By Rob Patrick
CABOT — If only the Cabot Panthers had hit the ball a little harder early in the 7A-Central Conference game against the Bryant Hornets on Thursday, March 19.
Andrew Reynolds had a solid single to center for the Panthers' first hit in the opening inning but beyond that, they weren't getting very good swings on Tyler Sawyer's pitches. But they made just enough contact to hit some slow rollers on the infield — balls that would've been routine grounders on a Little League-sized diamond — that the Hornet infielders had to charge time after time. Four of Cabot's first five hits didn't even make it beyond the infield grass.
And, though they didn't produce anything on the scoreboard, they forced Sawyer to work longer innings and that, along with an unforeseen factor, wore on the Hornets' ace right-hander.
Another of those plays resulted in a throwing error that extended the fifth inning in which Cabot tied the game 2-2. A pair of one-out walks in the sixth set up a decisive four-run uprising that included another error along the way.
The 6-3 victory improved Cabot to 2-2 overall and 2-2 in the league. It was the first conference loss for the Hornets who dropped to 6-2 and 5-1, tied for the conference lead with North Little Rock and Little Rock Catholic (both 4-1) in the loss column.
The game also served as the opening round contest in the Billy Bock Classic. The Hornets were set to play Star City at 4 p.m. on Friday in the consolation bracket at White Hall High School.[more]
The unforeseen factor? A stomach bug that hit various Hornet players prior to, during and after the game including Sawyer, something that head coach Kirk Bock said he didn't find out until after the game.
"I thought Sawyer did a great job until late right there," Bock stated. "I find out after the game he's been throwing up all day and during the game. We had three guys that were sick.
"I love their gamesmanship," Bock acknowledged. "But, you know, if I'm knowing that Sawyer's hurting, I'm not sending him back out there in the sixth. When I talked to him, it was 'Yeah, everything's fine.' He still threw well enough that, if we score some runs, we win."
Of course that's to take nothing away from the Panthers who strung the hits together when they needed to and, beyond those nubbers early one, seemed to repeatedly foul off two-strike pitches to extend Sawyer. Most notably, in the sixth. The Hornets had just reclaimed the lead on Garrett Bock's clutch two-out RBI single, scoring Justin Blankenship in the top of the inning. Sawyer recorded his ninth strikeout to start the home sixth so the Hornets were just five outs away from victory.
The count went to 3-2 on Cabot's Joe Bryant who then fouled off three tough pitches before drawing a walk. Reynolds drew a four-pitch walk and, after Bock visited with his hurler, Drew Burks got down in the count 1-2 before slicing a double to left-center to tie the game.
Caleb Milam relieved for the Hornets to face Ben Wainwright who stroked a 1-0 delivery up the middle for a two-run single that gave Cabot its first lead. The next batter popped out and Milam was within a strike of ending it there with Cole Nicholson at the plate. But Nicholson rifled a hot two-hopper down the third base line. Third baseman Hunter Alford stabbed it with a lunge and rushed a throw to first that was in the dirt and skipped past first baseman Brady Butler.
With runners at second and third, a wild pitch allowed the final run to score.
"We didn't execute defensively very well at times," Bock commented. "That hurt us. That's really abnormal for us. We've been playing extremely well defensively. We didn't do a good job of coming up and playing through some of those slow rollers. They were just beating it into the ground. Then we had some throwing mistakes. Little things like that can kill you. We shouldn't have got ourselves into that situation in the big inning.
"I kick myself for not walking the cleanup hitter (Wainwright)," he added. "We had guys on second and third but I wasn't 100 percent sure that Milam was going to come in and just throw strikes. I hated to walk the winning run in. But hindsight's 20/20. Obviously, if I would've done it different, the five hole pops up and the six hole hits a shot to Hunter and (with runners at first and second) now he doesn't have to throw it across, he just steps on the bag."
Cabot's first two runs in the fifth came by virtue of a bloop single by Burks with one out, a two-out grounder through the right side just beyond the reach of the diving second baseman Tyler Brown and a dribbler to third off Nicholson's bat that Alford did a good job of fielding cleanly only to have his rushed throw skip past Butler as Burks scored. On the next pitch, Ty Steele bounces one through the left side for an RBI single that tied the game at 2.
