Photos by Rick Nation and Kevin Nagle
Blaine Knight fired a four-hit shutout and Drew Tipton and Brandan Warner produced the game’s lone run as the Bryant Hornets eked out a crucial 1-0 victory over the Little Rock Catholic Rockets on Monday night.
With only six games to determine three Class 7A State Tournament bids among four teams, every win is huge. With Bryant, Catholic and Van Buren each with one 7A league win in the 7A/6A-Central Conference, the Hornets took a considerable step forward in their quest to reach the tournament and defend their State championship.
Overall, Bryant improved to 22-2 on the season, 8-2 in the conference overall (including games against 6A members of the league) with a 2-2 mark against 7A members, a game ahead of Catholic and Van Buren and two behind Conway (4-0). The Hornets travel to Conway on Friday, hoping to avenge a one-run loss as they did against Catholic. The Rockets beat Bryant 3-2 on March 31. Conway edged the Hornets, 8-7 in 13 innings on April 7.
Regarding Monday night’s win, Bryant head coach Kirk Bock said, “We got what we needed but we didn’t get what we wanted.”
The coach had hoped to win by more than one run in order to have a tie-breaker over the Rockets, just in case.
“The good thing about the position we’re in, our destiny is in our own hands,” he added. “We don’t have to rely on anybody else to help us. If we just take care of our business, we’ll be okay. If we don’t, we won’t.”
The Hornets travel to Van Buren on Tuesday, May 5, for their final 7A game then close out their league schedule at home against 6A Greenwood on May 8. With wins over Conway and Van Buren, the Hornets would clinch the 2 seed to State and have a shot at tying for the top spot and the league’s first-round bye if Catholic can bounce back and upend the Wampus Cats.
Knight, who absorbed that loss in a duel with Catholic lefty Dylan Thompson on March 31, got the better of the rematch. He allowed four singles without a walk and fanned eight.
“He pitched very, very well,” said Bock. “He competed. For the most part, he stayed on line and when he can do that, he does a good job. He was pretty much around the zone all night and did a tremendous job.”
Thompson worked into the fourth, giving up three hits, three walks with three strikeouts. He surrendered the game’s lone run in the third.
That’s when Jason Hastings drew a lead-off walk. He was forced at second on Tipton’s grounder back to Thompson (though it looked like Catholic second sacker Cameron Tissue came off the bag before he caught the ball).
Nevertheless, the speedy Tipton stole second then third as Warner worked the count to 2-0. After taking a strike, Warner ripped a drive to center for a sacrifice fly.
“You walk him and it’s a triple,” noted Bock of Tipton.
Thompson had worked around singles to Blake Patterson and Evan Lee in the second. In the fourth, the Rockets’ starter issued a walk to Garrett Misenheimer. Lee followed with his second single of the game. Catholic head coach Dustin Strube pulled Thompson at that point and replaced the junior lefty with freshman southpaw Evan Hiatt.
The first batter Hiatt faced, Dylan Hurt, got a bunt down but Hiatt fielded the ball and fired to third for a force. Connor Tatum grounded to Joe Myers at short resulting in a force out. But Tatum hustled to first and beat the relay to keep the inning alive as Lee reached third.
Hastings followed with a drive to deep center but it was flagged down by Catholic’s Zach Sokora as the Rockets escaped.
In the fifth, Tipton walked and Trey Breeding singled. Tipton tagged and went to third on Patterson’s fly to right then Logan Allen, running for the Bryant catcher, swiped second. Misenheimer made a bid for an RBI hit down the right-field line but the Rockets’ Harper Vondran ran it down to end the threat.
Knight, meanwhile, retired the first 11 Catholic batters before Will Hancock slapped a single to left. A nice play by Warner on a bad hop grounder hit by Vondran retired the side, however.
Jonathan Nichols blooped a one-out single to center in the fifth but got no farther than first.
The Rockets’ only real threat to score came in the top of the sixth with help from the Hornets’ defense. With one out, Tissue reached on an error. With two out, Hancock beat out an infield single. Vondran reached on an error to load the bases.
Strube sent up a pinch-hitter Zach Walker but Knight escaped by striking him out.
In the home sixth, Hiatt pitched around a lead-off walk to Lee. In the top of the seventh, Chris Musteen gave Catholic some hope with a one-out single but Knight got Will Dickerson to pop to Hurt at short. Sokora tried to surprise the Hornets with a two-out bunt but Breeding made a stellar play, jumping out to field the ball in fair territory then firing to first where Patterson leapt to grab the high throw, coming down on the bag ahead of Sokora to end the game.
“Those were two quality arms we faced,” Bock said of Thompson and Hiatt. “I thought we battled. They faced a quality arm too. I mean there was three really good arms throwing tonight and, offensively, I think everybody did about what we could do. If we play the short game better there a couple of times, we get a couple more runs which was what we really, really needed.”