Hornets, Wampus Cats split high-scoring league doubleheader

By Rob Patrick

CONWAY — When first baseman Connor McClain made a double-clutch grab on a line drive in the top of the[more] seventh inning, it not only denied Chris Joiner of his fifth hit of the game, it ended the Bryant Hornets’ bid to erase an 11-2 deficit in their final at-bat against the Conway Wampus Cats Thursday night.

And it kept the Hornets from earning a sweep of the 7A/6A-Central Conference twinbill.

The joy that, no doubt, would’ve been felt after an 11-2 win for the Cats turned into a sigh of relief after the league-leading Hornets scored seven times and had the bases loaded when Joiner came to the plate against right-hander Matt Lefler.

As it happened, Lefler wound up saving his own victory. He started and worked five innings before being relieved. He then returned to the mound in the seventh to put out the fire thanks to the location of Joiner’s shot.

The Hornets, who had won the first game 13-9, may have done themselves quite a favor with the late surge in game two despite the loss. By cutting the margin of victory to two runs, the Hornets maintained the tiebreaking advantage over Conway if, per chance, the two teams finish in a tie in the 7A-Central Conference standings.

That’s no small thing when one recalls that six teams in the league finished tied for first last season.

As of now, Bryant leads the conference by two games in the loss column with a 6-2 mark (16-4 overall). Little Rock Catholic split with Cabot to make its record 6-4. Russellville, which got in a 3-2 win over Van Buren before rain postponed their second game, is 5-4 with Conway and Little Rock Central now at 4-4. Cabot, North Little Rock and Van Buren each have five losses.

The conference race resumes on Thursday, April 21, when Van Buren visits Bryant, Conway travels to Central and North Little Rock goes to Cabot.

Bryant came into its games at Conway with the two pitchers that were the team’s original conference starters, Dylan Cross and Caleb Milam, unavailable. Jordan Taylor started the opener, which turned into a slugfest before sophomore Tyler Nelson came on and quieted the Cats’ bats.

In the second game, Bryant head coach Kirk Bock started freshman Wesley Akers with senior Landon Pickett ready to relieve. The coach could’ve tabbed Pickett to start but, no doubt, he figured if he needed someone to relieve at a stressful moments, an experienced pitcher might handle it a little more smoothly than a freshman would.

“Milam hurt himself yesterday going through pick drills,” Bock explained. “So we weren’t going to throw him. Cross is a little tender so we weren’t going to use him.

“I thought, in the first game, J.T. battled and I thought Nelson battled and did a good job,” he commented. “I thought that ninth grader, Wesley, after the first inning, he did okay. But then he got roughed up there a little bit but that’s going to happen once his pitch count got up. But, you know, he competed. He had a great mindset.

“In the second game, we just didn’t do some little things right that cost us,” the coach noted. “We had a couple of errors in there that cost us some runs. If we don’t do that, then we’re all right. Then we’re on top right here at the end.”

Nelson pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the opener. He entered after Tyler Langley’s two-run homer had pulled Conway within 11-9 with one out in the bottom of the fourth.

Patience paid for Bryant in the game. They repeatedly worked deep into counts and made McClain, the Conway starter, as well as reliever Bo Stitch throw a lot of pitches. In fact, the three Cats that pitched in the game (Hayden Strickland got the final out) totaled 198 pitches among them.

The Hornets took advantage of eight walks, a hit batsman (not to mention five Conway errors) with 13 hits. Cross, as the Bryant DH, went 4 for 5 and sophomore catcher Hayden Lessenberry drove in four runs.

Cross and Joiner, in fact, hit back-to-back bombs in the third inning to chase McClain and initiate game-turning five-run uprising.

“We were just trying to get their pitch count up,” Bock acknowledged. “McClain’s good and if you chase a bunch of his stuff, he’s going to beat you. You’ve got to be patient and make him get you out. That’s what we were trying to do. That’s what we were doing at the end of the second game too, just make them get us out instead of us getting ourselves out.”

In the second game, Bryant worked for seven free passes to go with three hit batsmen and three errors. Four of the walks came consecutively with two out as part of their seventh-inning comeback. Three of those four forced in runs.

But the Hornets stranded 12 base-runners in each game.