The Hornets had had chances, thanks in large part to 10 walks issued by Cabot pitchers C.J. Jacoby and Reynolds along with a hit batsman.
"We only struck out three times, so we put the ball in play," Bock noted. "But it always seemed like we had an out or two when we got guys on and that makes it a little bit tougher to use the short game. It just didn't fall into place for us. But I'm proud of their effort and I'm proud of Sawyer, G, and Butler, just playing sick."
The Hornets loaded the bases in each of the first two innings. In the first, Hunter Mayall and Garrett Bock each drew walks from Jacoby and, after Sawyer sacrificed them to second and third, an intentional pass was issued to Kaleb Jobe. And it worked out for the Panthers who turned a double play to end the inning.
Jacoby's struggles continued in the second, however, as he issued free passes to Brennan Bullock and Brown.
Reynolds relieved and, after Alford sacrificed the runners to second and third, Justin Blankenship beat out an infield hit that got Bullock home.
With one out, the Hornets still had runners at the corners but, again, the Panthers turned two to keep it 1-0.
In the fourth, Bryant added a second run. With one out, Brown singled. He advanced to second when, on a hit-and-run, Alford bounced to short. Blankenship followed with a scorcher down the first-base line that Cabot's coach Jay Fitch insisted was foul but the play stood despite the protest and Blankenship had an RBI double. He, however, was stranded at second.
After Sawyer pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the inning, the Hornets made a bid to increase the margin. Sawyer and Jobe drew one-out walks and, with two down, Bullock was hit by a pitch to load the bases. But Brown bounced into a force as the inning ended, leading to Cabot's two-run uprising to tie it.
Even after Cabot had claimed the lead, the Hornets had one more chance at the plate and, on the heels of their remarkable comeback just two days before against Conway erasing a five-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth, there was certainly the belief that they could come back. And when Buter led off with a walk, the anticipation grew.
But Reynolds got Bullock to fly out to right. Brown followed with a tap up the third-base line that he and Bock contended ricocheted off of his left foot. He was thrown out at first as Butler advanced to second and, despite a vehement protest by the Bryant coach, the play stood for the second out. Reynolds then ended it with a strikeout.
"We're going to get better," Coach Bock asserted after the game.
CABOT 6, BRYANT 3
Hornets (6-2, 5-1) Panthers (2-2, 2-2)
ab r h bi ab r h bi
Mayall, dh 3 0 0 0 Bryant, cf 3 1 1 0
Bock, cf 3 0 1 1 Reynolds, dh-p 3 1 1 0
Sawyer, p-ss 2 0 1 0 Burks, rf 3 2 2 1
Garrett, cr 0 0 0 0 Wainwright, c 3 1 1 2
Jobe, c 1 0 0 0 Turner, 1b 4 1 1 0
Wade, cr 0 0 0 0 Nicholson, ss 4 0 2 0
Butler, 1b 3 0 0 0 Steele, 3b 3 0 1 1
Bullock, lf 2 1 0 0 Williams, lf 3 0 2 0
Brown, 2b 3 1 1 0 Thompson, 2b 3 0 0 0
Alford, 3b 3 0 0 0 Jacoby, p 0 0 0 0
Blankenship, rf 2 1 2 2
Castleberry, ss 0 0 0 0
Milam, p 0 0 0 0
Totals 22 3 5 3 Totals 29 6 11 4
BRYANT 010 101 0 — 3
Cabot 000 024 x — 6
E—Turner, Alford 2. DP—Cabot 2. LOB—Bryant 12, Cabot 12. 2B—Blankenship, Burks. SB—Blankenship, Steele. S—Sawyer, Alford.
ip r er h bb so
Sawyer (L, 3-1) 5.1 5 3 9 4 9
Milam 0.2 1 0 2 2 0
Jacoby 1 1 1 0 5 0
Reynolds (W) 6 2 2 5 5 3
HBP—Wainwright (by Sawyer), Bullock (by Reynolds). WP—Jacoby 2, Sawyer, Milam.