Billies split with Crossett to salvage playoff hopes
Monticello salvaged an opportunity to make the state playoffs, splitting a double header with Crossett April 14 after dropping a two-game set at Sylvan Hills the previous week.
The Billies lost game one 3-1 versus Crossett despite five strong innings from Caleb Bryant on the mound.
Bryant surrendered two runs, one of which was earned, on four hits and struck out eight over his five innings, but was outdone by Crossett’s Bobby Bryan.
Bryan, a senior left-hander, kept Monticello off balance at the plate with a good fastball, biting slider, and a slow curve.
The only inning Bryan struggled, Monticello scored its lone run, but was unable to capitalize on the opportunity and take a lead in the game.
After Chase Meeks brought Bryan home in the top half of the third inning for a 1-0 Crossett lead, the Billies tried to get a rally going.
Zach Robinson singled to lead off the bottom half of the third inning and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Hunter Lawson and scored on a double from Brandon Mathews.
Bryan walked Bryant after allowing Mathews to advance to third base with a wild pitch to put runners at the corners for Monticello, but he got Taylor Smith to pop up and end the threat.
The Eagles took a 2-1 lead in the fifth when Jeremy Martin drew a one-out walk and scored from first base when Nick Boston’s double was misplayed in the Monticello outfield.
“We stressed our defense all week,” said Monticello head coach Jimmy Beasley. “But we kick it around out there in centerfield and gave up a run because of it.”
Beasley elected to walk Bryan to put the force out in play, and Bryant induced an inning-ending double play to melt any potential snowball.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Bobby Bryan as a player,” said Beasley. “He had already hit the ball hard, we wanted to put the force in play, and we weren’t gonna let him do the damage. It worked out that time.”
The Billies failed to take advantage of opportunities in the fourth and fifth innings, stranding a runner in each.
“We got five hits,” Beasley said of his team’s offensive performance. “We just couldn’t string them together to put any runs on the board.”
Crossett added another run in the sixth as Beasley replaced Bryant with Kameron Smith.
“We’ve been going with (Smith) after (Bryant),” said Beasley. “He doesn’t throw it as hard but he stays around the plate and makes them put it in play. He’s a ninth grader and he has shown a lot of guts. We have confidence in him.”
Smith struggled a bit with his control, hitting Josh Chambliss with a 3-2 fastball after giving up a single to start the inning, then hitting Martin to load the bases with one out.
Pierce Williams hit a long fly ball down the left field line that Lawson hauled in just in front of the 320-foot sign on the fence, which allowed Clint Snelgrove to score Crossett’s last run.
Taylor Smith doubled down the right field line in the home half of the sixth inning, but Monticello failed to push the run across.
TJ Sanders came on to run for Smith and was held at third base by Beasley when Sam Cason singled later in the inning. Bryan got Mason Hooker to ground out to end the inning.
Bryan only got stronger in the seventh inning, striking out the side to snuff out any hope of a Monticello rally.
Needing a win in the second game of the double header to stay ahead of Crossett in the 5A-Southeast conference race, Monticello answered the call.
The Billies pounded out 16 hits en route to a 14-4 victory.
Cason tossed five innings for the Billies, giving up just two earned runs on four hits.
James Jones went 4-for-5 at the plate, scored three runs and drove in two.
Brandon Mathews had two hits, one of which was a home run. He drove in four runs and scored twice.
Caleb Bryant, Taylor Smith and Jordan Tilley each had two hits.
Sylvan Hills displayed its dominance in the first game of a double header.
The Bears (20-1, 10-0) rode their workhorse, University of Arkansas signee DJ Baxendale, to an 11-1 win.
Baxendale, who was 12-1 with a 0.67 earned run average as a junior last year, held Monticello to just two hits and drove in a run with his only hit of the game to lead the way for Sylvan Hills.
The Billies led 5-1 after six innings in game two, but gave up five runs in the top of the seventh to drop the game 6-5.
See Page 4C for photos from the Crossett game.