Photos by Rick Nation
The 7A/6A-Central Conference is so competitive, so tightly contested and of such quality — producing both State finalists in[more] each of the last two years — that there’s little room for error.
And poorly timed errors will flat get you beat.
Early on, it looked like a pair of Bryant Hornets’ miscues might be the difference-maker as the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats grabbed a 4-0 lead after two-and-a-half innings. But the Hornets rallied to tie the game and the two teams battled into the 10th inning.
In the bottom of the 10th, it was North Little Rock that suffered a couple of errors and the Hornets took advantage to win it 5-4.
Josh Pultro led off with a bouncer to third but a wild throw by Chandler Thompson to first allowed him to race to second. That brought up Dylan Cross who tried to sacrifice working the count to 1-2. Still bunting with two strikes, Cross got the ball down. Lefty Spencer Byrd, the third Cats’ pitcher, fielded the ball, looked toward third where Pultro was headed, then turned and unleashed another errant throw. Pultro rounded third and eased home with the winning run.
Right-hander Tyler Nelson picked up the win in relief of starter Jordan Taylor. Nelson turned in five shutout innings, allowing just one hit, a walk and a hit batsman while striking out six.
The game was the conference opener for both teams. Bryant improved to 8-0 overall. The Hornets will play again on Friday, hosting league rival Little Rock Central before taking off on Saturday for the Florida League High School Invitational Tournament during spring break.
Tuesday’s game was the third come-from-behind win for Bryant this season, most recently, they’d rallied in the bottom of the seventh to win the Billy Bock Classic against White Hall.
“We played all right,” said Bryant head coach Kirk Bock. “But we just don’t quit. Even at Pine Bluff when it looked very bleak, there was just no quit. As long as we’ve got a breath in us, we can make something happen.
“I think it goes all way down to the youth league here,” he said. “I don’t see Bryant kids quit. I’m not saying that anybody else does. I just don’t see ours. I don’t see their dobber go down, even when I go out and watch them play in the summer. I think that’s a quality of Bryant and our BAA and what they’re doing with these kids.”
North Little Rock took the lead initially in the top of the first when clean-up hitter Alex Gosser followed a one-out single by Thompson with a blast over the fence in right field.
While Wildcats’ lefty Kris Kohtstedt was setting down the Hornets through the first two innings, his teammates tacked on two more in the top of the third. Taylor had just fanned the first two in the inning, giving him five in row at that point. But Thompson singled to right and Ryan Scott singled up the middle to bring up Gosser again.
This time, Taylor kept him in the park but the North Little Rock catcher pulled a single to right to make it 3-0 with men at first and third.
With two strikes on Brian Chastain, the next batter, Gosser left first early to try to get in a rundown and stay in it long enough to allow Scott to score.
The Hornets played it well initially. Taylor stepped off and threw to second baseman Ozzie Hurt, who ran at Gosser, then checked Scott at third and made him stop, chased Gosser back, checked on Scott then tossed to Cross at first. But, in his haste to catch the ball and apply a tag to Gosser before Scott, who had broken toward the plate, could get home, Cross dropped the ball. Scott scored and Gosser turned and reached second safely.
Though Taylor got Chastain to fly to left to end the inning, the Hornets found themselves trailing 4-0.
“Putting the ball in play,” Bock observed, referencing his team’s 10th inning initially. “They’re just like us. If you put pressure on people, there’s a chance someone may mess up. Like in that first-and-third situation we had, it’s whoever doesn’t panic, wins. We just panicked there a little bit, tried to be a little too quick. Worst-case scenario, we walk him back. It’s first and third and the next guy flies out.
“But I thought we played solid,” he added.
“I think Jordan had one bad pitch,” the coach mentioned. “That was that change-up that was up and it got us. The guy (Gosser) caught it. Other than that, he did a good job. And it’s easy for a pitcher to get down on himself right there but I’ve never seen Jordan get down. He accepts it for what it is and goes on.”
The Hornets struck back immediately, sparked by Hayden Daniel’s bunt single which rolled right up the third-base line without going foul on into the outfield. Kohlstedt came back to retire the next two but Daniel stole second and, on an 0-2 count, Hayden Lessenberry laced a single to center to drive in the run.
Chase Tucker, in to run for Lessenberry the Bryant catcher, advanced to second on a balk and, after Taylor walked, Pultro lashed a single to right to make it 4-2.
With runners at first and third, however, Kohlstadt got the final out.
North Little Rock threatened in the fourth inning but left fielder Tyler Green and Lessenberry came through with a big play to thwart the threat. Jaleel Tyler singled and, with two out, Even Peters reached on an error bringing up Kohlstedt, who sliced the first pitch into left. Tyler rounded third and headed home but Green fired to the plate where Lessenberry caught the ball and blocked the plate. He applied the tag while keeping Tyler from getting through him with his slide.
Though the call was disputed by North Little Rock coach Randy Sandefur, it stood. And, in the bottom of the inning, a similar call went the Cats’ way.
Kohlstedt issued a walk to Nelson to lead off the bottom of the third then gave way to Scott who unleashed a wild pitch as Trever Ezell struck out. And when Gosser, the catcher, couldn’t find the ball, Nelson hustled all the way to third.
Daniel then smacked a 2-2 pitch into left for an RBI single to make it 4-3.
