With the Big Red Classic against the arch-rival Benton Panthers looming on Saturday and coming off an emotional extra-inning win over the Cabot Panthers last Tuesday, the Bryant Hornets didn’t appear to be as focused as usual on Friday night. It took some gutsy, clutch pitching by Will McEntire and Coby Greiner along with some timely hitting for the Hornets to remain unbeaten in the 6A-South Conference.
Despite six errors, the Hornets held off the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats, 8-4, on DeJanis Memorial Field at Vince DeSalvo Stadium in Burns Park.
Bryant, ranked No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps and number 50 in the nation, improved to 19-2 overall and 5-0 in league play. They play Benton on Saturday in the Big Red Classic at 5 p.m., as the Panthers inaugurate their new field. (Tailgating starts at 3 p.m.)
All four of North Little Rock’s runs on Friday were unearned as McEntire pitched into the sixth and Greiner finished up from there. McEntire allowed five hits, walked one and struck out six. Greiner entered with the Hornets up 6-3 and closed out the game allowing two hits and fanning a pair.
“Mac didn’t give up a ball out of the infield and they scored two runs (in the fifth),” noted Hornets coach Travis Queck. “That can’t happen. I went out there and talked to him. He was getting frustrated. I told him, ‘Man, you’re doing your job.’
“We’ve got to understand that too,” he added. “I’m doing my job. We’ve got to control the controllables and I’ve got to trust the guys behind me are going to make this play.”
Regarding the sloppy fielding, the coach said, “They were a reflection of the way they prepare, and I did a bad job of preparing them this week for this game. It’s not on them. It’s on me.
“They were frustrated,” he allowed. “It felt like we lost the game afterwards. And that’s what you want them to feel like when we play as bad as that. I told them, we’ve got to all go to the drawing board and fix it, and we’ve got to fix it right now.
“A win is a win,” Queck acknowledged. “But we’ve got to do better. They expect that. I think some maturation needed to happen today. I don’t think they were complacent.”
He credited North Little Rock as well.
“I didn’t know what to expect with them,” Queck said. “I know Coach (Randy) Sandifur does a great job preparing guys with the past teams he’s had.”
Sandefur came out of retirement to become interim head coach after Brock Moore resigned as head coach during the season. The Charging Wildcats came into the game off their first conference win, 13-2, over Fort Smith Northside after losing their first three league games.
“I knew those guys would compete,” said Queck. “But I knew they had struggled so far. I knew it was going to be a dogfight. I just didn’t know if we were going to break through or we weren’t. We just blew it for ourselves, just bonehead plays. That’s lack of focus. That’s me. I’ve got to do a better job.”
Then there’s the fact that, as the top-ranked team in the state, the Hornets usually get the other team’s best shot.
“We have a target on our back,” he acknowledged. “And we embrace that target. We’ve just got to realize that if we’re going to do what we say, if we’re going to win conference, win State, win a national championship then that stuff right there can’t happen.”
Offensively, the Hornets were led by Logan Chambers, who had three hits. Jake Wright slugged a big bases-loaded double while Peyton Dillon and Noah Davis came through with RBI hits.
In all, Bryant had nine hits to take advantage of six walks and a hit batsman to go with a pair of North Little Rock miscues.
Chambers opened the game with a triple to the fence in right. He scored on Austin Ledbetter’s grounder to second.
North Little Rock matched that run in the home first when DeShaun Cordova singled, stole second and scored when Luke Rice’s hot grounder to second was misplayed.
Despite another error in the inning, McEntire got the final two outs with no further damage.
It stayed 1-1 until the top of the third when Greiner led off with a lined single up the middle. Chambers yanked a base knock to right but, on a sacrifice attempt by Davis, pitcher Hayden Givens-Craig threw to third in time for a force. Ledbetter was then robbed of a hit on a sliding catch in right-center by the Wildcats’ John Henry Maloch.
With two away, Cade Drennan worked a walk to set the table for Wright, who nearly hit a grand slam. His shot to left center went off the fence for a double that cleared the bases, giving Bryant a 4-1 lead.
After the first inning run, McEntire proceeded to set down 11 of the next 12 batters he faced through four innings. And the Hornets tacked on a run in the top of the fourth on back-to-back doubles by Gage Stark and Dillon.
Bryant’s frustrations multiplied when Greiner tried to sacrifice Dillon to third and popped out to the catcher. Dillon was then called out because the home plate umpire cited Greiner for interference even though Dillon hadn’t wandered more than a couple of steps off second.
In the fifth, Davis reached on an error and, with one out, Givens-Craig plunked Drennan. Jared Wisley relieved and, after a passed ball and a walk to Logan Grant, escaped without a run scoring.
North Little Rock’s fifth began with an infield hit on a slow roller to third by Charlie Warren. McEntire struck out Gray Smith and got Cordove to bounce out to Dillon at first. Ledbetter made a diving stop on a grounder to Alex Cauley but Dillon couldn’t hold his throw at first.
With runners at first and third, Rice beat out a roller to short for an RBI single.
Another error extended the inning and Queck went to the mound to encourage McEntire. A pitch later, Bear Sparks singled to left for the only clean hit of the inning. It drove in Cauley, making it 5-3.
Davis Coleman tapped back to the mound to end the uprising.
A walk to Dillon opened the sixth. Wisley gave way to Cody Bonds and, with one out, Chambers cracked a single to right, sending pinch-runner Blaine Sears to third. That brought up Davis who worked the count to 3-2 before lacing an RBI single to center to make it 6-3.
Bryant wound up stranding three in the inning and, in the home sixth, North Little Rock trimmed the margin and, at one point, had the potential lead run at the plate.
McEntire’s first walk of the game opened the inning and Queck brought in Greiner, the Hornets’ closer. He got Warren to ground into a force at second but a relay to first in hopes of a doubleplay went awry and Warren wound up at second.
Greiner fanned Smith but Cordova singled to right to drive in Warren. And when the throw home didn’t come to the cut-off man, Cordova went to second. Cauley beat out an infield hit and Rice came to the plate as the lead run.
But Greiner got him to pop to Stark in center to end the threat.
For insurance, the Hornets scored twice in the top of the seventh. Grant doubled to left center then Stark drew a walk. That brought in the fourth Cats’ pitcher, Brody Bunting, who proceeded to balk, not once but twice.
Grant scored, and Stark wound up at third. He stayed there when Dillon’s grounder to Cordova, drawn in at short, was misplayed. Greiner came through with a sacrifice fly to center on which Dillon, who had stolen second, tagged and went to third. On appeal, however, he was called out despite a vehement protest from Queck.
But the Hornets had their 8-4 lead. In the bottom of the seventh, Greiner pitched around another error to earn the save.