Editor’s note: The Bryant Hornets’ game against the Van Buren Pointers at the Class 7A State Tournament can be viewed on-line here. In addition, Benton radio station KEWI AM 690 is scheduled to broadcast the contest. And you can keep up with inning-by-inning updates on BryantDaily.com
By Rob Patrick
The Bryant Hornets will face some old friends/foes as they try to reach the Class 7A State baseball[more] tournament championship for the fourth year in a row. Bryant, which was moved to the South Conference this season, was in the Central before, a league that included Van Buren and North Little Rock.
On Friday at 2:30 p.m., when the Hornets make their State debut at Veteran’s Park in Rogers, they’ll take on Van Buren's Pointers, who ousted Little Rock Catholic 8-4 on Thursday. With a win, the Hornets may very well face North Little Rock in the semifinals on Saturday if the Charging Wildcats get past the Rogers-Cabot winner.
And, of course, any team that’s been to the State finals three years in a row (winning titles in 2010 over Van Buren and 2012 over Rogers Heritage) has a bull’s eye on its proverbial back. Not that it hasn’t been that way all year long (for three years running) as the Hornets amassed a 26-5 overall record with just one of their losses coming against an Arkansas team (a 1-0 loss to Benton).
And no other team except Conway, which won the title in 2011, can say they have any experience with winning it all.
“They understand the magnitude of the season right now,” Bryant head coach Kirk Bock said of his players. “That it’s one and done and you’ve got to bring your A-game every stinking game and just go as hard as you can. I don’t have to get them mentally prepared to play in the State Tournament. They understand that.”
Bryant has eight players back that participated in the 2012 State title game against Heritage including Tournament MVP Nate Rutherford, who came on in relief and picked up the win after pitching the Hornets past Bentonville in the semifinals.
Trevor Ezell is back at shortstop, Hayden Lessenberry returns at catcher, Hayden Daniel is in right and Tyler Green, who started in left, is in center. Marcus Wilson, who was injured much of 2012 but served as a courtesy runner, is this year's starter in left.
“This year could be a little tougher I think than years past just simply because we haven’t seen these guys day in and day out like we’re used to,” Bock said, referring to Van Buren and North Little Rock. “But, on the flip side, they haven’t seen us either.”
Actually, the Hornets played non-conference games against each during the regular season edging Van Buren 4-3 at Arkansas Tech and topping North Little Rock at home in a deceptively one-sided 9-1 score. The top pitchers for all three teams either didn't pitch in those games or worked sparingly so there's nothing definitive about thos results.
Since the Hornets last played on Saturday when they earned their 19th win in a row, beating Camden Fairview 11-1, Bock said, “We’re touching up on some things in practice that we hadn’t done lately. They’ve been working hard and executing what we’re asking them to execute.”
That execution is something Bock has pointed to as key each of the last three years at State, making the routine plays in the field, making quality pitches and having quality at-bats.
Regarding this team in particular, the coach stated, “The camaraderie these guys have with each other is unbelievable. They are a true team and they truly feel bad when somebody’s doing bad and they truly are happy when they’re doing good. We’ve had some guys that have beaten some other guys out of positions and those guys that have been beaten out are genuinely cheering for those guys. They’re picking them up. That’s good. I’ve had squads in the past that didn’t do that. These guys are doing a great job and I think they’re tremendous teammates.
“I think they want to win for the other guy,” he concluded. “All teams aren’t like that, all my teams haven’t been like that all the time. But I think this is a very, very special group and they genuinely care about the other guy.”