Hornets rally past North Little Rock to advance to all-Central semifinals
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this time of COVID-19, with no sports action, BryantDaily.com will be posting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By Rob Patrick
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — When the Bryant Hornets baseball team is playing well — like when they won 15 of third first 16 games at the start of the regular season or when they closed it out with six straight wins — playing from behind is no bid deal. In fact, the Hornets trailed in 11 of their 22 wins going into Saturday’s Class 7A State tournament quarterfinal game against the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats.
Make it 12 of 23.
Down to its last nine outs, Bryant rallied to forge a 2-2 tie in the fifth then scored the go-ahead run in the sixth. Senior ace Ben Wells brought it home from there and the Hornets advanced to the semifinals — a win away from playing for a State championship — with a 3-2 win over their 7A-Central Conference rival.[more]
The Hornets will take on Little Rock Catholic, a 3-2 winner over Rogers Heritage Saturday, on Monday at 6:30 p.m., at DeSalvo Stadium in Burns Park in their bid to reach the State championship game for just the second time in the program’s history.
It’ll be an all-Central final four too as Conway eliminated four-time defending State champion Fayetteville on Saturday, 12-2. The Wampus Cats will play Van Buren in the other semifinal on Monday. Van Buren ousted Springdale Har-Ber, the top seed from the West, 10-5, on Saturday.
Bryant’s win was the first in State play for a Hornets’ team since a first-round victory in 2007 over Springdale. The last time a Bryant team reached the semifinals was 2005, a year after they made that lone trip to the title game.
The Bryant team that lost seven of eight games along the way is but a distant memory now. There was no tension Saturday, according to Hornets head coach Kirk Bock, even after they’d come up empty with runners in scoring position in the second, third and fourth innings.
“We went through all that tense stuff for six games,” he said, referring to the six conference losses during that bad stretch. “So, we just relaxed. ‘Hey, it’s going to come for us,’ and it came for us. I think we’re over all that. When we went on that skid, we were putting a little pressure on ourselves. I just say, ‘Hey, relax. You’re going to hit it. It’s not ‘if,’ it’s ‘when.’”
“When” proved to be in the bottom of the sixth when Chris Joiner came through with a bloop single to right with the bases loaded to drive in the Hornets’ first run. Brady Butler and B.J. Ellis, two seniors, waited out walks with two down to force in the second run.
In the sixth, the Hornets loaded the bases, keyed by Hunter Mayall’s third hit of the game and a perfect bunt for a hit by Garrett Bock setting up Jordan Taylor’s sacrifice fly.
Wells, coming off a four-hit, 11-strikeout performance in an 8-2 win over North Little Rock to close out the regular season, allowed just one clean single in the game along with a couple of scratch hits. He needed just 84 pitches to get past the Charging Wildcats this time.
“He did a great job,” Coach Bock declared. “I don’t know what his velocity was but he still had plenty of movement. I think the (humidity) took a lot out of him. But he did an excellent job, really battled. If we play a little defense behind him, it’s not that tight.
“Ben’s done that all year. He’s got a couple of losses but, defensively, we didn’t play very well.
“Early in the year, Ben would get down on himself when someone would boot a ball or something,” added the coach. “But he’s over that. He doesn’t do that anymore. He just knows that the next one could be a doubleplay. It is just him maturing and he’s maturing at the right time. He’s a good one.”
Though the Hornets and the Charging Wildcats were among five teams that tied for the 7A-Central Conference championship, Bryant gained the top seed and a first-round bye with the largest run-differential in its conference wins.
That was no small thing on Saturday. Wells was fresh while the Wildcats had to use their top two pitchers — Andrew Hohn and Will Harris — to get past Rogers on Friday. Hohn and Harris both pitched in relief of starter Brittain Ibbotson on Saturday. Hohn worked out of jams in the third and fourth but was the victim of Bryant’s two-run fifth. Harris gave up what proved to be the decisive run in the sixth.
Wells worked around an error and a two-out infield hit off his glove in the third to keep the game scoreless but, in the fourth, the last of his two walks came back to haunt him.
But just barely.
Ibbotson drew the free pass to lead off the inning. After Tyson Tackett struck out, David Hohn slapped the lone hit to the outfield, a single to right. Ibbotson raced to third just barely getting in ahead of a strong throw from Caleb Garrett in right.
Brian Chastain followed with a grounder to Butler who ranged to his right to make a nice play, tossing to Taylor, the shortstop covering second for a force. Taylor’s return throw to Wells, who was covering first, was in time but the Bryant hurler couldn’t find the bag immediately. His second stab at it came just as Chastain got there. The Wildcats got the benefit of the close call and Ibbotson crossed the plate with the first run of the game.
Wells fanned Derek Houser to end the inning.
In the top of the fifth, Ty Schaller hit a high hopper toward third. Tyler Brown charged the ball but couldn’t get to the big hop. On a do-or-die play, he tried to short-hop it and it glanced off his glove and into foul territory. Schaller wound up at second. Ryan Scott followed with a hard grounder to first that glanced off Butler’s glove.
With runners at first and third and no one out, Andrew Hohn hit a bouncer to Joiner at second. He got the force at second but Taylor’s relay was not in time as Schaller scored to make it 2-0.
