RUSSELLVILLE — The first time the Bryant Hornets met the Russellville Cyclones on April 3 at[more] Bryant, Derek Birginske beat the Hornets with his arm, firing a one-hitter in a 2-1 win. In the rematch at Hickey Park on Friday, April 27, Birginske beat them with his bat.
A share of first place in the 7A/6A-Central Conference was on the line. Russellville, which will play in Class 6A come State Tournament time, all but clinched the Central title with the 6-3 win.
Bryant dropped to 20-6 overall and 9-4 in conference play. With Conway’s 5-4 win over Little Rock Central, the Hornets fell to third place, a game behind the Wampus Cats who come to Bryant on Tuesday. The winner will likely gain the league’s top seed for the Class 7A State tourney in North Little Rock.
Birginske belted an RBI double in the third and a three-run homer in the fifth to help the Cyclones, now 10-2 in the conference, build a 5-0 lead. The Hornets were shut out on just two hits over the first five frames by lefty Cody Jones, who remained unbeaten in conference games. The Cylcones, a 10-2, have only lost 2-1 to North Little Rock and 1-0 to Little Rock Central, both in games that Birgenske, an Arkansas State University signee, pitched.
Jones issued his first two walks in the sixth when the Hornets came to life and cut the lead to 5-3. After Russellville added an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth, Bryant made a bid at another rally in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with one out. But Cyclones reliever Mike Cowles speared a liner back through the box off the bat of Wesley Akers and fired to first for a game-ending doubleplay.
“(Jones) did a good job,” allowed Bryant head coach Kirk Bock. “We had a good approach about him. We wanted to hit down on the ball, create some line drives. We let it get a little bit too deep on us and we chopped some into the ground.
“At the end, we picked it up,” he continued. “We competed a lot better those last two innings than we did the first two.
“We just kind of felt our way at the beginning and that’s something we need to do a better job on,” the coach said. “Emotion matters a ton in baseball. The approach was good. The kids did a good job of executing what we wanted them to. We just didn’t compete as well as we needed to offensively.”
Bryant’s Trevor Ezell had the lone two hits against Jones. Moved to the top of the line-up for the game, Ezell reached base all four times to the plate after doing the same thing in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to Van Buren.
He gave the Hornets a chance to score first when, in the third inning, his sharp single to center was booted by Frank Chiolino, allowing him to reach second. With two down, he stole third but was stranded when Akers grounded out to Cody Cooper at third.
Bryant starter Tyler Nelson had worked a 1-2-3 first then pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the second by striking out Mitch Mullen to end the inning. In the third, he retired Jones to start off but then Chiolino doubled inside the bag at third and Birginske lined to the gap in left-center just beyond the reach of center fielder Josh Pultro’s diving attempt at a catch.
Nelson struck out Hayden Hipps then walked Eric Turner. With runners at first and third, the Cyclones tried to steal a run. Turner took off and drew a throw from Bryant catcher Hayden Lessenberry. But the throw was cut off by second baseman Ozzie Hurt who fired to the plate to nail Birginske to end the inning.
The senior right-hander worked around a two-out single to Cowles in the fourth and the game remained 1-0 until the home fifth. An error on a squibbed cue shot allowed Jones to reach base to open the inning then Nelson issued a walk to Chiolino. After a visit from Bock, Nelson’s first pitch to Birginske was blasted off the top of the fence in left-center and over for the home run that made it 4-0.
Hipps followed with a single and stole second as Turner struck out. Bock appealed to the homeplate umpire, contending that Turner had interfered with Lessenberry's throw but gained no satisfaction. With one out, a walk to James Reasoner brought a pitching change. Jordan Taylor came in and struck out Cooper but Cowles’ slapped a grounder to the right side that neither Akers, from first, nor Hurt, from second, could flag down despite diving attempts. Hipps scored but Cowles was thrown out trying to take second on the relay to the plate.
Trailing 5-0, the Hornets’ picked up the enthusiasm level in the dugout to start the bottom of the sixth. Jones issued walked to Tyler Green and Ezell then unleashed a wild pitch that allowed them to move up to second and third. With one out, Nelson turned on an inside slider and drove it into the corner in right field for a two-run triple. Jones worked Taylor to a 1-2 count but, again, tried to slip an inside breaking ball past the Hornets’ left-handed hitting senior. He drilled a grounder over the back at first and into right for an RBI double to make it 5-3.
Though pinch-runner Hayden Daniel stole third, he was stranded there as Jones got Hayden Lessenberry to pop to first and Dylan Cross to tap back to the mound to keep it 5-3.
Mitch Mullen beat out an infield hit to start the bottom of the sixth. Jones sacrificed him to second then Chiolino hit a bouncer that looked like it might be headed through the hole into left field. But Ezell, ranging over from third, made a nice stop. He rushed to his feet and fired to first but the rushed throw was errant and Mullen came on around to score a run to make it a 6-3 cushion going into the seventh.
The Hornets’ hopes for a complete comeback gained home when Blaine Jackson, pinch-hitting for Hurt, reached on an error with one out. Green snuck a single up the middle and Jones gave way to Cowles, whose first pitch ricocheted off Ezell’s helmet. That loaded the bases and brought up the potential lead run only to have Cowles rob Akers of a possible hit ending the game.
“I thought Tyler Nelson did a great job on the mound," Bock commented. "I thought Jordan came in and did a good job. Defensively, we had a couple of miscues that bit us but that’s going to happen. They had a couple of those too."
RUSSELLVILLE 6, BRYANT 3
Hornets ab r h bi Cyclones ab r h bi
Ezell, ss-3b 2 1 2 0 Jones, p-cf 3 0 0 0
Akers, 1b 4 0 0 0 Moyer, cr 0 1 0 0
Nelson, p-ss 3 1 1 2 Chiolino, cf-2b 4 1 2 4
Taylor, 3b-p 3 0 1 1 Birginske, rf 4 1 2 3
Daniel, cr 0 0 0 0 Hipps, c 4 1 2 0
Lessenberry, c 3 0 0 0 Turner, 1b 2 0 0 0
Cross, dh 3 0 0 0 Reasoner, lf 2 0 0 0
Pultro, cf 3 0 0 0 Cooper, 3b 3 0 0 0
Hurt, 2b-pr 2 0 0 0 Cowles, dh-p 2 0 2 1
Jackson, ph 1 0 0 0 Bikenovski, pr 0 0 0 0
Green, lf 2 1 1 0 Mullen, 2b-ss 3 1 1 0
Tucker, rf 0 0 0 0 Underhill, ss 0 0 0 0
Totals 26 3 5 3 Totals 26 6 9 5
BRYANT 000 003 0 — 3
Russellville 001 041 x — 6
E—Nelson 2, Chiolino, Ezell 2, Turner. DP—Russellville 1. LOB—Bryant 5, Russellville 7. 2B—Chiolino, Birginske, Taylor. 3B—Nelson. HR—Birginske. SB—Ezell, Hipps, Daniel, Birginske. S—Jones.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Nelson (L) 4.1 5 3 6 4 6
Taylor 1.2 1 0 3 0 2
Jones (W) 6.1 3 3 5 2 6
Cowles (S) 0.2 0 0 0 0 0
HBP—Ezell (by Cowles). WP—Jones 2. PB—Lessenberry.