Late-game execution makes the difference in Hornets’ win

Both Bryant’s Zach Jackson and Van Buren’s Noah Miller were dealing. The strike zone was good for both of them and the defenses were picking it behind them.

In the end, the Hornets’ Jordan Gentry executed a safety squeeze in the bottom of the sixth to put a run on the board and the Hornets executed defensively to foil a last-gasp effort to steal a run by Van Buren in the seventh to preserve a 1-0 win in a crucial Class 7A battle in the 7A/6A-Central Conference Tuesday night.

The lone error of the game, on a grounder to short off the bat of Evan Lee, set up the only run. It came with one down in the sixth. Garrett Misenheimer followed with a huge hit, just the fourth of the game for the Hornets, lashing a single to right-center to put runners at first and third.

With Van Buren first baseman Ty Callahan holding Misenheimer at first, Gentry got a 1-1 pitch down with a bunt up the first-base line and Lee streaked home without a play. Misenheimer got to second but was stranded as Miller recorded his fourth strikeout.

Jackson had the Pointers shut out on three singles — only one of which left the infield — going into the top of the seventh. On only his second three-ball count of the night — his only walk came in the second inning — he surrendered a single up the middle to Callahan to open the seventh. Trevor Johnson sacrificed him to second.

That brought up Landrey Wilkerson who, on a 2-1 count, got a piece of a pitch for a roller up the first-base line that went foul. Bryant head coach Kirk Bock asked if Wilkerson had been hit by the ball in play as he made a move to go to first. The umpires discussed it and determined that Wilkerson had been hit by the ball but was still in the batter’s box. Though Bock disputed that as well, the play stood.

With a 2-2 count, Wilkerson fisted a humpback liner into shallow left-center. Lee raced in and got to the ball quickly so Callahan had to hold at third, which proved vital.

After Bock went to the mound to discuss the potential Van Buren moves with runners on the corners, Evan Jones came up and tried to get a squeeze bunt down but couldn’t get it done. With two strikes, he swung and missed.

So, with two away, Van Buren’s head coach David Loyd brought up a pinch-hitter for his nine-hole starter. Two pitches in, Bryson Patrick was down 0-2. So Wilkerson left early from first trying to get in a rundown so that Callahan might be able to sneak home. But, instead of throwing to first, Jackson stepped off and fired to Seth Tucker at second. As Callahan sprinted down the third-base line, Tucker applied the tag to Wilkerson who never pulled up and the game was over before Callahan crossed the plate.

“I thought Zach did a really, really good job,” said Bock. “I thought their guy, Miller, did an excellent job. He kept it down in the zone and he was getting those calls. And we were too. But, you know, that puts pressure on hitters and neither team, offensively, made an adjustment to that. So it made for a good defensive struggle and a short game.”

Indeed, the contest lasted around 90 minutes. Jackson wound up with 10 strikeouts and threw 93 pitches. Miller walked just one and threw 84 pitches in six innings.

Van Buren’s only other chance to score had been in the first when, with two down, Ethan Holmes beat out an infield hit on a grounder to deep third then Ethan Rauser singled up the middle. But Jackson got Callahan to groundout to Tucker at second to end the inning.

Johnson walked to start the second but then Jackson and the Hornets’ defense retired the next 14 batters in a row, working into the sixth. With two down in the sixth, Holmes hit a roller up the third-base line that wouldn’t go foul, beating it out for a single. But Jackson struck out Rauser to end the inning.

The Hornets also had two on in the first when Dylan Hurt singled and Misenheimer walked. Miller’s first strikeout ended the inning.

He retired seven in a row before Lee led off the home fourth with a drive to the corner in left for a double. Misenheimer got a bunt down that was good enough for a hit, putting runners at the corners with no one out.

That brought up Gentry in a situation much like the one to come in the sixth. This time, however, he swung away and hit a tapper back to Miller, who looked to third and caught Lee just before he got back to the bag with a dive.

Jake East grounded to second for a force making it a first-and-third situation again but with two down. Miller induced a pop to second to end the threat.

“I wish I would’ve done (bunted in the fourth),” Bock said. “I felt like Gentry was going to get the ball in the air somewhere and, if he didn’t, I knew Shaky (East) could get it done (with a bunt) right there. So I was going to give us one chance to score more than one, which goes against what I believe.

“But I did it anyhow and I regret it,” he added. “But it worked out the second time. Hey, if they’re going to give us something, we have to take it.”

Bryant is now 17-2 overall, 5-1 in conference play and 1-1 against 7A league foes. Only the six games against 7A teams in the conference count toward reaching State and the seeding for the tournament. If a tiebreaking procedure is needed, it comes down to run differential.

“We’ll take the win first then we’ll worry about covering,” Bock stated. “Of course, we didn’t cover but there’s other people that haven’t covered either. We’re just putting a little bit more pressure on ourselves down the line.”

Bryant hosts 6A league member Russellville on Friday for a doubleheader. The Hornets host Benton in a non-conference contest on Monday, April 18, then face another crucial 7A showdown at Little Rock Catholic on Friday, April 22.

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