By Rob Patrick
BENTON — Right-hander Tyler Nelson has been pitching extremely well in various Bryant uniforms for[more] many years now but, on Tuesday, he whipped up his first no-hitter and he didn’t even realize it until after the game.
That’s partly because of his focus. After all, the Bryant Black Sox Senior American Legion team needed that kind of performance with their hot hitting cooled by Benton McClendon’s right-hander Hunter Wray of Bauxite. The Sox managed a run in the first and another in the third and Nelson made it hold up for a 2-0 win.
He struck out eight and walked two. The only other base-runner came on a play that was the nearest thing to a hit for Benton. It came at the start of the bottom of the second. Benton’s Trey Bishop slapped a grounder that looked like it was headed to right field. But Bryant second baseman Korey Thompson somehow came up with the ball with a headlong dive. He rushed to his feet and threw to first and it would’ve been on time to retire Bishop but it was off target and Bishop reached. The Sox’ second sacker had done the hard part, making the stop but erred on the rushed throw.
Other than that, walks to Carson Holloway in the first and the seventh wound up being the lone base-runners. In the fourth, Holloway skied out to Hayden Daniel in deep center and Grayson Chilton lined one to Marcus Wilson in left. Bishop followed with a tap to the mound that Nelson fielded. Apparently surprised by Bishop’s speed, he too rushed his throw to Cody Gogus at first. Gogus came off the bag to make the catch. Though Gogus made a swipe tag, the field umpire apparently didn’t see it. He called Bishop safe. But after Black Sox manager Darren Hurt appealed the play to the home plate umpire, Bishop was called out.
Nelson struck out the next six in a row to finish up a stretch in which he set down 15 batters straight between the second-inning error and the seventh-inning walk to Holloway. And when Holloway tried to steal in the seventh as he had in the first, Bryant catcher Hayden Lessenberry gunned him down. Nelson retired the next two on infield grounders to nail finish out the gem.
“I’m surprised,” he admitted after the game, acknowledging that it was his first no-hitter ever.
“I loosened up by the fourth and fifth through the seventh,” he said.
“He was great,” Hurt asserted. “That’s the only word I can use. He had a few 2-0 counts and never threw them a fastball 2-0, I don’t think. He always went off-speed and threw it for a strike. When he can throw all his pitches for strikes in any count, he’s going to be tough. That’s what he was able to do.
“Him and Lessenberry got in a groove,” the manager noted. “We let Lessenberry call the game. We weren’t over here calling pitches. They worked together. He shook him off a few times but they had it going. The velocity picked up in about the fifth inning. He could see what kind of game we were in and he hit that next gear and took it on in.”
Nelson is back for Legion after playing this spring for Arkansas Baptist University where he hit .290 in 47 games as a true freshman shortstop and pitched in seven games, including four starts.
The game was the closest of the season so far for the Black Sox, who improved to 7-0, going into a doubleheader against Little Rock at UALR on Thursday. The Sox had not won a game by less than five runs to date.
“We needed one,” Hurt said, referring to the close game. “I mean, trust me, I wish it was 10-0. But they needed something that they had to work at, a night when things aren’t going your way. We hit some balls that we squared up in some spots. Hit it right at them but (Wray) did a heck of a job. He kept us off balance. I thought late in the game, we got a little undisciplined, starting maybe pressing a little bit more. But I thought (Wray) threw a good game and our kids battled through a rough night at the plate.”
Nelson scored the first run. With two down in the first, he beat out an bunt hit then scored all the way from first when Lessenberry’s sinking liner to right got past Benton’s Tyler Turbyfill who made a diving attempt on the ball. Lessenberry wound up with a double then Wilson singled him to third and stole second. But Wray got out of the inning with no further damage, fanning Hayden Daniel who went on to go 2 for 3 in the game.
Wray walked Gogus with one out in the second and, with two down, Trevor Ezell launched a drive that nearly cleared the 30-foot wall in dead center. He wound up settling for a double as Gogus reached third. And Wray kept it 1-0 by getting Ozzie Hurt to pop to Tyler Lewis at short.
In the third, however, Lessenberry drew a one-out walk, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Daniel’s bloop single to right. Daniel took second on the late throw to the plate then stole third. Chase Tucker followed with a shot to left-center that Holloway flagged down with a lunging effort to keep it 2-0.
Wray would go on to pitch around a bad-hop single by Gogus in the fourth, a walk to Lessenberry in the fifth and a lead-off single by Daniel in the sixth. Daniel tried to leg out a double on the hit which went inside the bag at third but Benton left-fielder Hunter McDade got to the ball and fired a strike to second baseman Jack James for the out.