When the Bryant Hornets were in Florida for spring break, head coach Kirk Bock inserted senior Jordan Gentry into the lineup as the catcher, to give starter Dylan Hurt a bit of a breather. The Hornets had built an early 7-0 lead over Rosemount, Minn.
Gentry proceeded to reach base four times and score three runs. The next day in what turned out to be the Hornets’ first loss of the season, 7-6 to Maple Grove, Minn., Bock put Gentry in as a sub for the designated hitter. He went 2 for 3, scored a run and knocked one in.
He hasn’t been out of the lineup since. And, in nine games, he’s hit a cool .538 including Friday’s 5-for-6 performance in the Hornets’ doubleheader sweep of the Alma Airedales.
Gentry and the Hornets supplied plenty of offense to back senior lefty Evan Lee, who came an inning away from a perfect game and a strike away from a no-hitter in the 9-0 opener, and senior right-hander Alex Shurtleff who allowed just one earned run a 13-2 romp in game two.
The wins improved the Hornets to 16-2 on the season and provided a little salve to the wound they suffered on Tuesday, a 4-0 loss to rival Conway.
As hot as Gentry’s been, senior Joey Cates has not. Since that same Rosemount game, Cates had slumped to the tune of a 2-for-17 stretch. But, on Friday, after not starting for a couple of games, Cates came through with two big hits and two walks in the twinbill with five runs batted in, doubling his output for RBIs this season.
Lee had four hits as he ran his hitting streak to 10 games. Jake East, Aaron Orender and Hurt came through with three over the two games.
On the mound, Lee retired the first 18 batters of the first game, striking out nine. He got some strong defensive help from Seth Tucker at second for the third out of the fifth, and Garrett Misenheimer at third for the first out of the sixth.
The Hornets had been stifled at the plate to that point as well by Alma right-hander Lane Caldwell. A run in the fourth and another in the fifth had them ahead 2-0 going into the sixth. They then erupted for five runs and had the game-ending run at third (which would’ve made it a run-rule win) but Alma reliever Judah Dean got out of the inning and provided his team one more chance to spoil Lee’s gem.
Dean walked to spoil the perfecto leading off the seventh but the Hornets turned a nice doubleplay to erase him. Dylan Brown was Alma’s last chance of avoiding a no-hitter and Lee had him down in the count 1-2 when he just got enough of a pitch to roll it towards third. Misenheimer made a valiant try but Brown beat it out for the most feeble of base hits.
The game ended moments later when the next batter Dillon Majors lined out to Cates in left.
Offensively, the Hornets had managed a hit in each of the first three innings with no effect. In the fourth, however, Caldwell struggled with his control and issued three consecutive walked with one out. Gentry earned the first one followed by East and Orender. Tucker then came through with a sacrifice fly to break the bagel on the board.
In the fifth, Logan Allen was hit by a pitch. Hurt hit a grounder to the hole at short and beat it out for a base hit. An ill-advised late throw sailed past Majors at first and the Hornets had runners at second and third for Lee. He made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Bryant was still looking for a break-through clutch hit, however, and they got it from Cates in the sixth. Gentry started the inning with a single, took second on a wild pitch and third on a one-out single from Orender. Tucker came up and got a bunt down. Majors charged in to try to get Gentry at the plate but to no avail, making it 3-0.
Cates was next and, on a 1-2 delivery, yanked a drive down the line in right for an RBI double.
With Allen at the plate, Caldwell threw a pitch in the dirt that catcher Zac Henson couldn’t find right away. Tucker raced home then Cates followed, hustling in all the way from second.
Suddenly, it was a 6-0 game.
Allen walked and stole second. He took third on a wild pitch as Hurt drew a free pass. Lee then shot a single up the middle and, with two down, so did Gentry. Shurtleff, running for Lee, came in with the ninth run on a passed ball.
Gentry wound up at third and, after Dean relieved, East walked and stole second. But both runners were stranded.
Big lead in hand, the lone mystery about the game at that point was whether Lee would be able to close out the perfect game or the no-hitter. The bottom of the sixth had taken so long, in fact, that he’d gone to the bullpen to throw a little to keep warm.
In the second game, the Hornets jumped on Alma’s Parker Edwards for 10 runs over the first two innings.
Shurtleff, meanwhile, allowed only a one-out double to Kyle McKeown with one out in the second then he promptly picked him off. The Airedales took advantage of the lone error of the night for the Hornets on a dropped pop by Lee in shallow left, to get an unearned run in the top of the fourth. A two-out RBI single by Majors provided Alma’s first run of the night.
Bryant responded by scoring three more runs in the bottom of the fourth that held up for the run-rule win despite another Alma run in the top of the fifth.
The Hornets piled up a seven-run lead in the bottom of the first. Allen singled then raced to third on an errant pickoff throw. Hurt then singled him home.
Austin Kelly, the courtesy runner for Hurt, stole second then scored on a base hit to right by Lee.
After Lee swiped second, Misenheimer got a bunt down that Edwards fielded. But his throw to first got by Majors. With runners at the corners, Gentry drilled the first of his three singles in the game.
The 3-0 lead expanded after Orender was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Tucker, who grounded to the right side to pick up an RBI. And when the ball was booted, he was on and the bases remained loaded.
Cates came through with another big hit, slicing a single to left to chase in two runs. Tucker sprinted into third on the throw to the plate so when Allen skied one to right, he tagged and scored the seventh tally.
In the second, Lee cracked his second single and stole his second base. With one out, Gentry singled to right. East beat out an infield hit to pick up an RBI and, with two out, walks to Tucker and Cates forced in a run. East scored the 10th marker on a wild pitch after Dean had once again come on in relief.
Bryant’s three-run fourth started with Gentry’s third hit, a liner to center. East slapped a single to right then Orender got a bunt down that went for another hit, filling the sacks. With one out, Cates worked a walk to force in a run and Allen capped things off with a two-run single into left.
East made a nice play at short to get the first out of the top of the fifth. A liner to Lee in left had the Hornets an out away from victory but three consecutive singles produced Alma’s only earned run of the night.
With two on, Shurtleff got Drake Pendergraft to hit a dribble in front of the plate. Hurt pounced on it and fired to first in time for the final out.
The wins improved the Hornets to 4-1 in all 7A/6A-Central Conference games this season. They’ll try to get their first win against a fellow Class 7A rival on Tuesday when Van Buren visits.