Bryant grabbed a 4-0 lead in the first inning of the first contest and walks got it started. Nelson, who walked six times in the two games, drew the first pass. After Tyler Brown sacrificed him to second, Taylor walked. Pickett pulled a double down the left-field line that drove in Nelson and courtesy-runner Marcus Wilson.

Cross singled and Joiner walked to load the bases for Josh Pultro, whose grounder to third was misplayed allowing Pickett to score. With two down, Lessenberry drew an RBI walk. McClain kept it at that by inducing a fly to center by Nelson as the Hornets stranded three.

Conway got a run back in the bottom of the inning on consecutive two-out singles by Wesley Hoover, McClain and Langley.

The Cats took the lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a rare bout of wildness from Taylor. Garrett Baldwin was hit by a pitch. With two out, he’d made it to second. Ryan Lazo kept the inning alive with a bunt single. A balk brought Goodwin home. And, after a wild pitch allowed Lazo to take third, he scored on an infield hit by Aaron Boucher.

Hoover walked then McClain, who went 3 for 3 in the game and 5 for 7 in the two, laced a double into the left-field corner to drive both home as the Wampus Cats claimed a 5-4 lead.

The advantage didn’t last long as Cross and Joiner started thetop of the third with their solo blasts. Stitch, who played at Bryant as a freshman, relieved and issued a walk to Pultro. Evan Jobe swatted a single to right to put runners at the corners for Lessenberry. His grounder to the right center was fielded nicely by Lazo but when he tried to get a force at second, Jobe was there ahead of the throw. Pultro scored and the inning continued with a single by Nelson to fill the sacks.

Stitch fanned Brown but an error allowed two runs to score as Taylor reached, making it 9-5.

Bryant tacked on two more in the fourth. Pultro singled with one out but was forced on a grounder by Jobe. Lessenberry nearly homered on a 2-2 pitch. The shot hit high off the wall in left-center and, with two out, Jobe, running all the way, scored from first. Tyler Green, running for the Bryant catcher, would score when Brown reached safely on an error but the Hornets ahead left the bases full.

Those LOB’s were looking vital when Conway ignited in the bottom of the fourth. Hoover doubled in a run, McClain picked up an RBI with a sacrifice fly then Langley unloaded.

That’s when Nelson was called upon to pitch. He worked around a walk to get out of the fourth then around a two-out single by Boucher in the fifth.

At the plate, Nelson drew his third walk with one out in the top of the sixth. Wilson came on to run for him and stole second before Brown pulled a double into the left-field corner to drive him in.

With that two-bagger in his final at bat of the contest, Brown extended his hitting streak to 10 games. In the second contest, he would take it to 11.

Conway threatened in the bottom of the sixth. McClain singled and Langley doubled. A nice play by Pickett at first retired Patrick Mann then Nelson fanned Baldwin. Pinch-hitter Ricky Puloma walked to load the bases but Nelson got Cole Anderson to fly to left to keep it 12-9.

Cross doubled and pinch-runner Trent Rivers scored on a two-out single by Lessenberry to take on a run in the top of the seventh then Nelson worked a 1-2-3 home half to end it.

In the second game, Bryant had runners aboard in every inning but couldn’t manage a hit in the clutch until the final frame.

Conway took the lead in the bottom of the first. Lazo doubled and Boucher beat out an infield hit. Akers then had Boucher picked off first but an errant throw to second allowed Lazo to score and Boucher to advance. A passed ball got Boucher to third and he scored on Hoover’s groundout.

In the top of the second, Joiner doubled and scored when Pultro’s sacrifice bunt drew a wild throw to first.

Conway got the run back in the bottom of the inning on a two-out triple by Powell (a strong relay nearly nailed him at third) and a single by Lazo.

After that, Akers settled in and retired five in a row before J.T. Blackwell reached on an error in the fourth. But the Hornets turned a doubleplay to erase the mistake.

In the top of the fourth, Lessenberry was hit by a pitch with one out. Wilson ran for him and took second on a wild pitch. Nelson singled him in but was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double.

Pickett doubled to open the fifth and, with one out, Joiner hit a sinking liner to center where Kipley Powell made a diving try. It was unclear at first if he caught the ball and, though it was disputed by Conway coach Noel Boucher, it was ruled no-catch. Once the dispute was over, the homeplate umpire took exception to a humorous sound clip played by the crew in the press box and issued a warning to the sound man.

