By Rob Patrick
NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Through two innings, it didn’t look like there was any way Jordan Taylor would[more] go the distance. He’d thrown 56 pitches for the Bryant Hornets against the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats at DeJanus Memorial Field in Burns Park.
But Taylor found his groove and only needed 51 to get through the rest of the game and behind two-out RBIs from Tyler Green, Hayden Daniel and Wesley Akers, the Hornets prevailed 6-1 to earn a season sweep of the Cats.
Improving to 17-4 overall and 6-2 in the 7A/6A-Central Conference, the Hornets moved into sole possession of second place thanks to Russellville’s 6-2 win over Conway. The Cyclones lead the league at 7-1. Conway falls to 5-3, a game ahead of North Little Rock and Little Rock Catholic at 4-4.
And with Russellville shifting to Class 6A for the post-season, that means that Bryant is in line for the No. 1 seed from the Central. The Hornets are hoping to make their third straight trip to the Class 7A State championship game.
Of course, there’s a lot of baseball to play between then and now. Bryant plays at Little Rock Central on Thursday in hopes of avenging an earlier loss, then visits Catholic at Lamar Porter Field on Friday. Saturday, the Hornets take a break from conference to play at Benton against the rival Panthers.
Taylor surrendered a one-out RBI single to Michael Knight in the second then proceeded to retire 10 in a row. He worked around an error in the fifth then, in the sixth, was greeted by singles from Alex Gosser and Brian Chastain as the Charging Wildcats threatened Bryant’s 4-1 lead. But Taylor struck out the next three batters and only needed five pitches to get through the seventh for the win.
“He did a great job,” stated Hornets head coach Kirk Bock. “He kept going deep and deep and deep (in the counts) and I said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to get them on or off, okay? We’re throwing too many pitches.’ And that’s exactly what he did. There weren’t a lot of added pitches in there.
“(North Little Rock) did a good job early in the game as far as fighting pitches off and getting deep in the count,” he noted. “That’s a nightmare for a pitcher. But Jordan, after he got over that threshold, he finished with a little over 100 pitches and did a good job.”
Bryant only had six hits with Hayden Lessenberry going 2 for 2 with a pair of walks. But the Hornets benefitted from waiting out 10 walks and, for the 17th time this season, Dylan Cross was hit by a pitch.
Tyler Nelson drew the first free pass to lead off the game. Ozzie Hurt sacrificed him to second then Josh Pultro’s bad-hop single past short got Nelson to third. With two down and Cross at the plate, a wild pitch allowed the run to score.
Taylor needed 28 pitches in the first inning to work around a double by Ryan Scott and a two-out walk to Gosser, but he struck out the side in the process of leaving those two stranded. But, he worked the count full on the first four batters.
Lessenberry swatted his first hit to open the second, a looping single to center. Drew Tipton came on to run for him and he advanced to second niftily when Trevor Ezell was robbed of a hit by North Little Rock third sacker Jarrod Smiatek. That brought up Green who belted a 1-1 pitch into left for an RBI single.
Down 2-0, North Little Rock made some noise in the bottom of the second with the last of Taylor’s two walks going to Smiatek to lead off the inning. With one out, Evan Peters slapped a single to right then, on a 1-2 delivery, Knight pulled a single into left to drive in the lone Wildcats’ run even though the top of the order was coming up. Taylor got Kris Kohlstedt to pop to Green in left then got Chandler Thompson to roll out to Ozzie Hurt at second.
Those two outs started Taylor’s string of 10 straight.
Meanwhile, North Little Rock starter Spencer Byrd worked around a one-out error in the third. In the fourth, however, he hit Cross then issued walks to Lessenberry and Ezell with one out.
Scott came on to relieve and forced the Hornets to leave the bags juiced.
In the fifth, however, Scott started struggling to find the strike zone. Pultro walked with one out. Taylor hit a soft grounder to first that Chastain booted and, an out later, Lessenbrerry and Daniel drew walks to force in a run.
Kohlstedt was called in from center to pitch and, on his first toss, he unleashed a wild pitch that made it 4-1 as Braden Jones, running for Taylor, sprinted home.
The game got dramatic in the home sixth after Gosser and Chastain singled but Taylor took care of that by fanning Smiatek, Jaleel Tyler and Peters to send it to the seventh.
The Hornets padded the lead after two were out. Lessenberry slapped a single to right-center and, with Daniel at the plate, Tipton swiped second. Daniel commenced to walk. A single to left by Ezell loaded the bases for Akers, pinch-hitting for Green. The count went full before Akers “Charlie-Browned” Kohlstedt with a liner back through the box, driving in two.
Bock credited assistant coach Elliot Jacobs for the last two runs.
“E.J. got us going in the seventh by running Tip,” he said. “That was his call. He did a great job just to get things moving around. That kind of sparked us up. Then Akers got a big hit.”
The Charging Wildcats went quietly in the bottom of the inning on a pop to Hurt at second, a fly to Green in left and a comebacker to Taylor to end it.
BRYANT 6, NORTH LITTLE ROCK 1
Hornets ab r h bi Charging Wildcats ab r h bi
Nelson, ss 4 1 0 0 Kohlstedt, cf-p 4 0 0 0
Hurt, 2b 1 0 0 0 C.Thompson, dh 4 0 0 0
Pultro, 1b 3 1 1 0 Scott, rf-p-cf 3 0 1 0
Taylor, p 4 0 0 0 Gosser, c 2 0 1 0
Jones, cr 0 1 0 0 Graves, cr 0 0 0 0
Cross, dh 2 0 0 0 Chastain, 1b 3 0 1 0
K.Thompson, cr 0 0 0 0 Warnock, pr 0 0 0 0
Lessenberry, c 2 0 2 0 Smiatek, 3b 2 1 0 0
Tipton, cr 0 2 0 0 Tyler, 2b 3 0 0 0
Daniel, rf 2 1 0 1 Peters, lf 3 0 1 0
Ezell, 3b 3 0 1 0 Knight, ss 3 0 1 1
Green, lf 2 0 1 1 Byrd, p-rf 0 0 0 0
Akers, ph 1 0 1 2
Tucker, cf 0 0 0 0
Totals 24 6 6 4 Totals 27 1 5 1
E—Knight, Chastain, Nelson. DP—North Little Rock 1. LOB—Bryant 10, North Little Rock 7. 2B—Scott. SB—Pultro, Tipton. S—Hurt 2.
BRYANT 110 020 2 — 6
No.Little Rock 010 000 0 — 1
Pitching ip r er h bb so
Taylor (W, 5-0) 7 1 1 5 2 7
North Little Rock
Byrd (L) 3.1 2 2 3 4 3
Scott 1.1 2 0 0 3 0
Kohlstedt 2.1 2 2 3 3 2
HBP—Cross (by Byrd). WP—Byrd, Kohlstedt. PB—Gosser.