By Rob Patrick
Photos courtesy of Bo Rogers
PINE BLUFF — The seniors on this year’s Bryant Hornets baseball team and this year’s[more] White Hall Bulldogs’ baseball team have a history. Year after year, the two groups were among the best in the area and they kept meeting with a lot on the line, State finals and Regional finals in Little League and Babe Ruth ball, at times, with even a trip to a World Series on the line.
More often than not, Bryant would get the better of it, often in heartbreaking fashion for White Hall.
Fast forward to Saturday.
There was no State title or Regional title or trip to the World Series on the line but the two teams were vying for the championship of the 9th annual Billy Bock Classic, the tournament honoring the late Hall of Fame head coach whose son, Kirk, coaches the Hornets.
It was no small thing.
And Bryant, once again, snatched victory away from White Hall.
The Bulldogs led 2-1 going into the top of the seventh and got an out away from a win before the Hornets, sparked by their head coach, rallied for a 4-2 victory with Tyler Green, Jordan Taylor and Josh Pultro coming through with two-out, RBI hits. (All three incidentally were named to the all-tournament team.)
It’s the third time that Kirk Bock has coached a team to the championship of the Classic, the second time in four years as the Hornets’ mentor.
The final actually should’ve been a 1-0 as the Hornets Dylan Cross and the Bulldogs’ Tyler Carr dueled. In fact, all but one of the six runs in the game were unearned. Cross allowed just four hits, struck out eight, walked one and hit one. Carr had a three-hitter going through six frames. He struck out seven.
Both pitchers benefited from the home plate umpire’s generous strike zone.
And, as the seventh inning unfolded, Bock decided he’d seen enough. But he admitted later, it was more about his team's lack of fire than the zone.
With Chase Tucker leading off the seventh, one of those generous strikes ran the count to 1-2. On the next pitch, Tucker tapped back to Carr who threw to first for the out.
Bock took that moment to question the umpire, making the argument that Tucker had to swing at a bad pitch because the previous pitch had been called a strike though it was in the same (bad) location.
The umpire had a quick trigger but Bock got his money’s worth before the third-base umpire walked him off the field.
The fans were fired up, however, and so, apparently, were the players.
“We were just dead,” the coach said of his team afterwards. “It was a big zone. But it was both ways. But we hadn’t made any adjustments. White Hall didn’t make any either.”
Bizarre plays ensued. First, as the third-base umpire was walking to the fence with the Bryant coach, the homeplate umpire called for play to resume. Carr’s first pitch to Hayden Daniel was grounded to third for what would’ve probably been a routine second out. But the first base umpire noticed that the third base umpire had not returned the field and play should not have been allowed to resume. He called the play dead much to the chagrin of White Hall’s fans and head coach Skip Carr.
On the do-over, Daniel took a ball then shot a hot grounder to the right of Chris Bryan at second. The Bulldog fielder got in front of it but let it go under his glove for an error as Daniel reached base.
With pinch-hitter Blain Jackson at the plate, Daniel swiped second on a 1-2 pitch that missed the zone. The next delivery plunked Jackson.
More strangeness ensued when lead-off man Tyler Nelson stroked a sinking liner to left-center. Left fielder Chris Smith charged in and made a sliding catch. Daniel had alertly tagged at second and took off for third but Braden Jones, running for Jackson, thought the ball was down or that Smith had short-hopped it. So, he had taken off for second. When it was ruled a catch, Jones sprinted back toward first. White Hall made the mistake of throwing in to second to try to double off Daniel for a game-ending doubleplay. But Daniel had tagged up. It was Jones they needed to try to double-up but no one was covering first base and there was no play to make.
After a protest from the White Hall coach, the game continued with runners at the corners and two out with Green coming to the plate.
Coach Carr visited the mound — his son's pitch count had reached 101. Then the hurler got a strike in to Green. But on the next delivery, Green hit one that parachuted into no-man’s land beyond third for a game-tying single.
That brought up Taylor who crushed the first pitch for a lined single to left. Jones raced home with the go-ahead run.
Carr continued and worked the count to 1-1 to Pultro before he lashed a drive down the right-field line for an RBI double to make it 4-2.
Smith came in to pitch at that point and got the final out of the inning.
Cross, who was the MVP of the tournament, was greeted by Bryan's single in the bottom of the inning. The count then went to 0-2 on Nathan Lee before Cross hit him with a pitch, putting the potential tying runs on base with the top of the White Hall batting order coming up.