Shaquille Hayes ran for Hohn but, on a pitch in the dirt, he tried to take second. Ellis, the Bryant catcher, pounced on the ball and gunned him down at second. Wells ended the inning by striking out Blake Leisenring.
Ibbotson had pitched around two-out walks to Butler and Ellis in the second but, in the third, Mayall stroked a single to left center and, after Garrett Bock was robbed of a hit by Andrew Hohn on a fly to shallow center, Taylor laced a single to left-center.
Hohn, the Wildcats’ ace lefty, came on and got Joiner to fly to deep right to end the threat.
Bryant’s fourth included a one-out single by Butler and a two-out walk to Brown bringing up Garrett who battled the lefty for 11 pitches, fouling off five two-strike deliveries, before Hohn got one by him for the strikeout.
Hohn, after working five innings on Friday, needed 28 pitches to get through that fourth and it may have been a factor in the fifth when he was greeted by Mayall’s second hit. The lefty was able to get a strikeout on Bock who was unable to get a sacrifice bunt down — this time.
But Taylor singled to left to bring up Joiner. Hohn got within a strike of retiring him but Joiner fought off the 1-2 pitch and parachuted one into no-man’s land behind first. Marcus Wilson, running for Mayall, scored and when the ball wasn’t fielded cleanly, Taylor sprinted to third.
Evan Jobe came on to run for Taylor and, with two down, Hohn and Butler battled through seven pitched before the Bryant senior took ball four to load the bags for Ellis.
Hohn got down 3-0 but gamely got a pair of strikes in before missing with his sixth pitch, forcing in Jobe with the tying run.
Brown made a bid to put the Hornets ahead with a bouncer up the middle but Schaller, the North Little Rock shortstop, made a diving play, sprang to his feet and got to second in time for a force to end the inning and keep it tied.
In the top of the sixth, Hayes beat out a swinging bunt up the first-base line for a scratch hit but he was erased on a force when David Hohn grounded to Brown. Hayden Byrd struck out and the game went to the bottom of the sixth.
With Harris on as the third Charging Wildcats’ pitcher, Garrett was knicked by a 1-1 pitch and was awarded first. On the next delivery, Mayall cracked a single up the middle.
With runners at first and second, Bock was up again in a bunting situation and his dad called him over before he stepped in the batter’s box.
“I just told him, you’ve got three of them, three times,” the coach related, letting his son know he’s be bunting with two strikes if necessary. “You’re going to get it done right here so we can hit a flyball and score. I should’ve had him bunting with two strikes the first time.”
It didn’t take three, though. Bock executed perfectly, making the third baseman, who was trying to play back in hopes of getting a force, had to charge in and field it. The bunt proved to be good enough for a hit, loading the bases.
And, sure enough, on a 2-2 pitch, Taylor skied a fly to left. Garrett tagged and scored to put the Hornets ahead.
“It worked out good for us,” acknowledged Coach Bock. “Garrett got down a perfect bunt and Jordan came through with the flyball.”
The Charging Wildcats turned a nifty doubleplay to keep it a one-run game.
But it left North Little Rock with just three outs to rally. Wells fanned pinch-hitter Zach Ketchum then got Schaller to ground to first where Butler smothered the ball like a catcher on a pitch in the dirt and tossed to Wells in time for the out at first.
Moments later, Scott smacked a one-hopper back to Wells who tossed to Butler to end the game.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 10 runs or one run,” Coach Bock stated. “It’s a new season, a three-game season. One and your done. That’s what we talked about (Friday). It doesn’t matter if we score 100 or just score one, we’ve just got to get it done.”
BRYANT 3, NORTH LITTLE ROCK 2
Scott, rf 3 0 0 0 Mayall, dh 4 0 3 0
A.Hohn, cf-p 3 0 1 1 Wilson, pr 0 1 0 0
Hayes, cr 0 0 0 0 Bock, cf 4 0 1 0
Leisenring, dh 3 0 0 0 Taylor, ss 3 0 2 1
Ibbotson, p-lf 2 1 0 0 Jobe, pr 0 1 0 0
Tackett, lf-cf 2 0 0 0 Joiner, 2b 4 0 1 1
Hayes, ph 1 0 1 0 Hurt, 2b 0 0 0 0
Harris, p0000Bullock, lf3000
D.Hohn, 3b 3 0 1 0 Butler, 1b 1 0 1 0
Byrd, 1b 2 0 0 0 Ellis, c 1 0 0 1
Chastain, 1b 1 0 0 1 Daniel, cr 0 0 0 0
Houser, c 2 0 0 0 Brown, 3b 2 0 0 0
Ketchum, ph 1 0 0 0 Garrett, rf 2 1 0 0
Schaller, ss 3 1 0 0 Wells, p 0 0 0 0
Cormier, 2b 0 0 0 0
Totals 26 2 3 2 Totals 24 3 8 3
North Little Rock 000 110 0 — 2
BRYANT 000 021 x — 3
E—Wells, Butler, Scott. DP—North Little Rock 1. LOB—North Little Rock 5, Bryant 11. 2B—Schaller. SB—Joiner. SF—Taylor.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
North Little Rock
Ibbotson 2.2 0 0 2 2 0
A.Hohn 2.1 2 2 4 3 5
Harris (L) 1 1 1 2 0 0
Wells (W) 7 2 1 3 2 8
HBP—Garrett (by Harris).