Hornets suffer first conference loss as hitting slump continues

File photo by Kevin Nagle

CABOT — Sometimes, it’s the softly hit balls that slay you.

The Cabot Panthers managed just three hits against Bryant Hornets pitchers Logan Grant and Coby Greiner on Monday night and only one of those got out of the infield. A soft bouncer up the middle — “a groundball with eyes” — by the Panthers’ pitcher Zack Morris drove in an unearned run in the bottom of the fifth and it wound up being the game-winner in a 1-0 battle between the 7A-Central Conference rivals.

It was the Hornets’ first league loss, but it continued a trend that has the Hornets, their coaches and fans in various degrees of concern. Over their last four games, take out a 12-run outburst against Little Rock Central, and the Hornets have managed just three runs in three games, 23 innings (with two going to extra innings). That’s been good enough for a couple of wins but, on Monday against the defending Class 7A State champs, it was not.

“He was tough,” acknowledged Hornets head coach Travis Queck regarding the lefty Morris, who benefitted — as did Bryant’s pitchers at times — from an inconsistently large strike zone. “We had to start attacking pitches. And we put some good swings on the baseball. Nothing loud but solid singles. And we had some opportunities to move some guys around. I screwed up by not doing that and I kick myself for not doing it.

“I’m concerned,” he allowed. “I’m concerned about the lack of confidence. I’m telling you, today at b.p. (batting practice), I was thinking, ‘Man, I’m really seeing some good stuff.’ I was confident after b.p. I was thinking we may be able to knock the ball around a bit today.

“Obviously, I was wrong,” the coach stated. “I’m going to get with the coaches and we’re going to re-evaluate what we’re doing in b.p., that is not putting more pressure on so that these situations in these games is a little bit easier. It’s something we’re going to strive to fix.”

The Hornets had four hits but lost a pair to doubleplays and had another picked off. Their best chance to score was in the third when Brandon Hoover cracked a hump-backed liner to center for a hit then Morris walked Logan Catton and Myers Buck to bring up the top of the batting order with one out.

Logan Chambers got jammed on the first pitch and hit a soft liner up the middle that Cabot shortstop Jackson Olivi caught in the air. Buck, unsure if the ball would get down or not, was caught too far off first and was doubled up.

Greiner followed with a shot to right that was caught by Houston King to end the threat.

In the fourth, Scott Schmidt singled, took second on a passed ball and third on Austin Ledbetter’s groundout with one away. Schmidt was stranded when Morris got Matthew Sandidge to bounce out to second.

The only other base-runner the Hornets managed came on a one-out single to left by Greiner in the top of the sixth but, on a sharp grounder to third by Schmidt, the Panthers turned an inning-ending doubleplay.

Meanwhile, Cabot was having no better luck. Grant pitched around a lead-off walk in the first and in the second. In the first, he fanned two of the next three batters. In the second, he got Austin Scritchfield to ground into a doubleplay.

In the third, Olivi led off with an infield hit. Zach Slunder sacrificed him to second (with Hoover saving an error with a stretched out catch of Grant’s throw to first). King beat out a single in the hole at short as Olivi advanced to third but Ledbetter tracked down Brady Schluter’s long fly to left to end the threat and keep it scoreless.

In the fourth, Grant issued a pair of one-out walks but escaped that jam as well with a pop to short and another fly to left, that Ledbetter ran down.

In the fifth, Slunder, the nine-hole hitter fought off a pair of two-strike pitches and worked a walk. At 73 pitches, Queck pulled Grant for Greiner against the top of the order. He got lead-off man Clayton Gray to bounced into a force at second, but Gray avoided the doubleplay by hustling to first.

King’s fly to left was tracked down by Buck, bringing up Schluter with two away. The count went to 0-2 and Greiner got into Schulter’s kitchen. He topped the ball off the plate up the middle. Caught betwixt and between, Schmidt got to the ball but didn’t get the big hop and the second hop stayed down and got past him.

With runners at first and second, Morris came up and grounded a 1-1 pitch up the middle for an RBI single.

Greiner ended the inning there and worked a 1-2-3 sixth but the Hornets were unable to break through.

It gets no easier for Bryant, now 12-4-1 overall and 4-1 in league play. On Friday, the Hornets host North Little Rock (3-1 in league play going into Tuesday’s home game against Fort Smith Northside). Then, on Tuesday, April 10, the visit Conway, which, pending Tuesday’s game at home against Little Rock Central and Friday’s battle at Little Rock Catholic, stands as the lone remaining unbeaten team in the 7A-Central.

“We’ve got to find a way to get this one out of our system and move on to another really, really good team in North Little Rock, a team with a bunch of confidence,” Queck said. “We’re going to go back to work and try to fix mistakes. We’re starting to pin those down and we’re starting to realize that teams aren’t beating us, we’re beating ourselves.”

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