With two down, Daniel was on the run from first as Green, on a 3-1 delivery, chopped one to third that bounced off the chest of Thompson. He scrambled after it and fired a wild throw to first. Daniel never stopped as he rounded third. Chastain, at first, scrambled after the ball and came up firing on line to Gosser. Daniel tried to slide around the catcher but Gosser had extended his left foot to block the plate and Daniel’s pop up slide came upon contact with Gosser’s foot instead of the plate and he was tagged out on a bang-bang play.
Taylor pitched around a double by Scott in the top of the fourth and the Hornets went back to work at the plate in the fifth. They tied it with some fundamentals. Lessenberry singled to open the frame and, with Tucker in to run again, Taylor bunted him to second. Pulto’s second hit was a liner to right hit too hard for Tucker to score.
That brought up Cross who got down in the count 0-2 then fouled off a tough delivery before pounding a long fly to right. Tucker tagged and eased home on the sac-fly to tie the game.
Nelson drew a walk to put runners at first and second but Scott got out of the jam with the game tied.
In the sixth, Nelson took over on the mound for the Hornets and Byrd for the Wildcats. Nelson hit a batter in the seventh to no ill effect — thanks in large part to a fine running catch in the left-field corner by Green. Byrd hit a Cross in the bottom of the eighth. Pinch-runner Marcus Wilson was forced at second on a grounder to second by Nelson but then Nelson stole second. But, on a grounder to short by pinch-hitter Wesley Akers, Nelson got caught trying to advance to third and was tagged out.
In the ninth, Nelson surrendered the only hit he would give up, a one-out double by Michael Knight. Peters tried to bunt him to third but Lessenberry made a sparkling play when it was popped up, fighting past Peters to get to the ball. Nelson ended the threat by fanning Kohlstadt.
In much the same way, Byrd gave up the only hit he allowed in the ninth on a double to left by Green. Lessenberry followed with a grounder to Knight at short. His throw to Chastain was low and it looked like the first sacker may have dropped it but it was ruled that the fumble came as he was taking the ball out of his glove.
Chastain and Byrd then made a nice play on a grounder to the right side by Taylor to send it to the 10th.
Thompson led off the top of the inning with a long fly to right that Daniel tracked down. Scott then shot a liner to left that Green hauled down. Nelson then issued one of those unintentional intentional walks to Gosser and got out of the inning when Chastain bounced to Taylor at short for a force at second.
Bock praised Nelson’s work.
“That’s big,” he stated. “And it’s not that he’s a surprise. He’s doing exactly what we thought he could do. As long as we can get six from J.T. and we can get six from Cross, then he’s going to be in that role.
“We made the change in the sixth because I wanted to give him that bottom of the order, just to get him lubed up a little bit. And it worked out pretty good for us. He wanted the ball and he did a tremendous job.”
The Hornets finished with seven hits to North Little Rock’s nine. Daniel, Lessenberry and Pultro each had two for Bryant. Thompson, Scott and Gosser had two apiece for the Cats.
“We hit the ball when we needed to,” Bock noted. “We had some timely hits in there, which was good. And we hit the ball hard at times too. We’re just lifting it some and that’s one of the things we really need to work on.”
BRYANT 5, NORTH LITTLE ROCK 4
Charging Wildcats ab r h bi Hornets ab r h bi
Kohlstedt, p-cf 5 0 1 0 Green, lf 4 0 1 0
Thompson, 3b 4 2 2 0 Lessenberry, c 4 0 2 1
Scott, cf-p-rf 5 1 2 0 Tucker, cr 0 2 0 0
Gosser, c 4 1 2 3 Taylor, p-ss 3 0 0 0
Mitchell, cr 0 0 0 0 Wilson, cr 0 0 0 0
Chastain, 1b 5 0 0 0 Pultro, cf 5 1 2 1
Howell, dh 4 0 0 0 Cross, 1b 2 0 0 1
Tyler, 2b 4 0 1 0 Wilson, pr 0 0 0 0
Knight, ss 4 0 1 0 Nelson, ss-p 2 1 0 0
Peters, rf-lf 3 0 0 0 Ezell, 3b 3 0 0 0
Beck, ph 1 0 0 0 Akers, ph 1 0 0 0
Warnock, lf 0 0 0 0 Daniel, rf 4 1 2 1
Byrd, p 0 0 0 0 Hurt, 2b 4 0 0 0
Total 39 4 9 3 Total 32 5 7 4
E—Cross, Ezell, Thompson 2, Byrd. LOB—North Little Rock 7, Bryant 8. 2B—Scott, Knight, Green. HR—Gosser. S—Taylor, Cross. SF—Cross. SB—Tucker, Daniel, Pultro, Nelson.
No.Little Rock 202 000 000 0 — 4
BRYANT 002 110 000 1 — 5
No one out when winning run scored.
Pitching ip r er h bb so
North Little Rock
Kohlstedt 3 3 3 3 3 4
Scott 2 1 1 3 1 2
Byrd (L) 5 1 0 1 1 2
Taylor 5 4 3 8 0 6
Nelson (W) 5 0 0 1 1 6
Byrd faced two batters in the bottom of the 10th.
Balk—Kohlstedt. HBP—Cross (by Byrd), Thompson (by Nelson).