after taking a line drive off his chest and surrendering a single that turned a 3-0 lead into a 3-2 nail-biter, Blake Patterson struck out Van Buren’s Hunter Hogan to close out a crucial victory for the Bryant Hornets against a 7A rival in the 7A/6A-Central Conference.
The Hornets came into the game 0-2 in league games against 7A teams, both losses by one run. In each of the losses, it was Bryant that had the tying run in scoring position when the game concluded only to Little Rock Catholic escape with a 3-2 win and Conway survive a 13-inning game with an 8-7 victory.
On Thursday, it was the Hornets’ turn.
Now at 1-2 against 7A teams in the league, the Hornets are tied with Van Buren and Catholic with Conway in the driver’s seat at 3-0 entering the second round of the 7A conference slate.
Bryant is 18-2 overall and 5-2 in the Central as a whole but only games against 7A teams count towards qualifying for the State Tournament. The Hornets travel to Russellville on Friday for a doubleheader against the 6A Cyclones, step out of conference to play at Pine Bluff on Monday, April 20, then host Catholic in a rematch on Friday, April 24. Conway will travel to Van Buren that day.
Bryant’s one-run games have not been the only ones among the 7A teams. Just last Tuesday, Conway edged Catholic, 3-2, in eight innings. Van Buren had lost to Conway 6-2 but defeated Catholic’s Rockets, 6-0.
“I think we’re all about the same,” said Bryant coach Kirk Bock. “It’s whoever gets the breaks. I’m happy we fought. We hung in there and we did a good job.
Right-hander Taylor Anders tossed that shutout for the Pointers and he was on the mound against the Hornets, dueling with Bryant ace Blaine Knight who took the shutout into the seventh. Knight fanned 10, walked one and hit one. He gave up seven hits but worked his way out of jams in which Van Buren had runners in scoring position in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings. He came with an out of going the distance but, after an infield hit to Zed Steinmetz and a hit batsman that put him at 103 pitches for the game, Bock called on Patterson.
Patterson was a strike away from ending it when Catron ripped a liner right back at the Hornet hurler. It drilled him just to the right of his sternum, ricocheted away and Catron reached to load the bases.
Patterson worked it full to the next batter, Spencer Rapin, but the Pointers’ clean-up hitter slapped a single to right that drove in the two runs and chased Rapin to third. That brought up Hogan who whiffed on a 1-2 breaking pitch to end the game.
Patterson also played a key role at the plate. He singled in one of the runs in Bryant’s two-run third. In the fifth, he belted a one-out triple to deep right-center. With two out, Dylan Hurt walked. With Connor Tatum at the plate, Hurt took a huge lead at first and drew a throw. He got caught in a rundown and Patterson sprinted toward the plate. Pointers’ first baseman Ty Callahan threw to Steinmetz, the shortstop, to try to nail Hurt before Patterson could score. But, in his rush to make a tag, Steinmetz missed the ball and the Hornets had a 3-0 lead.
It was obviously a crucial run considering how the game turned out but also because Bryant stranded nine base-runners.
“I kept saying that two runs was not going to win this thing,” Bock related. “That’s one thing I talk to the kids about. We never know which run is the winning run. It may be the 19th run. We have no idea. So you’ve got to work hard for everything you get.”
“That was a good pitcher,” he added. “Their kid (Anders) did a good job. And I thought Blaine did a fine job.”
Knight pitched around singles by Jake Bogner and Catron in the first, fanning Rapin and Hogan. In turn, Anders worked around a lead-off single to Drew Tipton and a two-out walk to Evan Lee.
In the second, the Pointers were set down in order but the Hornets made more noise and came within an eyelash of scoring. Garrett Misenheimer beat out an infield hit off of Anders’ glove. An out later, Tatum cracked a single to left-center. Jason Hastings drove a hard grounder into the hole at short. Steinmetz made a nice play and threw to third to try to force Misenheimer but Dalton Kelley couldn’t hold the throw.
So the Hornets had the bases loaded with one out and Tipton at the plate. He poked the first pitch up the middle only to have Steinmetz rob him of a hit, step on second for a force and relay to first. On a bang-bang play, the speedy Tipton was called out completing the inning-ending doubleplay.
Knight again struck out two to escape from a jam in the top of the third. Steinmetz had singled and Bogner followed with a double.
The Hornets finally broke through in the third when Anders issued walks to Brandan Warner and Trey Breeding. Lee came through in the clutch, bouncing a single into right to chase in Warner then Patterson dragged a bunt up the first-base line and beat it out for an RBI single.
Lee tagged and went to third on Dylan Hurt’s fly to right-center then Patterson stole second uncontested. Tatum followed with a beautiful bunt down the third-base line that looked line another RBI hit. But Kelley charged in from third and rifled a throw to first that nipped Tatum by less than half a step to keep it 2-0.
Hogan and Anders singled in the top of the fourth but Knight wriggled off the hook. He then pitched a 1-2-3 fifth.
After the Hornets tacked on the third run in the bottom of the fifth, Rapin started the sixth with a double and Knight issued his lone walk to Hogan. But Dalton Kelley lined to Tatum at second. Tatum doubled Rapin off second and when Knight got Anders to fly to Hastings in right, the inning was over.
Anders had his only 1-2-3 innings in the bottom of the sixth leading to the dramatic finish.