By Rob Patrick
BRYANT, Ark. — Junior center fielder Garrett Bock played as long as he could despite a painful hip that doctors had told him wouldn't get any worse if he played, as long as he could stand the pain. A chronic problem over the years, the hip will need surgery whenever it can be scheduled.
Bock played his last game of the season on Saturday, April 18, at Sheridan.
On Monday, the starting designated hitter was a sophomore, Chris Joiner, who had earned the chance with his play during junior varsity games this season. Joiner went 1-for-3 in his varsity debut against Watson Chapel, a non-conference foe. His second start came on Tuesday in a league game against Cabot. Hopes for at least a share of the 7A-Central Conference championship were hanging in the balance for both teams. Bryant came in 8-4 in league play, atop the standings thanks to Cabot's 7-2 win over North Little Rock on Monday. The Panthers were only a game behind Bryant, North Little Rock (7-4) and Conway (7-4) in the loss column and, after knocking off the Charging Wildcats, had designs on pulling even with Bryant with a win.
And, going into the bottom of the sixth inning, the Panthers held a 5-3 lead.
Bryant, of course, has proven this season its never out of a game and this was no exception. In the home sixth, Brennan Bullock, who has shown a knack for starting comebacks, slapped a 3-2 pitch from Cabot starter Andrew Reynolds into right field for a base hit to get things started. An out later, Brady Butler looped a liner to right for a base hit.
Reynolds got the second out, retiring hot-hitting Caleb Garrett on a pop to third. And that brought up Joiner in a key spot. If he could get on, the middle of the Hornets lineup, Hunter Mayall, Kaleb Jobe and Tyler Sawyer — all hitting over .400 this season — would be coming up with ducks on the pond.
Reynolds got a couple of strikes in on Joiner who also took a couple of pitches off the plate. On a 2-2 delivery, Joiner just barely got a piece to stay alive. Ball three followed then he coolly took ball four.
That proved to be the key at-bat in Bryant's come-from-behind 6-5 win which kept them in first place and a win away from at least a share of the league title and a first-round bye in the Class 7A State Tournament (whether seeded first or second). That one win will have to come in the conference finale at North Little Rock, a team Bryant lost to 11-4 earlier in the season. A loss and they could finish as low as third and miss out on the first round bye.