When play eventually resumed, the Hornets’ two-on, one-out threat was wiped out when Conway turned a doubleplay.

The Cats blew up the 3-2 game in the bottom of the fifth, scoring six times. Akers retired the first two batters before Boucher singled and Hoover walked on a 3-2 pitch. McClain followed with a grounder to third that was misplayed and instead of the inning being over, Boucher scored and Langley followed with an RBI double.

Pickett relieved but issued a walk to Mann. Blackwell doubled in two then Cody Rhodes singled to plate a pair before Bryant’s right-hander could end it with a strikeout of Boucher.

Strickland took over for Lefler and worked around a walk in the top of the sixth then Conway added to its 9-2 margin in the bottom of the inning. Hoover walked, stole second and scored on McClain’s double. Langley singled him in.

Taylor singled to start the top of the seventh innocently enough. With one out, Cross’ one-hopper shot past the ear of Langley at third. Joiner singled in a run then a second scored on Pultro’s bouncer to the right side which took a nifty play by Lazo at second and Strickland off the mound to cover first.

The Cats got within a strike of ending it before pinch-hitter Lucas Castleberry lined a single to right that Hoover overplayed. Joiner scored and Castleberry wound up at second.

Again Strickland got two strikes on Lessenberry who then popped up on the infield. That would’ve been the end but the ball was dropped and the inning continued.

Once more Strickland was within a strike of ending it with Nelson at the plate but, on a 3-2 count, he walked to load the bases. Brown worked the count to 3-2 but he too drew a pass, forcing in a run.

The frustration continued to mount for Conway as Taylor fouled off a pair of 3-2 pitches before drawing another RBI walk, making it 11-7.

Sophomore Connor Prout relieved to face Pickett, Bryant’s clean-up hitter, with the bases loaded and representing the tying run. He too drew a walk to force in a run.

That’s when Lefler, who had thrown 73 pitches before being removed, returned to the mound. His second pitch hit Cross, forcing in another run, making it 11-9 with Joiner, 4 for 4 to that point, coming up. On a 1-2 delivery, the Bryant senior made a bid for a hit only to have McClain glove it to end the marathon.


Game one 

Hornets ab r h bi Wampus Cats ab r h bi

Nelson, ss-p 3 2 1 0 Lazo, 2b  5 2 2 0

Wilson, cr 0 1 0 0 Boucher, ss 4 2 2 1

Brown, 3b 4 0 1 1 Hoover, rf 4 3 2 1

Taylor, p 3 0 0 1 McClain, p-1b 3 0 3 3

Wilson, cr 0 1 0 0 Cagle, cr 0 0 0 0

Pickett, 1b 5 1 1 2 Langley, 3b 4 1 3 3

Cross, dh 5 2 4 1 Mann, lf 3 0 0 0

Rivers, pr 0 1 0 0 Baldwin, dh 2 1 0 0

Joiner, lf 4 1 1 1 Rhodes, c 3 0 1 0

Pultro, cf 4 1 2 1 Powell, cr 0 0 0 0

Jobe, rf 4 2 1 0 Puloma, ph 0 0 0 0

Lessenberry, c 4 0 2 4 Anderson, cf 4 0 0 0

T.Green, cr 0 2 0 0 Blaylock, 1b 0 0 0 0

Hurt, 2b 0 0 0 0 Stitch, p 0 0 0 0

Strickland, p 0 0 0 0

Totals 36 13 13 11 Totals 32 9 13 8

BRYANT 405 201 1 — 13

Conway 140 400 0 — 9

E—Langley 2, Boucher, McClain 2. DP—Bryant 1, Conway 1. LOB—Bryant 12, Conway 8. 2B—Pickett, McClain, Lessenberry, Hoover, Langley, Brown, Cross. HR—Cross, Joiner, Langley. SB—Wilson 2. S—Brown. SF—McClain.

Pitching ip r er h bb so


Taylor 3.1 9 9 10 3 2

Nelson (W) 3.2 0 0 3 2 2


McClain (L) 2 6 6 4 4 0

Stitch 4.2 7 4 9 4 7

Strickland 0.1 0 0 0 0 0

McClain faced two batters in the third.