But the right-hander struck out Landon Reed then, after he'd fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches, Hale slapped one back to the mound. Cross started a game-ending 1-6-3 doubleplay.
“He did a tremendous job,” Bock said of his senior right-hander. “And he started real well and typically he doesn’t do that.”
In fact, the Hornets struggled defensively early in the game. Cross had to work around a pair of errors in the first inning and another in the second.
Meanwhile, Carr’s only bump in the road through two came with one out in the second. He hit Hayden Lessenberry and Cross with pitches but worked out of the resulting jam.
In the third, Ozzie Hurt got Bryant’s first hit on a looping liner over shortstop Hunter Hale’s head. An out later, Green, coming off a three-hit game on Friday night, belted a drive that one-hopped the left-field fence in the corner for a double. Hurt held at third with one out but scored on the next pitch when Taylor pulled the ball to the right side, grounding out to Bryan, who was playing back.
With Green at third, Carr got Pultro to bounce to short to end the inning.
In the bottom of the frame, Cross retired the first two batters then issued his lone walk of the day, on a 3-2 delivery to designated hitter Jacob Holland. Hunter Brown followed with a deep fly to center that was dropped. Holland scored on the play and Brown wound up at second.
Clay Cannon followed with a jab to the right side that Hurt nearly flagged down with a sliding attempt but it got past him. And when the throw from the outfield to the plate was late and off target, Brown scored to make it 2-1.
Cannon, who reached second on the play, was stranded when Cross struck out Smith.
Bock called his team together as they came off the field.
“I told them ‘It’s time to grow up and make some dad-gum plays,’” he related. “’We’ve got to find somebody to make a play. And we’ve got to find somebody that can make an adjustment at the dish. And that’s what we’re going to do.’ We didn’t make any more errors. We still didn’t do real well at the dish until the end.
“The good thing about it is, we’re winning when we’re doing things bad,” the coach added. “What can we possibly do when we do things good?”
Cross allowed only a one-out single by pinch-hitter Pierce Sloan in the fifth and a lead-off hit by Cannon in the sixth. He stranded the runner in the fifth and, in the sixth, pinch-hitter Austin Lewis got a sacrifice bunt down to move pinch-runner Percy Arnold to second. Cross threw out Lewis then Pultro, playing first, whipped a relay to second catching Arnold rounding the bag too far.
Justin McCarty fanned to end the inning and send it to the seventh.
Bryant improved to 6-0 with the win, going into a home game on Monday against Arkadelphia. The Hornets open 7A/6A-Central Conference play on Tuesday at home against North Little Rock.
BRYANT 4, WHITE HALL 2
Hornets ab r h bi Bulldogs ab r h bi
Nelson, ss 4 0 0 0 Reed, 3b 4 0 0 0
Green, lf 4 1 2 1 Hale, ss-pr 3 0 0 0
Taylor, 3b 4 0 1 2 Sloan, ph 1 0 1 0
Pultro, cf 4 0 1 1 Holland, dh 2 1 0 0
Lessenberry, c 3 0 1 0 Brown, rf 3 1 0 0
Ezell, cr 0 0 0 0 Cannon, 1b 3 0 2 1
Cross, p 2 0 0 0 Arnold, pr 0 0 0 0
Caldwell, cr 0 0 0 0 Smith, lf-p 2 0 0 0
Tucker, rf 3 0 0 0 Lewis, ph 0 0 0 0
Daniel, cf 2 1 0 0 McCarty, c 3 0 0 0
Hurt, 2b 1 1 1 0 Bryan, 2b 3 0 1 0
Jackson, ph 0 0 0 0 Lee, cf 2 0 0 0
Jones, pr 0 1 0 0 Carr, p 0 0 0 0
Acosta, lf 0 0 0 0
Total 27 4 6 4 Total 26 2 4 1
E—Nelson, Cross, Taylor, Daniel, Tucker, Bryan. DP—Bryant 2. LOB—Bryant 7, White Hall 6. 2B—Green, Lessenberry, Pultro. S—Hurt, Lewis. SB—Daniel 2.
BRYANT 001 000 3 — 4
White Hall 002 000 0 — 2
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Cross (W, 2-0) 7 2 0 4 1 8
Carr (L) 6.2 4 1 4 2 7
Smith 0.1 0 0 0 0 0
HBP—Lessenberry, Cross, Jackson (by Carr), Lee (by Cross).