Balk—Taylor. HBP—Baldwin (by Taylor), Jobe (by Stitch). WP—Taylor 



Game two

Hornets ab r h bi Wampus Cats ab r h bi

Nelson, 2b-ss 2 1 1 1 Lazo, 2b 3 1 2 1

Brown, 3b 4 0 2 1 Boucher, ss 4 2 2 0

Jones, pr 0 1 0 0 Hoover, rf 2 2 0 1

Taylor, ss-1b 4 1 1 1 McClain, 1b 4 2 2 1

Pickett, 1b-p 4 0 2 1 Langley, 3b 4 1 2 2

Cross, dh 3 0 1 1 Mann, lf 3 1 0 0

Rivers, pr 0 1 0 0 Blackwell, dh 4 1 2 2

Joiner, lf 5 2 4 1 Rhodes, c 4 0 1 2

Pultro, cf 3 0 0 1 Powell, cf 2 1 1 0

Jobe, rf 2 0 0 0 Lefler, p 0 0 0 0

Castleberry, ph 1 1 1 1 Strickland, p 0 0 0 0

Lessenberry, c 2 0 0 0 Prout, p 0 0 0 0

Wilson, cr 0 2 0 0 Lefler, p 0 0 0 0

Akers, p 0 0 0 0

Hurt, 2b 0 0 0 0

Totals 30 9 12 8 Totals 30 11 12 9

BRYANT 010 100 7 — 9

Conway 210 062 x — 11 

E—Akers, Langley 2, Brown 2, Hoover. DP—Bryant 1, Conway 1. LOB—Bryant 12, Conway 5. 2B—Pickett 2, Lazo, Joiner, Langley, Blackwell, McClain. 3B—Powell. SB—Hoover, Langley. S—Pultro, Jobe.

Pitching ip r er h bb so


Akers (L) 4.2 7 3 8 1 2

Pickett 1.1 4 4 4 4 2


Lefler (W) 5 2 2 9 2 1

Strickland 1 7 5 4 4 2

Prout 0 0 0 0 1 0

Lefler (Save) 0.1 0 0 0 0 0

HBP—Lessenberry 2, Cross (by Lefer). WP—Lefler, Akers 2, Strickland. PB—Lessenberry.


  1. John Jobe

    It was an obviously wonderful night to play baseball. A little too much wind but, the pre-storm cooler temperatures were excellent. The Hornets played two great games despite the fact that two of our starting pitchers are on the injured list. I can’t begin to say enough about the clutch 2-strike hit that Lucas Castleberry made coming in cold off the bench after sitting through an extremely long (record breaking??) 3-1/2 hour game one and 6 innings of the second duel, keeping us in the game and igniting the Hornets to a great comeback to narrow the margin keeping us within a tie breaking advantage of Conway as stated above. Though our boys didn’t come out slugging after the fact, driving in the runs due to the pitcher(s) issuing many walks, it was none the less a spark. Just another moment of superb timing and excecution that Lucas Castleberry has been known for and shown every game he has had the fraction of an opportunity to participate in.
    I understand Coach Bock’s decision to start a freshman in the second game and leave Landon Pickett to pick-up the slack if it started to get a little tough going, which is exactly what happened. I’m thinking that due to the excessively long 1st game, infrequent time on the mound and maybe not getting a chance to adequately warm up; this all combined to give Pickett a disadvantage
    coming in when he did. Other than these things being said, all the boys did a great job playing against such a worthy opponent. Glad to finally see Joiner getting to do his own thing. I know it’s obvious with the consistant hits that he’s been getting and known for throughout his youth. I wish I had time to say something about every player but hey, I’m just one dad with a ton of stuff to do. Let’s hear from some of you real sports minded fathers out there.

    There you go Rob, your first reader challenge to other readers.
    By the way Rob, "This was a great write-up."

    John Jobe

  2. rch3

    Conway always has been a tough place to play (always). Crazy things happen there. I remember Wellsy called out for missing first on a homer to right, one of the Conway players pulled out of the dugout by the cops during a game, both Conway and Bryant’s coaches getting tossed in the same game,….
    Getting a split is not a bad thing at that place. ch

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